There were two very interesting presentations this morning. Alan McCluskey from the Swiss Agency for ICT in education spoke about The 7 tacit lessons which schools teach children:

  1. Knowledge is scarce
  2. Learning needs a specific place and specific time (lessons in classrooms)
  3. Knowledge is best learnt in disconnected little pieces (lessons)
  4. To learn you need the help of an approved expert i.e. a teacher
  5. To learn you need to follow a path determined by a learning expert (a course of study)
  6. You need an expert to assess your progress (a teacher)
  7. You can attribute a meaningful numerical value to the value of learning (marks, grades, degrees)

I really enjoyed Alan’s ironic exploration of the principles which do seem to underpin the schooling process. Alan’s encouraged us to question our existing practice and to challange ther tacit principles which seem to currently drive the curriculum and our teaching.

Alan was followed by Dr Jerry Weast, Superintentdent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Massachusetts.

This was a complete reverse of the previous speaker and for me provided an interesting contrast.

Jerry told us how his system is results driven, with measuring of attainment at regular intervals being critical in keeping parents and the public happy by being able to demonstrate continual improvement. This is important for Jerry, as without their support the funding would be restricted and they would lose teachers – who, he reinforced, were the critical components in the success of their education system.

In the ensuing debate I made a point and asked a question.

My point was to repeat a something I’ve mentioned on this blog before. I expressed my appreciation of the counterpoint provided by the two speakers. I mentioned that probably all of us in the audience would empathise with Alan’s seven tacit lessons and that we would wish to aspire to this potentially utopian view.

However, I recognised the reality which Jerry faced on a day to day basis. I then drew the link with how progressive education was dismissed as being ineffective because it did not have a positive impact upon attainment. The danger we face in our move towards Alan’s perspective is that the reactionary dark forces gather together to enforce a return to “traditional” teaching methodologies in which the tacit lessons underpin all practice.

My question to Jerry was how he would go about moving towards a learning system which reflected Alan’s utopia, whilst maintaining attainment levels. Jerry’s response concentrated on the need to satisfy his public who provide his funding – only 1 in 4 has any active engagement with education through having a child in school.

I actually think this gets to the heart of the challenge facing schools, education authorities and governments who all agree that they need to change to face up to our changing world – yet the reactionary forces are out there waiting to pounce at the first sign of any slide in what is perceived to be “good” practice. It’s the job of all of us to inform and engage with parents about the changes which are taking place in schools – we need to demonstrate that we can be trusted to change our practice and that their children won’t suffer. I know this sounds a bit to pragmatic for the revolutionaries out there but we need to evolve our practice in a well managed transformation – if we don’t then we haven’t learnt the lesson from the Progressive education.