As a person in education who has fought for a quarter of a century for a culture of education that values above all, teachers having sufficient freedom to be innovative, truly innovative, I feel I am usefully placed to reply to the question: Where are we?
Perhaps, I could start with a wild card. Why is it so hard, and becoming increasingly harder, to get men into primary teaching? But there is also an associated question: Why are the applications plummeting overall?
This is what I wrote eight years ago in the autobiographical section for the launching of my then new website networkonnet:
Kelvin Smythe continues to be frustrated by the paucity of attention given by teacher groups to the ideological underpinnings of education issues. He would like to see schools become less bureaucratic, so that teaching could become more joyous, and attract and retain more adventurous people. The metaphor he has in mind is more knight errant (if the chauvinist image can be excused) and less Round Table. When, from time-to-time, he says schools have developed an unattractive sense of petty control, he is really hinting at why he thinks schools will fail to attract or retain male teachers.
With education such an entanglement of bureaucratic pettifogging, intrepid men and women won’t be attracted into teaching. I have sat in practicums with students and seen the growing feeling dismay of most men and a fair number of women at the command nature of school education. Until schools are places where teachers can be professional in classrooms, the situation will not change. A symptom is that teaching will continue to self-select both men and woman of a certain set of personality characteristics.
Then I said:
As well, it is his view that schools are allowing their clarity of education vision to be confused by the electronic tools available. He is concerned about an apparent shallowness in learning programmes. Process, he believes, is being emphasised at the expense of knowledge.
We have lost it. Yet you promised otherwise. You said it would be a tool, now it is the beginning and the end. So dazzled by the electronics have we become that we cannot see both the flaccidity in the programmes and the implications for our and children’s future. We were warned about this, but to no good effect. Computers have been found a just too successful way for self-promotion. The only way out of this is from the inspired leadership of a great person either in the profession or in politics. What happens in history is not inevitable, it only appears so after the event.
Then I said:
He is not impressed with a lot of the slickness surrounding school marketing (aren’t markets where things are bought and sold?); the way some schools allow themselves to be used as poster schools to promote a narrow, conformist view of education; the large number of out-of-school meetings for principals (more time should be spent standing with their teachers and less sitting with other principals) …
Yes – I know – I wrote this in 2007. With nothing much to work out in the curriculum, principals are expressing themselves brilliantly in public relations. Yes – I know – here was IES intuitively predicted. I note that schools getting together has, whether IES or nor, become something of an unquestioned good. I don’t rate it highly.
And I conclude in this section beginning with reference to academics like Hattie:
There are claims of new knowledge – it is knowledge commensurate with hierarchical control; university jargon – an academic rite of passage, but also useful for obscuring the downright ordinariness of the actual message in much academic writing; talk of inquiry learning – it is a label now so widely used as to be meaningless; question taxonomies – good questioning does not come in pre-packaged sequences; prolix ministry publications – stop doing international surveys, try being original; the abundance of overseas gurus with ideas, which seem to him, based on pop psychology; and, finally, anyone claiming to prepare children for the 21st century (the best way to do the right thing for children’s future, he believes, is to meet their needs now).
And writing from the present where do I think I am and you are now?
In relationship to Tomorrow’s Schools we are at the beginning of similar downward education cycle of neoliberal depredation, for instance: instead of the weasel expression of parental involvement and co-operation we have co-operation within communities of schools; we have increased centralising of power posing as a reduction of it; we have a system of administrative change posing as a system of curriculum benefit; we have academics who think they know something we don’t; we have declarations of pro-child education change in an anti-teacher environment; we have consultation after the fact accompanied by intense propaganda; we have an absence of the larger question: What are our independently considered priorities for helping children in schools; we have languishing, as a result, the real needs of children in schools; we are at the beginning of the phony period of initial freedom characteristic of early Tomorrow’s Schools; we have principals asserting we can cope with this (they might be able to but we know the system can’t in the long term); we have principals by their actions undermining professional collective response, not only in this matter, but also for matters to come (who will be there to stop the Pearson syndrome?); we have principals in association with the government having a party at children’s and teachers’ expense; we have the wait for this neoliberal move to be revealed as another failure (of schools); and we have a replay of that ‘incomprehension, diversion, and glaze’ I saw in principals’ eyes in 1999 – and me howling at the moon as I did at Onerahi hotel way back in 1989.
In an impressionistic way the above is my reply to the question: Where are we?