What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience

I’m currently engaging in a bit of light reading as an escape from the constraints of regular teaching. The title of this post comes from Terry Pratchet and Feet of Clay (p 206)

What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience.

The quote arises from the Sir Samuel Vimes character considering the type of detective who can say

in a lordly voice to his companion, “Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fallen on hard times”

The point being that the same small collection of observations could be used to justify something completely different. Pratchet’s example is

to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he’d been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen (These terms are often synonymous) and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement

Reading this, I immediately thought of the arrogance of the researcher, or even worse, the arrogance of the person with the solution to some complex problem (e.g. a manager or leader), such as education. Having taught 7 straight lessons to a Year 10 core mathematics class the phrase – “the chaotic variety of the human experience” – resonates quite strongly. There are no universal solutions/responses to this variety.

Common lesson plans for all

Connected with this was the examination of the “Curriculum to Classroom” (C2C) unit and lesson plans for mathematics being promulgated within Queensland schools. In short, the background is

  • Queensland schools are adopting the new Australian National Curriculum in English, Mathematics, and Science netx year.
  • The C2C project is providing unit and lessons plans for that National Curriculum.
  • Some and perhaps many Queensland teachers will be expected to follow those unit and lesson plans.

There are aspects of this that don’t surprise me, at least not in the current societal context. I am surprised at the high level of prescription within the provided plans. The lesson plans are complete and detailed. With this resource, there is no longer any need for lesson planning for teachers. They can simply follow the provided lesson, which includes a range of resources, specific examples of questions to ask and worked solutions for many problems. The unit plans even come with assessment items.

This seems to take away much of the freedom (or need to use that freedom) to develop learning experiences that match the needs of a specific group of students. At least that’s the way it seems coal-face teachers are interpreting. One of the issues of the Courier Mail newspaper from last week had a letter to the editor from an English teacher complaining about the constraints this would place on practice. On the other hand, many of the teachers I’ve observed hearing about this have essentially said “Yippee” as it means less work for them.

But it also appears to be not the motive of the folk developing these plans. In this newsletter which describes these plans as

a starting point, and teachers can adapt them meet (sic) the needs of their own class and students

Apparently this aim fits with a goal of Education Queensland one vision, one curriculum, one platform, different ways.

Based on my ad hoc and limited observations, it appears more likely that there may not be a lot of difference (at least initially) in those different ways. In fact, on reflection, this seems to be unfolding in ways similar to the question about whether minimum standards become maximum standards. It appears likely that this approach will suffer the problem identified by Cavallo (2004)

grafting a series of discrete treatments into a complex system and assuming they will be applied faithfully and uniformly and will fit into the existing local cultures.

I wonder if anyone is undertaking any research around how this all unfolds within Queensland schools next year?

References

Cavallo, D. (2004). “Models of growth – Towards fundamental change in learning environments.” BT Technology Journal 22(4): 96-112.