Know better, do better

If you think schools are doing a bad job, then here’s the thing – if you are an adult – it’s all on us.

We recently listened to a talk back radio segment which covered everything from the need to lift educational attainment and outcomes in Tasmania to a blame and shame session based purely in personal anecdote. And it got us thinking, why do the adults always blame the institution or the young people for their shortcomings and never look at themselves for allowing the supposedly failing system to develop in the first place?

Myths and personal beliefs do not equal facts

The talk back segment is illustrative because it encapsulates so many of the myths, beliefs and, to be positive and generous, the frustrations of those who aspire for a high performing education system. Let’s cover them one by one:

Bad Job 1. Schools aren’t teaching our students the basics – reading, writing, and arithmetic. “When was the last time someone counted the change back to you.”

Don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. Maybe they don’t count back change because we are increasingly a cashless society. Maybe they don’t because the high tech point of sale system tells them the exact amount they need to give you and they trust it. Does this have anything to do with the level of literacy or numeracy attained by that young person? No. Do our schools teach literacy and numeracy – yes, it is very much a part of the Australian curriculum. Read the media release summarising the 2019 NAPLAN results here.

Bad Job 2. School didn’t teach me much, everything I know I taught myself. “I went to school stupid and came out the same way. I absolutely hated school and I would educate myself….

We all have a personal learning journey. Anecdotal evidence to support your argument is likely to contain a high degree of confirmation bias and is very different to objective research submitted for peer review and rigorous analysis. Schools today use many different methods and tools to assist students to learn in the way that best suits them which leads us to point 3.

Bad Job 3. Students aren’t learning as much as they should – the curriculum is too full but it should be teaching [insert pet subject or topic here]. “there’s too much of that greenie stuff

Students learn an incredible amount – possibly far more than we did through the breadth of today’s curriculum. There is an argument to be made that depth suffers as a result however if the curriculum is full it’s because we demanded it be that way. Every time we felt ‘kids should know [insert thing here]’ we happily handed over the responsibility to schools. Please don’t give them a hard time for doing what you wanted them to do…

Bad Job 4. Schools have never had so much money. Money doesn’t mean better results. “It’s those hippie academics…”

True the amount spent on education is greater than it has been in the past. Also true? The number of students in schools. We are in the middle of a bigger baby boom than the original one, naturally more students means more money. The amount we spend per student is what makes a difference and that simply isn’t high enough for some students or schools to ensure we get good outcomes through proven programs and resource support. Which brings us to point 5.

Bad Job 5. Education is fundamental to both individual and societal health. “It is so critical to have the foundations of education…if you’re gunna layer on more complex subjects then you need the fundamentals.

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. And for some students that means more assistance, more targeted programs, extra help through individual tuition, maybe support to overcome some family situations beyond their control, language skills and more. It also means we need to support those ‘hippie academics’ when they conduct research, analyse the data and recommend improvements.

And if point 2 is correct, we should be accepting of the notion that learning doesn’t stop when you leave school and this includes the experts and the professionals. We build cars, houses, power plants, farms, a whole range of things differently because of lessons we learn. So not everything suggested in education will work, not everything will stay the course, but as an inclusive, open society we need to support the goal of trying to improve not stay static.

Bad Job 6. Kids don’t know how to follow instructions, they don’t have basic skills, they have an entitlement attitude. “The ability to take responsibility for their own actions… there’s simply no acknowledgement of it or if there is, why.

Who creates the kids? Who nurtures them? Who helps them to grow? We all do. The adults. So if they are failing in an area, that failure is ours to share. Simple as that. If we want better then let’s all do better. Not racing in to defend them against the world, being honest with them about their strengths and weaknesses, guiding but not ghosting their every move. Allowing our children to be themselves, giving them some personal space and time to experiment and explore, letting them take some safe risks would be a good start.

Bad Job 7. Everything’s too politically correct…. when I was in school…..there were different groups, we learned by rote, you knew to behave yourself there was no nonsense, work used to have big red crosses on it. “There was no provision for sensitivities you just had to cop it.”

Bad Job 8. Kids don’t know [insert subject/item/activity in here] “I showed him a slide rule and he didn’t know what it was, he was looking at a movie on his phone

Aah, the good old days. ‘I hated school but I want school to be the same as the place I avoided like the plague’…makes sense, doesn’t it? See points 3 and 5. Schools have changed because we demanded they change. We wanted better outcomes and our students demonstrate that every day as thoughtful, connected, creative, caring, empowered young people with a global outlook. We can’t criticise them for demonstrating the very ideals, values, and morals we said we wanted them to possess. Do we really want our children to have to ‘cop it’??

And the young person who didn’t know what a slide rule is or how to use it? Maybe the video he was looking at on his phone was a You Tube video giving him instruction on the topic. Ask yourself, how confident are you with making a horseshoe, sewing your own clothes or milking a cow?

Bad Job 9. Schools aren’t doing their job. “I’ve taken to teaching my own daughter her times tables.”

Bad Job 10. Parents aren’t doing their job. “Parents engaging with their kids, reading to them every day, bring back some of that.”

They are and so you should. These two points go together. There is no ONE group to blame or take the credit. We raise and teach children together, as a society. Parents or carers who read to, and with, their children create better readers. Letting them learn math through reading a recipe and cooking together or making something and understanding the science behind it creates powerful learning connections. Going for a walk in the park, visiting a museum or art gallery, listening to music together, support the formal learning they receive in class.

Finally, as the talk back host summed up, “it’s one of these perennial stories… it’s exactly the same conversation as 50 years ago. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. We tend to think things were better in our day if we are discombobulated by something today. We harness the harshness of the past to remonstrate with those younger than us if we think they have things too easy. Let’s try to support all those in schools today so they have the best future. There are great things happening every day in our good schools, let’s all work for more of that!