As I watch the Greek crisis unfold, and see how austerity and the Neo-Liberal Taylorist heresy is rammed down everybody’s throats, I am reminded how pernicious these philosophies have proven in the educational sphere as well. Much of the last century has seen a relentless march towards trying to place education on a scientific footing. We have seen the cry for behavioural objectives, for standardized testing, for big data, and all of it is aimed at removing the uncertainty and woolliness of the teacher from the equation. The Neo-Liberal project is anti-humanist and it will suck the life out of the classroom if we let it.
Teachers are human, and as such have good days and bad days. We forget things, get confused, sometimes say the wrong thing, ask questions the wrong way, lose track of time or waste an entire period discussing why the Kardashians are not real role models with a class when we ought to be doing fractions or verbs! Our objectives are often woolly, and we sometimes can’t explain exactly why we are doing something in a certain way. We rely on our instincts way too much, we often talk too much and get the answers wrong. All this is true. Anyone who has ever been in a classroom will know that teachers aren’t perfect.
And yet that very capacity for being wrong is what makes teachers right. Teaching is not a science, it never will be. It is an art. I’m not saying that teachers should not be well educated, not only in their subject specializations, but also in pedagogy. They should live and breathe educational theory, and keep up to date with the latest research and theories. They should constantly be reading and conducting their own research.
What I mean is that education is not about standardized outcomes, in which every student emerges from the sausage machine with the requisite characteristics and knowledge to prepare them for a life of being cannon fodder for the greater machine we are meant to be cogs in! Our education system is a twin stream system in which a few schools, often private and vastly expensive, prepare the few to be managers and decision makers, and the majority of schools, under-resourced and forced to conform, prepare the majority for a life as office and factory workers, grist to the mill. Over the last hundred years or so the Taylorist argument for efficiency has won out, and the system is designed to be as cost-effective as possible. As Sir Ken Robinson so eloquently points out the system is dehumanizing and ultimately counter-productive. We have gone for the equivalent of voodoo economics, we have been sold the lie that by dehumanizing our population we will ultimately survive as a species.
The teacher, on the other hand, is all too human. That is the strength of the education system, that no matter what watered down, standardized bs gets served up for kids, ultimately there’s a teacher there mediating it for kids, and hopefully making it more palatable, more nutritious, more empowering. We have to insist that technology gets used in education, not to secure greater efficiency and write out the teacher, but for empowering both teacher and student to reclaim the classroom as a humanizing space. We have to insist that the true purpose of education is a process in which students find their voice, in which they build their own understandings of the world, and learn to be creative, critical thinkers able to understand the academic cannon, and to build on it and challenge it where necessary.
In short, we need to insist that the purpose of education is not the efficiency of the machine, but the creativity and emancipation of the human being. With creative and free-thinking citizens we can surely overcome any challenge we face. There’s no space for Taylorism or austerity in education. Let us Occupy our classrooms today!