Friday, August 29, 2008

Intellectual Olympiad -- Let the Training Begin

I've taken a break and am back to report on some of the remarkable things I've seen in education this summer.

Talking to strategy directors in some of the boroughs in London, it seems we are in a rather precarious situation. One borough was missing two or three consultants in maths, literacy and other major areas with prospects of newly graduated staff in September.

Happily, the person in charge of primary school in this borough is more than competent to steer the boat, even with beginners. She's experienced, smart, no nonsense, and she knows what's important.

What sort of Mayor demands this kind of heroism from his front-line team? Is he even checking up on the welfare of the guardians of the kids he claims to care about so much?

This was the worst of what I heard, but other things (which I won't repeat but were told me quite freely) were not that much more heartening.

What's To Be Done?

I've been told by more than one Londoner that millions of pounds of tax money go into preventing the schools from getting worse. If we wanted to make the system better, we'd have to bankrupt most of Europe.

As Europe is having it's own economic problems these days, there should be a better solution. In fact, money, although helpful, is not usually the answer on its own. You don't have to be a brain surgeon (or even a professor) to figure that one out.

So What's the Answer? Only a Beginning . . .

We need a change in attitude about what constitutes education, how it's measured, and how it's delivered. To educators -- who struggle with box ticking and more courses than fit in a day's timetable -- this is not news.

However, for politicians, the SATs have more problems than simply not being graded (which wasn't so hot either). They need to go away entirely. Giving * next to an A in A levels is grade inflation -- an A is the standard of greatest excellence. Period.

Teachers, on the other hand, did not get into a profession -- to suffer as much stress as an investment banker without the profit -- because education should be measurable.
We teach because we care about kids and supporting their intellectual and emotional growth and health in whatever fashion it manifests itself.

Isn't an understanding about HOW to learn and think what we're teaching really?

Bottom line: You can't measure how well a child has learned to learn. You can measure some ways in which this is true, but the results are deceptively narrow.

A Reason to Teach Latin in Your School

The organisation I run can't fix all the problems schools face, but it can help. We teach Latin in order to see how the mind works when learning a language. This breaks down into the way in which meaning is constructed, and although for Years 5 and 6 much of this happens through games, songs, and stories, the abstract truth of this is not negated by the fact that it isn't even mentioned.

Latin is certainly not the only way to do this, and we're certainly not the only charity to dedicate itself to this sort of goal. But unlike the classroom teachers enslaved within the system, we have the freedom to support these colleagues tied to the curriculum.

Let us help. Latin isn't as crazy as it sounds, even to a Lefty, when you know what's behind it.

We all want intellectual athletes to match the physical prowess we'll show in 2010, don't we?

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