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What Scared Me Today

2 Jun

I began the day with the usual optimism and jubilance. As I entered my office at around 6:30 this morning my mind passed the same thoughts it had since the beginning of this week, ‘I can make a difference today’.

Coffee in one hand, briefcase in the other I sat down, switched on my Macbook, warmed the photocopy machine up and plugged into the matrix. (OK, that last bit didn’t happen)

The newfound optimism can be attributed mostly to the fact that my film festival, a project I have tried to get up and running for the past two years at my school, is going to be nicely funded by the administration this year. This means it has a great chance of being a big success.

So, I put my promoters hat on and have been shamelessly creating propaganda for the event all week long; posters, 30 second online ads, promotional booklets – you name it, I’m making it.

My first class this morning was a diverse and relatively enthusiastic group of year 10 students. Diverse in that there are a number of different attitudes and personalities, enthusiastic in that they are always ready to get to work on any media project and willing to learn. I think that the learning however, has stopped. At least the willingness has.

When vibrantly talking about the festival to the students this morning (I may have gotten carried away at one point with far too man hand movements and jumping up and down) I made a point of it to let them know that the film festival is open not just to media students whom I teach but also to staff at the college. This means that teachers can create productions to submit.

This piece of news seemed inconsequential to the students. All the students, except one. The expression on his face quickly turned from joy to fear as the news that adults would be entering the festival entered his mind.

Immediately his hand shot up. “Mister! That’s not fair!”

“Excuse me, why isn’t that fair?” I asked in reply.

“Because…” and here’s the kicker, “Teachers know more than students”.

This is the phrase that has haunted me ever since 9:45 this morning.

“Teachers know more than students.”

What, may I ask, kind of society are we living in where a 15 year old believes that in every aspect of their lives, an adult knows more than they do?

I thought that the old way of thinking, ‘Adults know best’, went out years ago. This isn’t true. It may ring true with a number of things that have come with experience such as raising children, property investment, financial responsibility, but it ends there.

We do not have the answers. Just because we may hold a high school/TAFE/University graduation, have a full-time job, drive a car and pay bills, that does not mean we are an oracle to be questioned for all of the answers in life. We don’t have the answers! And yes, sometimes we may have a few of the answers, but it’s up to the young to work them out for themselves.

I blame our education system. Students are graded in each subject area. These grades are based on informal and formal assessments such as tests, quizzes, expository texts, artistic and mechanical creations, fitness levels and exams. None of these assess the students ability to function in society – to contribute to society.

I hate grades.

I blame the concept of grading, of ticking or crossing a box, of giving a score, of assessing an outcome, of conditioning the student to behave in a manner that they normally would not just for the almighty “A”.

I hate it. This isn’t a reflection of real life. So many students and teachers talk about the ‘real world’, as if it is separate from their school education. Why can’t we actually approach teaching like we are in the ‘real world’?

So many of us in education are obsessed with ticking boxes and keeping students sheltered from reality. When will the day come where an educational institution doesn’t just attempt to educate and allow the students to learn, but to contribute something to society. When will our institutions provide, not only realistic expectations, but demonstrate real world goals and objectives to prepare our children.

So much fear, conformity and following of conduct is evident in a school. Students are full of fear to the point where self-expression has disappeared. Simply saying ‘no’ for a good reason or cause rather than ‘no’ just to be outwardly defiant is not evident anymore. Once upon a time, saying ‘no’ meant something. It meant defiance in the face of a lack of personal rights – right to privacy, right to speak up, right to a decent education.

We have created grade-grubbers who do not know how to think for themselves. We are creating a future void of any independent thought and motivation.

It is scary how that one phrase, “Teachers know more than students”, means so much more than just being a general quip by a high school student. This is the society that we have created and that we must very soon transform.

If we don’t, then the future looks very bleak.

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Our Social unAwareness

20 May

For a long time, I’ve found it difficult to find any pride in calling myself a West Australian. That’s the blunt truth.

Many people from this state will tell you that it’s a land of beauty and richness. We have an abundance of natural resources, the people are friendly and unique, and we have a long and exciting history.

I think that the first of those three points would be the only one with some valid truth to it.

Show me a friendly west aussie and I’ll show you a dozen extremely rude ones.

Tell me one exciting and interesting story from our history and I’ll tell you a number of boring and long-winded ones.

I’m not setting out here today to put down this state or to declare my hatred for it, but I am somewhat perplexed by the pride that so many take in it when we clearly have no sense of progression or direction.

I’m speaking of course about the attitude that reigns supreme here; a lack of social awareness and far too much inward looking.

We are a state of people who have no awareness of the outside world. We spend far too much time consumed with our own territory and our capital city that we lead ourselves to believe that it is the whole world.

Perth is a town with a relatively small population and far too much suburban sprawl. That is the truth. Now there is absolutely no problem with that, however many people that live here believe that it is a great city. It is far from being a great city. We have far too many issues going on that halt any kind of progress. Our attitudes are stained by an ultra- conservative philosophy that reeks of xenophobia and far too much economic liberalism. The mining companies, for example, are looked to by this state as the driving force of our strong economy. Yet it is also these mining companies who are causing our young to miss out on a rich education and experience a diverse range of cultures and lifestyles. It is these corporations that are destroying the very land we live in for the sake of the economy – in the end, economic matters are inconsequential compared to social matters. What is really important is people, not finance. Humanity can flourish without a free market.

Lately there has been a call from within a right-wing faction in this state to have WA secede from the rest of Australia. As ludicrous as this may sound, it is also a dangerous call and one that threatens to alienate and further isolate our people. The arrogance that exists within the people of Perth and other towns in this state is unjustified. Although the economy appears to be strong, it relies on one area and that is the resource sector. Iron ore, nickel and gas do not remain forever. Once they’re gone they’re gone. Then where are we?

The attitude towards sport is also quite backwards. People continually cry out for a new ‘footy’ stadium while Health and Education are left out in the cold. Our hospitals are ill-equipped yet this is never mentioned as an issue until election or budget time. We truly do not deserve the status that we have as one of the states driving this country until our public services are improved. It’s frustrating, that after so many years where a basic service to humanity has gone wanting, it is still undervalued by our government and media.

There is a group that exists within Perth, of so-called intelligent professionals that are working towards improving Perth and its reputation. However, it is not the physical aspects of this city that need improvement, it is the social aspects that require our full and undivided attention. As far too much emphasis is placed on the look and feel of a city, it is the implementation of better social projects; welfare, health, education, that need to take place in order for the people to live a more full and enriched life.

This will not happen in WA if attitudes are not changed. This comes with a better education and experience regarding social matters. As Western Australians we must stop looking to the mining companies as our saviours and begin looking at other great cities and regions in the world – mainly welfare states, particularly in Europe where a higher tax means that individuals and families are better off.

If the government simply takes in a little more money then it has the ability to distribute it evenly and more abundantly to public services that are in dire need.

Unfortunately, this is where WA is very far behind.

Free Education

10 May

What is wrong with Australia’s education system?

Sorry, to evoke a shorter response, I’ll rephrase the question: What is RIGHT with Australia’s education system? To be completely fair; not a lot.

We still exist within a system that dates back to the 1800’s. Change after change does nothing to change the system. Rather, it just gives the system a new look, a new name, and the rubber stamp of approval sends it out on yet another exercise in futility.

At state level this is a fact. At a federal level, this too, is a sad fact. We are living in a bubble of ignorance and mediocrity that is only causing our young to fall deeper and deeper in the ever-widening abyss of illiteracy and unfulfilled potential.

This article is not only being written to complain about the current system, as that would be unproductive of my time and a complete bore since there are many people who know what I speak about. At the same time, I do not claim to have the answers, I can only provide alternative ways of thinking, a step in the right direction to complete transformation of the system, not change. A shift in paradigm, if you will.

Late last year, I wrote an article that described the New Curriculum. That was a complete 180 turn in the way we thought about education and our on-going learning in each of our lives. Today I speak also about the institutions themselves, the ways in which they divide our society.

Private education has been a large sector of Australia’s education system since pre-federation. A number of Catholic, Anglican and other church-affiliated, primary and secondary schools have existed in this country for a very long time and have almost been the norm as far as enrollment numbers go. It is almost mandatory for teachers these days to have some kind of religious education training if they wish to work at a variety of schools. There is almost an equal amount of private institutions as there are public.

This is where the problem lies.

I am, and have always been, a firm advocate of the state being in charge of our three most important and basic needs; Health, Infrastructure and Education.

These things are vital to the development of any nation. By global standards, Australia has a long way to catch up with all three.

Education should be a realm of the government and the government only. Heavily funded by our own tax dollars. The same goes for the areas of Health and Infrastructure as well. Having any of these realms run by a private sector body is disastrous and a backwards step in a nation’s progression.

And education should be completely free.

The first and most obvious factor in the argument against private education is that it sets us up for a disadvantaged society. We have the haves and have-nots standing on either side of an even wider divide than we began with. It is, in all honesty, a fact that private schools are far better resourced and provide many opportunities for their students than public schools. There are exceptions, obviously. A number of public schools located in our leaf-green suburbs cater almost as equally as a private school. So where does this leave the students that attend schools located in our lower SEI areas? (Socio-Economic Index)

A vicious cycle continues where our young people, brought up in working class households, are at a disadvantage. I myself teach at a school located in a working class suburb. There are many fine teachers that work alongside myself and we do all we can for our students, every minute of the day. We are resourceful and collect anything of educational relevance for our classes. There are many steps taken within our programming in order to ensure that we are delivering the vital information in the correct and most effective way.

Yet, the private schools have almost endless resources and money at their disposal.

The private education institutions in this country must go. Their relevance is not required any longer in a society that is increasingly secular. If religious philosophy is something that parents see as vital, then they should take their children to the relevant church/mosque/temple out of school hours. However, this is not a discussion on religion in our schools, it is about the divide between private and public institutions.

All a private system does is create massive disadvantage. We already have free-falling literacy and numeracy statistics. The extra programs put in place by our government in the public system is not enough to tackle this. They government has forgotten how important education is to a developed/developing nation and how it can heavily affect the future. If our young are to be a functioning part of our society in the future, then they need to be given the proper skills and information. They need to learn to think for themselves, to become more than just speakers of repetitive, mindless rhetoric. They need to make a difference and be the inventors, the thinkers, the doers, the artists, the teachers!

Our current education system needs to go. It needs to be completely replaced by one that is a revolution in education. This can only happen if we are given a fully-nationalised education system that is 100% funded by the government and is a priority on the list when any federal budget is announced.

And it should be free.

It’s About People

5 May

This morning I began the day in the office with memories of a conversation that took place between myself and former colleague, fellow Moodler and friend, Tomaz Lasic. Tomaz’s blog, Human, is combination of discussions, anecdotes and deep thought involving education, social media, communication and the tools we use in each of those areas. He has been blogging for quite a while now and has a great depth of experience and wisdom on those aforementioned subjects.

About a year and a half ago, I was engrossed in a conversation with Tomaz about something new to me known as the Human Filter.

When discussing the benefits of using, previously free, social networking tool Ning in the classroom and at the workplace (for me, that’s both), Tomaz waxed lyrical about how an automated solution system (Google) has its limitations and that this is all about Humans, Human communication, the Human Filter.

I’d never come across that term before but since then it has stuck with me and made a large impact on the way I teach and my personal philosophy about education: We are all here together as humans to learn off each other. So therefore why not use fellow humans to share questions and answers with?

We all have, no matter what stage of our lives we are at, some depth of personal experience and education. Why should we choose to only open up a page of an encyclopedia or automatically assume that Google has our answer? We are all resources for each other in our own right.

When I begin a new topic in my student’s courses, I don’t begin by handing them a plethora of typed up definitions, examples and page upon page of written information. I begin by a simple class discussion.

“OK, we’ve just covered popular culture and it’s origins in the early part of 20th Century USA, now who can tell me what popular culture consists of in 2010?”

“Post-modernism? What is it? How has it impacted on modern art and entertainment forms?”

“The four media codes are; Technical, Symbolic, Written and Audio. Let’s take a look at how these codes are conventionally used in different film genres.”

Just a few examples of how myself and a very large growing number of teachers are beginning their teaching and learning programs in the classroom, particularly at the school where I work, learn and teach.

It is beneficial for the teacher as well, for we are only learners ourselves who have the task of inspiring and motivating young people to increase their knowledge in areas that they believe would make a great career for them. The conversations the develop and take place over the years in each of our careers are part of our own learning. From these conversations we learn about what our students think, believe in and know. We learn about our own opinions on certain topics. We learn a different point of view and relate that back to our own way of thinking. Imagine if politicians and corporate CEO’s worked this way!

We do not simply ‘teach’. It is far too broad a term to describe what takes place in the modern classroom. Inspiration and motivation are terms which I prefer to employ in describing my duties. This can only happen through the Human Filter. A student can only learn so much from an automated response. They can only become inspired to a certain extent. Then the learning ends and repetition takes over. Words appear to be just that – words. Without sense and purpose or any link to the learning that should be taking place – the outcome that was set in the program by the teacher.

We, as adults today, are so quick to judge young people as not being able to communicated openly or discuss issues, when it is us who are inhibiting their communication. We set far too many regulations and guidelines without realising that it is more beneficial to discover what is REALLY on a child’s mind than being ignorant to their needs.

Communication is very important for the individual to be fulfilled by the top three tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Human Needs. Our self-actualisation is where our self-esteem and confidence factor in. These two things are vital for our learning and psychological development. With a low self-esteem, it is very difficult for the individual to focus, to learn, to thrive in an educational environment.

If a teacher can allow students to build stronger relationships with each other and develop a fairly good teacher/student rapport, then that development can thrive. The open discussions that allow students to have their say as well as tap into the Human Filter are vital in this development. They are also vital, not just in the classroom, but in society in general.

This is also a reason why I am a firm advocate of allowing social networking such as Twitter and Facebook into the classroom. There are far too many SN critics out there who are quick to dismiss them as simply wastes of time and nothing but more trouble in our society. This is only the case when the use of these tools are not monitored and taught properly.

If we educate young people, even adults, about the privacy issues, about what can and cannot land you in hot water, then virtually no problems would occur. SN in the classroom is a great tool to use because students can then receive first-hand information from the source itself rather than a reference.

I’ll give you an example: Late last year, myself, Tomaz and another ICT-using colleague, Jaeik, held the first ever Web 2.0 Expo in Australian schools. This was a whole week of nothing but showcasing the latest and greatest in Web 2.0 tools to our staff and students at our college and how they can be utilised for educational purposes.

On the final day of the expo, students viewed a live Skype conversation with a university student in Michigan, USA. He discussed what he did, what he was studying, we told him what we were doing and he showed us, through Google Maps, where he lived. There you go, quick geography lesson for the students and they got to talk to someone that they otherwise wouldn’t even know existed.

Jaeik, who is a LOTE teacher of Italian and Japanese at the college, also had a Skype discussion in his classroom with another classroom in Japan. Australian students learning Japanese got to speak to Japanese students learning English. They saw them face to face and spoke to them without even having to get on a plane.

To conclude this article, I’d like to quote Tomaz on something he said last year and what was the tag line for our Web 2.0 Expo;

“It’s not about computers, it’s about people”