Education(al) matters

As a teacher-candidate who is seven months from graduating and entering what is currently a crowded profession, I spend much of my time resume-building, taking on projects and jobs which will hopefully set me apart from my peers as we enter a world that judges us on portfolios, resumes and interviews. To this end, I quit my steady, high-paying factory job that used to occupy my summers for a low-paying, though highly rewarding, job working with inner-city children.

One of my co-workers this past summer was a woman from India who, despite 10 years of teaching experience, was forced to upgrade her credentials at the U of M while trying to support her family on the occasional substitute teaching position. Although her experience was extensive, this woman was consistently perplexed at what she perceived as a lack of discipline in Manitoban schools. She lamented both her students’ inattentiveness and a lack of firm-handedness by both teachers and administrators alike. “In India,” she would tell me, “students would never talk back to teachers, would never move or speak without asking permission, and would never place trivial matters ahead of their studies.”

Hearing this, I would drool ever so slightly out of the corner of my mouth over the prospect of so disciplined a classroom. However, it also led me to question the apparently huge discrepancy between our two cultures. Why are schools in India so much more disciplined than here in Canada and the United States? Are our parents and teachers really less authoritative? Is our educational system really so lax? Or are our children simply inherently different than in other parts of the world? As I considered these questions, trying to give my co-worker a viable reason for her struggles in Manitoban classrooms, I began to contemplate the differences between our two cultures beyond those of classroom discipline.

My co-worker was accustomed to a system of education in which she lectured, students took notes, studied, were tested and either passed or failed. This system of evaluation grading is no longer as prevalent in Manitoba schools. Our teachers are growing to speak of assessment, rather than evaluation, which is the process of determining what level your students are functioning at in an attempt to adjust your teaching strategies appropriately. We no longer evaluate to mark, but rather assess to teach more effectively. It is becoming increasingly less important where a student finishes in a class, with much more focus on how much progress that student has made over the duration of a term.

As a result, the old system of memorizing facts, dates and equations, and reading and regurgitating notes during tests and exams has given way to a new system more concerned with a student’s thought process than with any particular knowledge set. Remembering the important dates of WWI is no longer as important as a student asking “why?” With the continuing spread of technology giving every phone the ability to perform a Google search, these facts are no longer as relevant as persuading a student to ask why these particular events occurred and giving them the tools to shift through varying perspectives and form educated opinions.

While my co-worker’s native country continues to place importance on facts and dates, Canadian schools are moving increasingly towards the idea of the complete school experience. Teachers and parents are understanding of the importance of all aspects to a student’s life: friends, family, work, sports, hobbies and all other extra-curricular activities. Grades are no longer as relevant to success as a diverse array of experiences. We raise our children to question, to believe in diversity, to accumulate a variety of experiences and to stand up for their beliefs. However, the ironic fact of our cultural differences is, it is not merely educators from other cultures who are having difficulty with our classrooms as a result of this; educators everywhere are having discipline issues and are becoming increasingly hypocritical as a result.

We ask our students to question while we demand that they only speak in turn. We advise them to lead full, rich and diverse lives while we pile hours of homework on them each night. We tell them to form their own opinions while we continue to fault their reasoning. Our culture supports and places critical importance on the propagation of individuals as opposed to drones, yet we continue to outcry against those individual characteristics making an appearance in classrooms. What is it about a silent classroom that is so valued? What is so disconcerting about a classroom that is filled with life?

What educators, both new and old alike, need to realize is, if we accept that individuals are what we are attempting to develop, if it is a society of free thinking, active citizens that we are trying to sustain, then we cannot stomp on that individuality within the classroom for 12 years and expect it to make a resurrection in adulthood. We need to truly value and nurture that individualism throughout the educational process instead of voicing meaningless platitudes while demanding silent, mindless classes.

Jesse Beach remains hypocritical on occasion.