|Leave our teachers alone!|
‘Educate! … but first, we must educate the educators.’ - Frederich Nietsche
'Teach your children according to the (changing) times they live in.' - Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
My weekend was spent thinking about the shape of Malaysian education to come, particularly as we excitedly await the new Malaysian educational blueprint to go public. Will our children become great thinkers and good and tolerant Malaysians? Or will they become good labourers in the international labour system and continue to be more sophisticated racists?
This is how powerful education is as a contested terrain.
Having been an educator and a student of transcultural philosophies for almost two decades, I find the practice of educating constantly shifting whereas its core remains stable. After teaching more than 40 courses (in the field of education, politics, civilisation, arts and humanities, philosophy, language, international relations, American history and cultural studies) I am still learning what Malaysia is trying to do with her educational system. Today, I have a perspective to share with the minister of education and with dedicated Malaysian teachers.
I am fortunate to have practiced teaching in two different worlds – Malaysia and the United States.
My analysis of Malaysian education is that we seem to borrow too much without thinking, and like the late 1990s Smart Schools project, we seem to achieve many different types of successful failures in our educational reform effort. Teachers, the labour force in the world of knowledge capitalism, become subdued, silent, and silenced followers of the whims and fancies of state mandates. We love hype more than substance. We love intoxicating ourselves with buzzwords. We bully our teachers into working hard and not allowing them time to grow and become ‘reflective teachers’.
What if we teach teachers to empower themselves by becoming good and creative curriculum designers? What if we give them a less teaching load, less students, less bureaucracy, less political preaching and less time to prepare for school visits by ‘wakil rakyats’ and ‘Yang Berhormats’ who do not have any sense of what the daily toil in a classroom is like? What if we stop wasting their time on non-teaching matters and let them grow as teachers? When teachers are free from these mental imprisonments, they can then become liberators of our children's imagination.
What if we try all these? Miracles can happen in our classrooms, I believe.
Over the weekend, I picked up an important book on curriculum and education, Conelly and Clandin's Teachers as Curriculum Planners. As I finished reading it, I asked this question: ‘When will our teachers become masters of their own destiny, helping children become makers of their own history?’
Conelly and Clandin's book on curriculum planning provides perspectives which are not entirely new to teachers involved in Whole Language approach to teaching. Tools such as journal writing, biography, picturing and document analysis are among those which have been in use in Language Arts in addition to a range of other tools in the domain of creative movement, reading, writing, media and speaking which are personalistic in nature.
The authors essentially tried to contextualise the principles and strategies within the field of emerging curricular practice partially using the rhetoric of postmodernism. Refreshing, perhaps, is the authors' Gestalt and transcendental analytic approach to curriculum planning they call the ‘rediscovering of curricular meaning, framed to include the learner, teacher, subject matter and the milieu.
The strength of the work lies in the comprehensive range of suggestions on how to create an inclusionary and meaningful approach to such a rediscovering which in turn would scaffold learners' construction of knowledge. It is thus constructivistic in approach permeating all levels – from administrators to learners.
I find the idea relevant to our realisation of the terms ‘situated cognition’ wherein teachers are also required to define their philosophy and exercise their reflective ability so that they and the learners are together subjectivity knowledge; echoing the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran's idea that ‘... your children are not yours… they come out of you but not of you’ and ‘… children are like arrows of which you are the bow which launch them’ and in Socrates' idea of the innateness of knowledge in the human being.
Teachers as meaning-makers
Teachers, in this postmodernist context, are ones who live in a shared milieu but do not necessarily claim monopoly to knowledge, for in Arthur C Clarke's words, ‘the future is a different world … they do things differently’. For learners, we are preparing them for a future which, in fact, is a present consisting of an archived past. Through apprenticeship and guided participation, learners appropriate knowledge, skill and understanding of ‘situations’ via scaffolds erected by teachers. Learning then becomes situated, dynamic and transformative.
Reading the underlying assumptions of Conelly and Clandin's work, I could sense a strong undercurrent of complexity and chaos theory, anti-foundationalism, subaltern narratives and reflexivity and futurism as strands. If I could envision the results of many decades of mass deployment of Conelly and Clandin's strategies in all schools, something such as below would develop:
State-mandated curriculum would be transformed in character; from one of ‘rock logic’ to one of ‘water logic’ in nature in which fluidity in growth and shifting grounds in its parameters will be the feature.
Within the disciplines, knowledge will be organic, mutative, and morphic, much more than inter-disciplined. An analogy of this organic-mutative-morphic nature of knowledge construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction (the ‘Brahma-Shiva-Vishnu’ nature of things in Hindu philosophy) would be the three-dimensional pattern created out of Artificial Intelligence – generated patterns derived out of mathematical equations as in the Mandelbrott set manifested within the paradigm of Chaos and Complexity theories.
The water logic transformation as such can give birth to (Thomas) Kuhnian paradigm shifts, which would be characteristic of integrative, comprehensive and complex systems based upon the principles of ‘perpetual transitions’.
Scenarios of change
Since state-mandated curriculum legitimises the state and hegemonises over the minds of those being schooled (echoing the claims of Theodore Adorno and Antonio Gramsci), decades of ‘water logic’ transformation of bodies of knowledge (especially in the area of ‘soft ideological sciences’ such as social studies and history) can soften the state and pave the way for its dissolution, echoing Thomas Kuhn's idea that paradigms will shift when contradictions can no longer be contained. Just as capitalism within a particular nation can no longer carry its own weight and therefore had to transform into imperialism.
Such a dissolution of the postmodern state can then set the stage for peaceful revolutions which can give rise to the leadership of the techno-mystics as such dreamed of by Socrates and Plato who saw the beauty of the republic governed by philosopher-rulers.
Perhaps the nature of world politics will change if the most powerful nations on the face of our Spaceship Earth are governed by techno-mystics who will then spread the message of goodwill through the use of technology towards moral ends and through the sharing of creative products in altruistic ways. Wouldn't there be beauty in looking at a perfect world, one that would be ruled by those who have understood the ancient Persian maxim, ‘I wept when I had no shoes until I saw a man with no feet’?
Managers of virtue (curriculum implementers, principals, teachers, curriculum committees) will become de-centered and ‘empowered by being dis-empowered’ by the postmodern possibility of personalistic interpretation of knowledge constructs while freedom will exist for the individual to make his and her history to demystify power and to deconstruct invented realities. All these can help create a positive atomisation of society as a critical, creative, futuristic and life-long learning organic entity. Everyone can then find their own meaning for living and truth within themselves and achieve wisdom in their own lifetimes.
The ‘McDonaldnised’ idea of state-legitimated schooling for economic development and social advancement can be transformed into the notion of learning as living and living as learning with the ‘truth always out there, within and everywhere’.
Perhaps the notion of 'Trust no ideology’ (with the greatest apologies to the makers of The X-Files!) can be the dominant idea of the age. Such comments as above thus reflect the link between the ideas proposed in Conelley and Clandin's work and the possibilities which can emerge if we look at these from speculative philosophical and futuristic perspectives.
A teacher's vision
I have provided a scenario based upon the principles of futurism (trend analysis/scenario- building) from which ideas when extrapolated can perhaps predict changes.
Just as the postmodern perspective can provide us with tools to critically analyse modernity and modernism, Connelly's and Clandin's suggestions - which are postmodern in character - can provide educators with the means to build scenarios of living, learning and creating which must be made more and more humane.
The idea of growth, then, can be looked at not necessarily as one spiraling upwards and acquiring more and becoming material in the process but would mean to live, to simply live and to continually ask the ontological, epistemological and axiological questions of living. In short, to reflect upon Kung Fu Tze for we may then continue to live with questions and to ask the ones which are simple.
For, echoing Socrates, aren't the simplest questions the most profound?
Teachers unite – you do not have anything to lose except your chains of boredom and non-creativity.
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