Picture by Jan Tik

The day I joined the school system I knew something was wrong with it. At the tender yet perceptive age of 5 I saw my fate and cried my eyes out for the entire first week. Gradually I found things to like – picking on girls, playing wars, fighting, swearing… At the age of 17, I was scoring pot and skipping class everyday searching for the relevance and authenticity that school had hidden so well. Every year between 5 and 17 is a tale of trouble and detentions.

Later, after a stint in the army then art school then Asia, I went back to school to study teaching. I had developed quite a social conscience in my time away and believed that education was all that really mattered in a world in dieing need of some change.

But I quickly saw or was it remembered, that education is not something schools are particularly good at. Schools were for socialisation – they’re good at that alright! Learning how to avoid bullies and teachers, learning how authority and systems are to be despised, learning how life and work will always be separate, learning that no matter if it was right or wrong – it was just how we did things… An education, if that’s what you really wanted, that was found elsewhere. [Fade out Pink Floyd The Wall]

Picture by Felicity and Phillip

I think teacher training helped me find confidence in this long held suspicion I had about school. First of all, there was an obvious disconnect between teacher training and teaching practice. “Oh. You’re in teacher training” the veteran teaching staff would say, “well, the first thing you need to learn about teaching is that you won’t use anything you learn in teacher training…” But I was pretty familiar with this attitude, it was a fact of life. What you learn in school has little or no relevance to what you need in life. I was not surprised to hear this at all.

But I did find something in my teacher training. It was when I was walking to the train station after handing in an essay on constructivism or Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or something. As I passed the bins I noticed a large pile of books. Being a poor and definitely struggling student at the time, I had no difficulty climbing right into those bins and spending a few minutes going through those books on education. One in particular caught my eye, and it ended up being the only one I read from that score of books.

It was called Teaching as a Subversive Activity of course! If there is anything I remember from my teacher training, it was just how much that book blew me away, and what I had to go through to find it. It was a book sorely missed on any of our reading lists. In fact, I don’t think anything from the 60’s and 70’s was on that reading list!

Now, my whole family are teachers did you know? I asked my parents, aunties and uncles about this little book, they all knew it well, along with the writings of Ivan Illich. Moved and motivated by the content of that book, and the mystery of why it was not on a reading list, I began to use the Internet – a lot. I started to find support and further criticisms of teaching practices, curriculum and teacher training. Soon enough I had developed my own reading list and started quoting from Postman, Weingartner and Illich in essays and online forums. I nearly failed for it too! I never got an answer as to why Illich and ‘Subversive Teaching’ were excluded from our readings. And I just accepted that any current Internet discussions would not be there, “they had not been checked for quality” – yep, school isn’t about being relevant in the real world.

The only thing worth teaching, is in fact how to learn. It seems overly simple doesn’t it. But it’s exactly that skill that was missing for me and most of those years spent at school – that is until I found that little book. I suppose it was in fact the teachers that stopped me learning this key bit of knowledge. The all knowing expert who would provide me with my readings, design and assess my assignments, and grade my knowledge (or skill in representing it). The “ah-ha moment” or the realisation of knowing how to learn didn’t come to me in all that. This was almost 30 years since Teaching as a Subversive Activity was first published, the strategies proposed in that book for helping kids to learn how to learn were radical back then, and dismissed by now. Anyway, they are unlikely to work in today’s schooling mayhem. Postman and Weingartner would have had little idea of the massive changes about to happen to learning in the form of a teleconnected International Network. Learning how to learn would be a whole new kettle of fish compared to the days of the cane, library card indexes and microfilm!

Now days technology offers a hell of a lot more to the ways in which we learn. I kinda think knowing how to use the recent technologies is similar to knowing how to read and write. If you can read and right, you’re obviously well on your way to learning how to learn. But now days, its knowing how to read and write to the network. Knowing how to engage with the Internet, to participate and converse with information sources, that’s setting yourself up for learning how to learn in today’s world.

But technology has little to do with why teaching is flawed. Sure, a teleconnected international network does pose a few questions as to the relevance of a traditional approach to teaching, but there are more fundamental reasons why teaching is flawed then that. How do you, should you, can you teach how to learn? I think its time we revisited the ideas of Postman, Weingartner and Illich to understand why. Their ideas are perhaps more relevant these days then they were before. At the very least we should see that their names be put back on the reading lists at teacher training. We should take another look at their ideas in light of the new technologies we use today, and ask the question again: what does it mean these days, learning how to learn?

Perhaps Connectivism has part of the answer…

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