Is Education Really Toxic?



I came across this TED  video today by Joshua Katz.  It’s rousing stuff and an important theme.

Katz’s plea for a focus on interests of learners and learning over the managerial drive for accountability and “rigor” is well intended. The increasing focus on outcomes can have a stifling effect on authentic learning.  Learning is as much about the journey as it is arriving at preset destinations.   It’s as much about messy open-ended stuff like exploration and dialogue as it is about being clear on what people need to learn and knowing whether they have been successful.

But in acknowledging this, it doesn’t follow that there is no value in educators trying to clarify the outcomes of learning.  It’s not, or at least shouldn’t be, an either/or proposition.  With this in mind, some of the background assumptions in Katz’s video feel a little naive and unhelpful to me.     This is an important point, because although I agree with some of what he says, I think the way he frames the challenge is counter-productive: it simply exacerbates the ongoing polarisation of the debate.  It encourages people to take sides when we need for them to enter into dialogue.

Yes, there are vested corporate interests that obstruct real learning.  I agree there can be devilish elements to the way in which money can play into education.  But the idea that the corporations are the devils and that teachers are the angels and that we just need to take out the money and all will be fine is a bit naive in my view.  The reality is more complex.   Capitalism can be bad, but effectively saying it has no role whatsoever is not the way.  Nor does it help to assert that there are no problems with teachers and the teaching profession.  I don’t agree with demonising teachers; but neither do I want to stifle discussion about their role in the bigger picture.

There is value and truth in the perspectives of both sides of the debate and the real problem is that neither side is very good at hearing the truths contained in the perspectives of those on the other side.

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