Summary and reflection: Day 4 (EDN550)

This summary and reflection are part of my coursework for EDN550 Transition to Teaching, the initial intensive unit of the Graduate Diploma in Education at Murdoch University in 2018. This is the fourth of five such summaries and reflections.

Summaries and reflections: Day 1Day 2Day 3 • Day 4 • Day 5

Summary

  • Aspects of diversity: sex/gender, cultural background, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, language, religion, ability/disability, level of education, physicality.
  • Persistent gender pay gap in Australia, particularly WA (not fully understood).
  • “Race’ has no basis in biological reality; but “racism” is real.
  • Students affected by racism will are likely to … lots of bad stuff.
  • Equality vs. equity: semantics, but … equitable treatment means different treatment to achieve equality in outcomes.
  • Focus on what students can do and know, rather than what they can’t/don’t. Good advice but still need to be aware of what students can’t do and don’t know.
  • Avoid ‘essentialising’ (generalisations about) …
  • Have high expectations: students can learn what I teach, understand student differences, respect students, don’t accept second rate-work, help students think critically.
  • David Labaree (1997) three purposes of schooling: democratic equality, social efficiency, social mobility.
  • The paper by Cranston et al is pre-national curriculum (pre-2011) but post–Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.
  • Whitlam ended centralised education … decentralisation and local empowerment … social democratic understanding of school-based management … supplanted in the 80s and 90s by managerial/marketisation agendas … policy shift from equity (democratic equality) to international competition (social efficiency). Howard government … education’s role in contributing to economic outcomes.
  • Public vs. private purposes in schools: place for both, neither privileged.
  • Social functions of schools (Reimer, 1971): custodial care, social-role selection, indoctrination, education (skills & knowledge); combination, makes schools expensive; conflict, makes schools inefficient. Combination, makes schools a total institution… international institution… effective instrument of social control.
  • Special Educational Need (SEN).
  • Learning Support Assistant (LSA).
  • Teacher TV … Going to school made Katherine (dysphasic student) feel normal, even though she was very different and had a special programme and support.
  • Complex needs vs. special needs: semantics?
  • The danger of a single story. A single story is one narrow stereotypical view of a person based on their group or place, which probably essentialises them, that prevents you from having true insight and appreciation. Growing up with a single-self-story can also prevent you from recognising yourself and your true potential.

Reflection

It figuratively brought me home to read about inequality statistics in Western Australia and the history of educational policies in Australia. At first, some of the issues felt a bit meaningless to me because I’ve been abroad for so long. But as I read on, I startedto o feel a growing concern and appreciation for the people who make up the student body in Australia today. Having travelled and lived abroad, I think I have many more angles on different people groups, and not just Asian societies in general, but the aspects of people within them. For example, seeing gender roles in China informs my understanding of contemporary gender roles in Australia. Many young Chinese men are expected to be immediate providers but it feels like they are seldom given the autonomy to fulfil this expectation creatively and independently. I now believe that the opposite is somewhat true in Australia.

One thing really stood out to me in these topics: the importance of having high expectations of what my students will learn. At times in the past, I’ve lamented a lack of quality curriculum and lesson material (in my currently small school) and found myself giving up (in small ways) on achieving good results with my students, who are a true international mix. This is very, very sad. The readings in this section gave me the confidence to believe that I can set and achieve high standards with my students. The strategies for actually doing this should include are those we covered on days 1–3, such as lesson planning, communication and managing motivation and behaviour.

Besides this encouraging development, I also enjoyed the tension between Cranston and Reimer in the readings. At first I felt that Cranston was rather bland and that Reimer was rather firebrand. But on closer reflection I started to notice more nuances.

Cranston was clearly angling for a return to David Labaree’s three purposes of schooling, but perhaps hoping to see it achieved through federal rather than state policies. Honestly, I don’t think state vs. federal is a worthwhile topic. They are still both governments. It’s not comparable to the EU and European countries, where I would favour national autonomy but appreciate EU cooperation and collaboration. In any case, I think Cranston’s hopes have been realised, because the current Austraian curriculum really does value democratic equality, social efficiency, social mobility while also supporting other private and public purposes. I’m not sure whether one is more privileged than the other still but I think a lot of progress seems to have been made.

My first impression of Reimer was anarchist. I don’t agree with some of his assertions. For example, schools have not really replaced the family, church and the institution of private property (?) as the main mechanism for distributing values. I think families, peers and now the internet still do that better. Reimer clearly just doesn’t like what schools do. But I can’t help imagining that the school-less alternative would be more anarchistic and vulnerable to abuse/exploitation, causing even worse the problems he says schools are responsible for. Can you imagine a society with a culture of learning that does not have public schools? I can’t imagine humans (as I know them today) being able to form such a society without it going horribly wrong in so many ways. Even students who do not learn much at school will at least enter society knowing that there are things to be known which they don’t know. These people might be less likely to assume dogmatic ideas and force them on others. Maybe. A lot of Reimer’s claims were not supported by any kind of evidence. But a few times I got the sense that his ultimate goal wasn’t to do away with schools (in favour of … he didn’t offer alternatives), but to stimulate an aggressive reform of educational systems. Unfortunately, I feel that Reimer‘s approach is self-defeating, much like Trump’s ideas for improving classroom safety by arming teachers. Sir Ken Robinson has a better approach. His TED Talk at least is an example of how to stimulate change by stirring hearts and minds positively at the highest levels.

I’m already well over the 400-word limit, but I have to add one last comment. I honestly can’t imagine managing a student like Katherine or Naomi (from the Teachers TV video), let alone more than one such student in any given class. This is something I am going to have to come to terms with because there will always be students with complex special needs. I couldn’t do right by a student like Naomi without a LSA. But as these feelings of helplessness were forming while I watched, a little gem appeared: Naomi likes mathematics! Awesome. That came at just the right moment for me. If someone like her can honestly admit to liking mathematics and keep a positive attitude to learning at school despite their individual challenges, then I have no right to feel inadequate about being such a person’s mathematics teacher. What an inspiring little girl.

References

  • Cranston, Neil, et al. “Politics and School Education in Australia: a Case of Shifting Purposes.” Journal of Educational Administration, vol. 48, no. 2, 2010, pp. 182–195.
  • Reimer, Everett. “What Schools Do.” School Is Dead: an Essay on Alternatives in Education, Penguin Education, 1971, pp. 23–33.

Disclaimer

These are personal notes and reflections. Portions of the summary are taken verbatim from the various lectures, presentations, readings and videos. I have not distinguished between what are my own ideas, what is my own writing (or paraphrasing), and what is taken from the source materials.

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