Make a Difference

Educating the Educators

GK Chesterton said ‘Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.’

That is not my favorite Chesterton quote. He also said ‘A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.’

Both are apposite when thinking about contemporary government-run education.

Last year my wife completed a post graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Education.

The theme of every unit in this diploma was that the little blighters educate themselves. All you need to do, as an educational facilitator, is to provide them with a rich learning environment.

In particular, you shouldn’t think of teaching them anything, or of directing their learning in any way. This may harm their self-esteem, curiosity and creativity. Children will absorb the numeracy and literacy skills they need as they need them. Their learning should be self-directed.

Apart from being complete and utter bollocks, what struck me most about this course was how carefully structured it was.

By the time you get to post-graduate level, you have a pretty good idea of how to study, and of the gaps in your knowledge. Of course, as Donald Rumsfeld remarked, there are also unknown unknowns – things you don’t know you don’t know, and this is where a good teacher comes in handy.

But in this course, every student had to read the same articles in the same order, and was expected to come to the same conclusion. Namely, that education works best when it is unstructured.

The lecturer, being a humourless left wing git, saw no irony in this at all.

Post-graduates can be expected to take most of the responsibility for their learning. Kindergarten and primary children cannot. The whole world is unknown unknowns to them. They have no way of knowing what they need to learn, or how to go about learning it.

Sadly, most primary teachers in Australian state schools, never having been educated themselves, cling to the romantic ideal of student directed learning.

The one area where this does not seem to apply is political/environmental issues.

At government schools around the country, students are regularly subjected to emotionally laden, reason-free, questioning forbidden, programmes of indoctrination on matters environmental.

One recent example is is the ghastly consequences of palm oil farming. Single-minded and empty headed guest speakers are inflicted on the students, who are also obliged to watch heart-rending videos of forest clearing followed by pictures of sad looking orang utans and little elephants.

They are then encouraged to act globally by telling other people what to do.

For example, students may wish to write to Australian companies which use palm oil, threatening not use their products unless they cease to do so. Or they may write to the Indonesian ambassador expressing their dismay at Indonesia’s apparent disregard for the welfare of its endangered species.

The arrogance is astonishing. As is the complete lack of concern for the families whose livelihoods such actions will destroy.

Students then file home in a bored but confidently self-righteous fashion, leaving a trail of litter, and perhaps bashing a few penguins to death along the way.

Believe me, it happens.

The end result is listless and resentful students, whose self-esteem really is damaged because they know very well that they are not achieving or learning anything worthwhile.

But teachers, in a frenzy of rose tinted delusion, return to the staff room to congratulate themselves on what a wonderful job they are doing, oblivious to the consistently appalling behaviour, and equally appalling academic results.


  1. Ben

    No wonder private schools and homeschools are booming.

  2. Kym

    I usually agree with you, Peter, but are you saying we shouldn’t be concerned about palm oil planattions, and loss of habitat for orangutans, etc?

    Children should have the opportunity to elarn about how what we do impacts on the environment, and they should be encouraged to take action where they can.

  3. John

    Wow your insight on this seems I’ll conceived with very little credibility. Let me ask you a question, where is your research using a solid methodology. I don’t know about your experience but I am pretty confident that the studies and research which led to these teachings to become widely used is far more credible than the opinion of yourself and your wife (who has only just completed a post grad diploma not a phd on the subject)

    Maybe the conservative way of thinking has just stunted your creativity or innovation which is why you hold such a narrow minded view of the matter. I think what is missed her is that children need to be taught not told. The conservative approach of telling the kids what to do rather than how they can do it is ineffective and limits children to remember what they are told rather than learn how to come to the right conclusion. If you were told everything rather than showed how to learn something all your life it would be no surprise that you would be expected to be told what to do in the future instead of finding your own way and it would also hold you to an extremely narrow view limited to the views of those who have told you how to view things.

    That said I would rather the children of the future to be taught things in a matter which will allow them to be able to develop their skills of learning rather than marking them based on their memory. With the amount of information that is readily available these days I would only hope that building there skills to learn will lead to continued learning long after school is out.

    (note written on iPad so letters maybe missing, still getting use to screen keyboard.)

  4. John

    ill not I’ll damn auto correct.

  5. Alex

    John the research establishing the vital importance of explicit instruction of basic literacy and numeracy skills has been well established for over a decade.

    The explicit teaching (not telling) of skills in the early years is what gives children confidence in learning later on, and the ability to learn independently over a lifetime.

    The only thing students are ‘told’ in most state schools is what to think about social issues!

  6. Jonathan

    @ comment by John at September 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    You’ve got to be kidding? Reality is it’s own credibility. Wisdom is as Wisdom does. The education system of the West is nove-diving into ruin like a cannonball from the sky. The students of 1950 were vastly – and I do mean vastly – superior to the students of today.

    My wife is a teacher. She sees 6th graders who can’t READ and WRITE on a daily basis. It’s not an anomaly anymore. It’s a growing problem.

    Teachers need to be teachers. Not bureaucrats, not propagandists, not unwitting progenators of political correctness. It’s amazing how you liberals serve the ruling elites with such hypocritical chutzpah. Railing against the common people even as you profess to care for them. Education isn’t about education people anymore. It’s about brainwashing them to serve a global elite.

  7. Jonathan

    @ Alex, September 24, 2010 at 9:02 am

    “John the research establishing the vital importance of explicit instruction of basic literacy and numeracy skills has been well established for over a decade.”

    A decade? What? This was common sense for more than two millineum. Why do you think slave masters forbade their slaves from learning to READ for hundreds of years?

    Ask yourself this question: The elite rich and politicians – where do their children go to school? What sort of instruction do they receive? I know firsthand. At Sidwell Friends and other such elite academies, parents wouldn’t put up with the sort of “facilitator nonsense” that is foisted upon the public schools and the “peasant classes.” Bet on it.

  8. Emma

    Just who is being arrogant here, Peter – and not fully informed?

    For your information, there was a discussion on palm oil in my class last week. The 6/7 students had been learning about endangered species, in particular, orangutans. Students had researched the threats to the orangutans and knew that the main threat came from habitat loss, from rainforests being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations.

    During the discussion, it was pointed out to students that Indonesians rely on the palm oil plantations to support their families. They then had to consider the dilemmas faced in providing a sustainable future for people in poverty while protecting eco-systems. Some of the students wondered if a charitable response from wealthy countries would be helpful, some wondered why other crops could not be planted and others suggested that companies buy palm oil from plantations that did not replace rainforests. Considering that these were primary students, their comments on the matter were thoughtful and showed their concern for both the orangutans and people.

    The students considered both sides of the argument as they did when the guest speakers visited. The four speakers did not address the students on palm oil or orangutans but on threats to species on in our local area. Two of the speakers presented opposing arguments in relation to the protection of Australian sea lions and fairy penguins. One had a commercial interest in the penguins while the other did not. The teachers present were able to talk further with the students about making decisons – that reasons are often not clear cut.

    I hope I have clarified a few things here – and I certainly didn’t go off to the staff room feeling self-righteous! I didn’t have any reason to feel that way at all – just want my students to think!

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