Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The construction of citizens.

There's a single line that leaps out at me from Giovanni Tiso's latest post critiquing John Roughans absurd take on the governmental back down on class sizes.
Not just a political position, but an ideological one as well, a whole approach to understanding society and its institutions. That is often the case with statements about education, seeing as schools are a model of society, and the student a model of the citizen. But in the area of education there is a peculiar view that still prevails, according to which these models should be better than the societies that we have, better than the idea of citizenship that we have settled for.
There was a post from on the University without Conditions site a month or so back that I linked to on re-framing the defence of the university. We shouldn't be attempting to defend a model of universities that never really existed as much as we should be pro-actively pushing higher education as the ideal towards we as a society should be aiming. I suspect this is not quite the context within which Giovanni's line should sit, but it fits well. As he goes on to say, those who do see schools as a model of society usually also acknowledge that education is more than just churning out employable workers, an idea with which I fully concur. The life of a citizen the is devoted to nothing other than their economic well being is not the life of a citizen, it's the life of a drone.

And even then. I think there is a disconnect somewhere between what business want, what the education system says it wants to produce and what it actually provides. I suspect the business world would operate a little better if those involved in it are capable of looking outside their immediate concerns. Someone who has been trained for a specific task is of use to a business. Someone who has been educated properly should be able to draw inspiration from many places and be of use for many tasks. This flexibility is something parroted in the aspirational goals of our education systems, yet when you look at what is delivered, a different mindset prevails. Tighter budgets, fewer academic staff, more work for those that there currently are, bigger classes, cuts in services, getting rid of departments that don't obviously contribute to a students ability be a good little drone when they leave the education system. They do little to foster critical thinking or impart a well rounded education. This mindset, the antithesis of the one Giovanni talks of is most obvious at the tertiary education level in New Zealand. Performance based pay and charter schools appear to me at the moment as the beginnings of a similar mindset flowing onto our secondary schools. If I'm right and it becomes fully established, it would be horrific, only 10% or so of our population ever actually gets to university. The only education we can pretty much guarantee that everyone gets access to is secondary.

The tertiary sector is delivering the rhetoric that the business world wants to hear, but it's actions indicate that they have no intention of providing the flexible, well rounded, educated minds of tomorrow. Failing both business and students alike. Be a pity if that became the norm for secondary education as well.

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