Times have always been a-changing yet too often the old ways hang on long after their usefulness has passed. In frustration after years, even centuries, of inertia, energetic innovators can unthinkingly let the baby out with the bath water. Because change is remorseless, because man’s creativity throws up ever new ways of doing things, so the task of educating children for the future is inevitably fraught with uncertainty.
Styles of parenting, as well as kinds of schooling, have to be based inevitably on perceptions of how children grow and learn. From today’s modern parents’ inclination to rationalise
“I somehow survived school and it did me no harm, so just get on and do as you’re told without complaining”,
to the belief of the ancient Greeks that only those youngsters who had been born with gold in their constitutions (as opposed to silver or iron) were worth educating, formal systems of schooling reflect the dominant perception of how people learn. Schools are expected to model what we think will be the world of the future, yet they are forever burdened with nostalgic memories of an imagined past; ancient ivy-covered cloisters too often suggest that antiquity and eternity are synonymous.
Schools are expected to model what we think will be the world of the future, yet they are forever burdened with nostalgic memories of an imagined past; ancient ivy-covered cloisters too often suggest that antiquity and eternity are synonymous.
Yet it is not only schools that are remarkably resistant to change. Parents too often assume that what was good for them will be good enough for their own children. Their concerns only increase as the adolescent years approach. We are uncertain as to whether teenagers should be protected from the world, or free to discover it for themselves. We are not sure if they are mature enough to make their own decisions, yet fear that they are growing up irresponsible. Are they frail and vulnerable? Or are they the essence of humanity’s endless drive to recreate itself?
Finding the right balance of challenge and support — giving children wings to fly and roots to understand why they are as they are — perplexed our ancestors every bit as much as it does us today. “At present there are differences of opinions”, wrote Aristotle in Greece some 2,500 years ago, “for all people do not agree as to the things the young ought to learn, either with a view to virtue or with a view to the best life, nor is it clear whether their studies should be regulated more with regard to intellect, or with regard to “character”.
That same question of balance faces us now in the early twenty-first century. Education, so politicians stridently proclaim, is at the top of their political agenda, their number one item. Business leaders happily concur, so do community leaders. Parents do as well, though an increasing minority is starting to question just what kind of education these politicians anticipate.
Do we agree with the standards they tell us should be established, and how these may be achieved?
For that matter, just what exactly are we educating children for?
Is it to know how to live well and be able to make wise judgements, or is to make children efficient producers and insatiable consumers?
There are many paradoxes here for, apart from cheering the banner headlines (voting for the idyllic motherhood and apple pie) most people see education as a strangely boring topic. There are no best sellers in the book stores about education for, like religion, while many people see education as fundamental, the majority are quite happy to leave it to others to think about.
Towards Finding a New Order in Education – John Abbott Part 2