Our educational paradigm is now dead. So much we already know. Testing, benchmarking, comparison, standards, planning, schemes… All of these are the desperate attempt to control the uncontrollable, to cast a net over the diversity of the modern experience of Internet – enabled, poly lingual, unpredictable children.
We don’t know the destination. We used to be able to pretend we did. We romanticise a time when we did. The rhetorics of criticism or praise for the three tier grammar, modern and technical schools both try to say that teachers of the sixties knew where their children were going. Where are those children now? Retired after five jobs, entrepreneurs with three businesses sold, two failed. They are in a hundred thousand different places, all of them unimagined by even the most visionary teacher.
That much will never change. Accelerando was always the norm.
But we’ve been looking in the wrong direction for too long. Some look to the East, where the totalitarian regime of a mega – industrialised empire plan to have every citizen fulfil a role – and those who cannot fit are dispensable. Some look to the past, when they are privileged enough to write their own descriptions of their present, defining their own salaries, legality, and shoring up their own privilege.
But we need to look down at our feet, coolly, calmly, emotionally, thoughtfully. We live in a world of economic instability, massive migration, changing definition.
A decade ago, curricula were fashionable if they were based on principles. Communication, integrity, and so on. Abstract. The problem with these is that they can be hijacked and redifined by any passing inspector or newly hired headteacher.
But try redefining this: I teach in Islington. This is a place with more than a thousand years of human history. That won’t change. I teach children who speak eighteen languages. That won’t change -not backwards. There is an awful arrogance in insisting that children should learn a modern language – usually a European one – when there have never been more poly lingual children in our schools. We need to really appreciate the potential, the possibility, the starting place.
And once we take that long, cool, calm, compassionate look at the place where we are, we need to lift our eyes to the horizon and look at potential. We need to use our imagination and our personal experience and our professional expertise and dream new paths. But these aren’t the paths we will ever walk. We don’t, fundamentally, know where they lead. We don’t know how our children will earn their living. We don’t know how they will spend their time. We don’t have that right of control.
But we can choose our own.
Every teacher, assistant, manager and inspector needs to start an exercise of adult realism. Who am I? What do I have to give? To contribute? What can I imagine? How can I start something?
Because we won’t be there when our children reach the end.