Wednesday, December 02, 2020

"Progressive" education: Some people will never learn

Below we have a "new" type of schooling promoted.  But there is in fact nothing new about it.  It is a brain fart that appears to happen to someone every few years. It goes back at least to Maria Montessori and A.S. Neill's "Summer hill".

And while it seems good and noble it just does not work well.  It works for some students but is not remotely applicable to an entire educational system.

I myself spent a year teaching in such a school so I observed close-up what happens. About half of the students are given a push to learn from their parents and they do fairly well. The other half just fool around and learn almost nothing -- resulting in failure at the end of year exams.

It will always be so.  Some kids need pushing to learn and will be glad of it in the end.  The nonsense below betrays them badly

Underlying this type of school is a Leftist assumption that the existing system is wrong and a determination to prove that.  It is blithely assumed that children will be happiest in such a school.  But that may not be so.  I sponsor a British 9-year-old to go to a top British "public" (Fee paying) preparatory school, an extremely traditional and demanding school.  So the boy is oppressed by the demanding system?  Far from it.  He loves it and really spreads his wings.

In one corner of the entrance hall, children play a grand piano. In another, they watch koi swim around a glass-walled fish pond. And over on vintage leather couches at the cafe, teenagers play chess and cards.

At this government school unlike any other, there are no uniforms. Students address teachers by their first names. While the school supports “learning beyond the school day”, it does not use the term homework.

But that’s just the beginning of Lindfield Learning Village’s departure from traditional teaching.

The kindergarten to year 12 school - which some describe as an experiment, and others hail as a refreshing new direction for education - opened last year in the former Ku-ring-gai campus of the University of Technology Sydney, tucked in the leafy back streets of the upper north shore.

Parents rushed to enrol their children. Students came from wealthy private schools, religious schools and Montessori schools. Some had been home schooled, and others had long refused to attend any type of school at all.

“The fact we have 2500 still on the waiting list … [shows] people are looking for something different,” says principal Stephanie McConnell.

In setting up Lindfield Learning Village from scratch, McConnell has been given unusual latitude for a NSW public school principal. “We are not limited by boundaries, we will break stereotypes,” promises the vision statement.

With her team, McConnell has thrown out the conventions of the so-called “industrial model” of teaching: the tests, the bells, the traditional timetable, and the idea of one teacher standing in front of 30-odd students.

“[We have been] unlearning what school is, and shedding those assumptions that we bring as educators to what school has to have,” says McConnell.

“Assemblies and merit awards and calling teachers by their surname, uniforms and bells - all those constraints people think schools have to have. Is that about learning, or is it about control? If it’s about control, we have to question that.”

They have scrapped age-based classes at primary level in favour of mixing three or four age cohorts together, taught by a team of teachers who group the students according to their learning needs, rather than their age.

“It’s so much more effective,” says McConnell. “Kids are happier, teachers are happier. If I have five strugglers in that group, I can accommodate them because I’ve got enough teachers in my team to work with other groups.”

Teachers are focusing on developing students’ so-called ''soft skills'', such as creativity and communication, and are designing ways to assess them. They use cross-subject projects to ensure their pupils engage those skills and take charge of their own learning.

In a project that combined drama and language, for example, students worked on a play in a different tongue. In a history-focused ''quest'', they acted the part of convict, free settler or lord in a re-enactment of early Australia.

"We've got to build resilience, we've got to teach them to think creatively," says deputy principal Lou Deibe. "It's not about teaching them the content, it's about exposing them to content and looking at what we can do with that content and that knowledge to create new solutions.

"Do we only value what we assess, or do we try to assess what we actually value? That’s been the missing piece in education for a long time."

It’s an approach that many parents find attractive.

“My daughter has really flourished there, [although] it took a bit of getting used to how things work,” says parent Chris Goringe, whose 13-year-old daughter started at Lindfield in year 7 last year. “She’s very positive about the school.

“They are less spoon fed and led, more scaffolded and supported. The no uniform, first name [with teachers], no bells - I absolutely love that. The whole school is built around a far more human and far less industrial approach.”

While there is no set homework, Goringe’s daughter does it voluntarily. “I suspect she does more work at home than she would if she was set homework,” he says. “She is interested in doing work with her friends, they are enjoying it.”

There is no official school catchment yet - given the school was built to take pressure off local primary and high schools, one is expected to be drawn up early next year - but most of the primary students are from the region.

High school students, however, travel from further afield. Some live around Newtown, others on the northern beaches. Many came because they had been struggling with the traditional high school model.

The executive team interviews potential enrolments - not because it is selective, but because its model is so unusual, says McConnell. “It’s about us saying this is who we are, are you sure this is what you want?”

“The handful of kids we have found have moved on because the model didn’t suit them, was actually [that] the model didn’t suit the parents. The parents couldn’t cope with the mind shift they needed to undertake,'' says McConnell.

“Those who are really deeply trusting us, and believing in what we are doing here, are the ones who will stick by and say, this is totally beyond my comfort zone and my experience, but I can see the difference it’s making in my child.”

Teachers are also from different backgrounds. Some came from selective schools, others from private schools. Deputies Deibe and Mark Burgess came from Northern Beaches Christian School.

Next year, the school will expand from 375 to 550 students and have its first HSC candidature. But it will take its time expanding to the maximum capacity of 2000 students, as it fine tunes its approach and ensures it can focus on each individual student's learning even as the numbers grow.

"We will keep adding in a way we can manage over the coming years," says McConnell.

Some in the education community, however, are concerned that the Lindfield is too experimental. “There isn’t a lot of evidence that this style of schooling works,” says Jennifer Buckingham, a strategy director at reading company Multilit.

“If this was a school of choice it would be less worrying. It would be parents making informed decisions about the education outcomes for children. It bothers me it’s a designated school with a catchment, and students don’t have the option to go elsewhere.

“It would be great to see an evaluation. If it’s working then that’s great, but if it’s not, a re-think might be in order. No matter what philosophical commitments people might have, it should come down to outcomes.”

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