The Hub is pleased to offer this, the last of a thought-provoking three-part series on education from the perspective of a current local teacher.  Follow the links to Part One and Part Two.
With two months to go before school begins again, negotiations with teachers continuing, a new leader of the Opposition, and three years to go before both a school board and a provincial election, it may be the perfect opportunity to step back and give the education system some real consideration. Send us your take on the subject at owensoundhub.org.


-by John Fearnall

#7 on my list of Top 10 ways to immediately improve education:
Let teachers, with input (questions) from their students decide what to teach.
I know some won't believe this, but good teachers are the only thing that is keeping the system going as it is. And they know their students better than anyone else in the system. So let teachers decide what to teach. Rather than relying on a curriculum that is fairly useless (you can find all the documents here,) at the start of the year give teachers time to sit down and decide what needs to be taught where and how. When teachers are engaged and interested in what they are teaching, everything else falls into place.

#8 on my list of Top 10 ways to immediately improve education:
Eliminate grades.
They are meaningless anyway. They do not reflect knowledge; the only thing they show is how well one student did what one teacher wanted them to do (something that can be reported in more meaningful ways). And they only contribute to the adversarial nature of school I already suggested we eliminate.
Marks are the currency of education and for many this currency becomes everything. But for many others, the currency becomes meaningless. In both cases, the problem is the same - marks teach students that learning is external, rather than internal (if this isn't the case, why do so many students cheat?). Sadly, I no longer see many students who are in school simply to learn.
Neil Postman writes the following:
"The elimination of conventional tests, for example, is necessary because, as soon as they are used as judgment-making instruments, the whole process of schooling shifts from education to training intended to produce passing grades on tests. About the only wholesome grounds on which mass testing can be justified is that it provides the conditions for about the only creative intellectual activity available to students--cheating. It is quite probable that the most original "problem solving" activity that students engage in in school is related to the invention of systems for beating the system. We'd be willing to accept testing if it were intended to produce this kind of creativity." - Teaching as a Subversive Activity.


#9 on my list of Top 10 ways to immediately improve education:
Eliminate all standardized testing.
Although most teachers recognize the dangers of teaching to a test, it's happening. And, the test itself (the Grade 10 literacy test, at least), if it supposed to tell us how well we are doing, is fairly useless anyway, mainly because they keep changing it. And even though you have to pass it to graduate, you don't. There are a variety of other ways to 'prove' you are literate. If this is the case, why bother with the test? This is another place we could save a huge amount of money.
See yesterday's Postman quotation - it applies here, as well.


#10 on my list of Top 10 ways to immediately improve education:
Let the kids run the school
I had another fairly simple idea to end my list with (something to do with using IEP's as actual education plans), but I'm going to end with one of my more radical ideas - let the kids run the school.
Currently, we give our students very little, if any, power over their own schools. Even our student governments don't really have much as the principal always has the power to veto any of their decisions.
I think we should turn a lot of this power over to the students for a number of reasons:
- students will feel more engaged and empowered
- they will have to work together
- their learning will be genuine and authentic
- students often have great ideas. By allowing them to try some of these ideas in a relatively safe environment, we teach them that failure is not a bad thing (the lesson that we too often teach today). Instead, it is an opportunity for learning and improvement.
- our schools could become incubators for these ideas that may follow the students into the "real world".
Thanks for reading my list. And thanks, especially, to those of you who have been commenting. I don't expect my ideas will work perfectly, but as I like to quote to my daughters, "at least I tried God Damn It! At least I did that."
I just wish these conversations were taking place in our negotiations, at the Ministry and in our Board offices, but I doubt that is happening.
Have a great summer. Let's hope we are all back in school in September.

John Fearnall has taught high school for the past 22 years. He is a founding member of MendEd (Mending Education) and will continue to ask the question, "Does anyone care about education?" until he retires.


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