Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bending the Rules at School

In this month's Child magazine, I've a piece on education, 'Bending the Rules'.  

My point is a simple one: good teachers need to know when to depart from the formal standards, curriculum or lesson plan.  

Instead of stifling bright kids with uniformity, they need the independence to use their judgement, and tailor their lessons to the classroom. 

And sometimes, this will be unconventional, awkward or shocking. A taster:

In schools and universities, teachers are often treated like novices, told to follow rules, tick boxes, and crunch numbers.  And perhaps most tragically, some end up bowing to this.  They lose that spark; that luminescence that drives them to rewrite the rules. 

To remedy this, it’s counter-productive to subject teachers to more red tape; more performance indicators, job stress and blame.  Like parents, they need experience and excitement, not grinding surveillance.  Most vitally, they need to be trusted: to be ambitious, adaptable, assured experts.  Of course they’ll need to formulate plans and follow official codes.  But no mission statement or state policy can replace mastery.  We should trust our teachers, as experts, to bend or break these when the moment’s right – what American philosopher John Dewey called ‘the burden of discovery and adaptation’.

At the end of all this is one rarely-spoken but priceless gift: hope. Not an indefinable, woolly-minded hope, but a simple, sincere one: that the boredom, conflict and bafflement of school can lead to something wonderful.  It doesn’t always bring money or fame – and perhaps not even happiness.  Yet with their spontaneous, sympathetic outlook, my three teachers taught me a priceless lesson.  It’s what I’d like to teach my son who’s ‘free’, and my chubby, stubborn, little daughter: that we can always be better than we are.  


Rachel Power said...

This is a fantastic article, Damon. It is so important that teachers have this freedom--for the sake of our kids and in order to keep our best teachers in the profession. Bravo!

Damon said...

Thanks, Rachel.

Yes, this piece was a pleasure to write - it allowed me to think more clearly about my own upbringing and education.

Getting ready to write my four volume memoirs...