Holding onto the Future – The power of liberation, The power of education

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Holding onto the Future, Antony Gormley (1987).

One is looking at a mould of a man holding an in descript mould. The mould in the foreground has potential to become something and this possibility it holds is being clung onto. This represents how insecure we are of our futures, these insecurities derive from a man’s inability to determine their own future. Gormley, when critiquing this work, quotes Joseph Boyd, “The man doesn’t yet know who he is, we must invent him.” The decision to do so suggests that the observer has the power to change this man’s future. So, do we not have an autonomous, self-determined future?

When realising the true fragility our own futures we begin to turn to others to prepare a mould for us to cling onto. The drive, ambition and autonomy of making these decisions for ourselves is removed and success is only possible in the eyes of the observer. This renders an individual powerless unless given the opportunity to be successful, by a liberated individual. Why are we so dependent on a system where our futures are not ours, but decision and reflections of others?

The power of liberation, the power of education.

Freedom from prescribed thoughts and behaviours is a doctrine that many believe is already given to them. But, much of our society and educational system is already predetermined and reflective of the interests of the liberated few, not the masses. The power that education can bring to an individual is unrivalled:

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” (Paulo Freire, 1996)

So, what we appear to have is an educational system that reflects the interests of a conformist society where the young are integrated into society. We only have to refer to innovations, movements and liberations to understand the positive power free thought provides society with. This is not to suggest that every person is going to radical change the world we live in. Yet, it will provide a society where everyone knowingly contributes. To build an educational system where we strive to liberate and produce radical individuals who all have the power to determine their own future is a just system.

Changes to education

Disproportionate emphasis on the importance of academic attainment has generated unnecessary focus on one aspect of what it means to be a human. This focus implies that we no longer look to educate people, but to generate the most reliable data to support our ideals of “Education”. This doesn’t reflect the requirements of being a radical thinker:

“The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” (Paulo Freire, 1996).

Recent shifts in education are decoupling from a sole focus on academic performance and looking more at what we want our student to look and be like in the future. Movements towards character education are promising they already show evidence of developing individuals who care about themselves and their lives (EIF, 2015). These humanist approaches suggest we are moving in the right direction of developing well round educated individuals. We must be careful not to view the development of character in terms of reliable data, because you can not quantify a person. Is this enough to create liberated individuals who have the power to determine their own futures?

Unfortunately not… (I’ll be blogging about this next time).

References
Paulo Freire, 1996 – Pedagogy of the Oppressed
EIF, 2015 – http://www.eif.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Social-and-Emotional-Learning-Final-Report-1.pdf
Why is know one ever told this at school:
Baz Luhrmann – “Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind; The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself”
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Cultural Capital in Education – What can be done in the classroom

Theory is splendid but until put into practice, it is valueless.” (James Cash Penney). An educational example, “Yes, I understand what to do sir.”

The introduction of new theories, skills and attributes is difficult because students struggle to get to grips with practicing new theories. As an educator this is where the true value is added. So, how do we move from the theory of non-cognitive development to implementing it into practice?

From Policy to Practice

The continual debating by political panels, educational theorists or interjections from third parties leaves untested theories. The classroom teacher, unknown to them, has been involved in developing new policy. They are now expected to put this policy into practice. Like the students they will struggle, but in this case there is no one on hand to support them. The theory is forgotten as true mastery has not been attained. A reactive response develops to throw together evidence of practice. (For example, marking books in my PGCE and NQT year). So how do we support the implementation of non-cognitive development into the classroom?

Simple answer, bring teachers into policy development. Over the past month I have been involved in 4 different policy networking events, where the general theme has been on non-cognitive development in students. Buzz words were flying out left, right and center. Yet, every time I found myself able to relate to strategies used in the classroom, that exemplified the non-cognitive traits. Offering a critique to proposals based on evidence shifted the direction of conversation from the “policy buzzworder’s” to myself. This demonstrates the value of those in the classroom.

Implementing non-cognitive skills?

A Head teacher from a local school told me, “the schemes of work in their school center around the kind of people that would be successful in University or vocational qualifications” and backwards plans from this vision. When I am developing a scheme of work, I think about the non-cognitive skills and learning objectives I want the students to develop. For example, I have recently planned and finished a unit of work on Metals and their Reactivity. The non-cognitive focus is to develop independence, self-reflection and choice (I’ll be blogging about this next week). This was alongside the academic learning goals. By orientating yourself to focus on the kind of students you want, the activities begin to tailor themselves.But, failures, critiques, alterations and improvements have been important to support the reflective development of this teaching strategy.

This is where the problems lies, there is no accountability for non-cognitive development in the classroom. Therefore, the risk:benefit ratio is useless, because it not worth risking progress to develop new systems of non-cognitive learning. Consequently, teachers can not relate to the policy that is trying to be implemented and their opinions become less valued. It’s easy to see the paradox we are caught in. So where does this leave us?

College of teachers…

Cultural Captial in Education – Incorporation into policy

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I want my horse to drink to survive, but I can not force the horse to drink water. This is true in education, a teacher can establish a learning environment for a pupil to be successful, but can not force success into a pupil. There must be a want or desire to do so. So how do we develop desire?

The Problem

Policy makers only focus on observing feedback which shows the strongest or clearest correlation which implies causation. (“Rule 1 of stats club never talk about stats club. Rule 1 of stats club, correlation doesn’t imply causation”). For example, greater attendance results in better attainment. True, but as the Young Foundation (2012) identifies this does not identify the true value added. True values are the personal attributes a student develops to increase their attainment, perseverance, confidence or a want for success. Rarely have I heard of someone not wanting success and being successful, we all have a degree of consciousness. If high academic attainment links to high performance, and this to personal attributes, where in policy are we planning to develop this?

Simple answer, not at all.

Developing soft skills (Non-cognitive skills)

It is these skills that define who we are and how we behave and the futures we make for ourselves. The Young Foundation (2012), EPI (2014) and FEA (2015) all support the idea that the developing non-cognitive skills is crucial to underpin academic and life success.

Outcome Model example:

  • The outcome model links the benefits of developing an individual’s non-cognitive skills (intrinsic and extrinsic) with benefits for both them and society. (This seems like a win-win situations, there are limitations).
    • Individual achievements of behaviours – Want to develop key skills to build their own success.
    • Social and emotional capabilities – Core skills that allows the person to develop their own desires.
    • Inter-personal relationships – Good parents and community contributes.
    • Benefits to society – Strong independent individuals who are not reliant on the state to support their success.

So, if there is clear evidence what is being done to introduce these concepts into educational policy?

The difficulty is identifying a clear correlation between good non-cognitive skills and academic and life success. West (2014) published a conflicted study that shows no linked between the non-cognitive skills and academic performance. Yet, the Young Foundation (2012) has clear evidence to identify a positive relationship between student’s emotional well being and socio-economic background. Policy decisions based on qualitative information is not reassuring. But, after reading reams of threads and literature there is a body evidence all pointing in the same direction that can not be ignored.

Recommendations for policy

The future directions of policy need to make an active effort to collect data through longitudinal studies and develop tests to identify the non-cognitive development of an individual over time. Hold Ofsted (hopefully in the future a college of teachers) accountable for ensuring that schools have effective systems of developing non-cognitive skills within their pupils. By not doing anything, the power of a student to make their own decisions academically and later on in life will continually shift reliance and dependence on others for support. Establishing a link between non-cognitive skills and academic performance has never been more important in a developed society.

In the future all the horses will have the appropriate non-cognitive skills to see the importance of drinking. The same will be true for our education system, students who have a desire for success.

References

West (2014) – http://cepr.harvard.edu/cepr-resources/files/news-events/cepr-promise-paradox.pdf

Fair Education Alliance (2015) – http://www.faireducation.org.uk/report-card/

Economic Policy Institute (2014) – http://www.epi.org/publication/the-need-to-address-noncognitive-skills-in-the-education-policy-agenda/

The Young Foundation (2012) – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/175476/Framework_of_Outcomes_for_Young_People.pdf