This Louis CK clip is always a nice reminder of perspective.
I thought of that video clip again as I read this post from the AA blog (which isn't what you think it is). In it, the author proposes three reasons for why Arsenal fans are currently disillusioned and despondent.
Considering the current state of affairs around education in New Zealand, with an ongoing barrage of bad news stories, as well as concerns about the systemic changes that are taking place, I thought it'd be interesting to apply these three reasons to examine the national discourse we seem to be engaged in around education.
*1. Expectation *
Expectations: this theory has it that the agonies of today are a direct result of the ecstasies of the past. Until 2005 we had a run of regular trophy success going back almost 20 years, to when a young Arsenal team managed by George Graham lifted the League Cup in 1987.
According to this theory, we supporters have tasted the best and won’t settle for less.
In education, the constant mantra behind the changes over the last few years is that we need to lift achievement, we need to have a world-class system of education, we need to ensure that the newly classified 'priority learners' are able to experience success. We have huge expectations for the system that's been built and that we call 'public education'. The public expectation is that education should be the best.
Unlike Arsenal fans who measure success and failure in trophies and cups won, (or not won) the public expectation for educational outcomes is a desire for the "best" - but without a shared understanding of what that actually means. Expectation is therefore the unattainable mark against we must measure ourselves, because as the old reports said one can always "do better".
Entitlement: it is accepted by many that we live in an age of entitlement. Modern technology and a steady increase (until recently) in standards of living over the past 20 years have created a society in which we expect to have what we want, when we want it. Anyone with teenage children will understand this very well indeed.
In extreme cases, entitlement is recognised by clinical psychologists as a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder, with individuals becoming more and more furious when they fail to get what they think is their right.
Combine a never ending expectation, with an increasing sense of entitlement in the public, and we really start to skew the conversation around what we expect from our 'public education' system.
In New Zealand Tomorrow's Schools means that every school is a self-governing, self-managing body. By extension that means every school competes with each other. To succeed, to be the best, to meet the expectations of parents.
But a publically funded system, will always have some limits to what can be funded. Funding is centrally allocated, and so priorities will be mostly centrally decided. But parental sense of entitlement will always be aimed at the local school. The stresses on schools as they twist between Ministry defined priority and parental entitlements only increase.
A sense of entitlement can pervade the teaching profession and the students we teach. This isn't just evident in the (increasingly rare) teacher who demands the 15 minutes of morning break they're entitled to in the collective agreement. It's evident in the sense among many teachers that their jobs cannot be done without the latest and greatest technology. This entitlement means the latest personal consumer device, oddly enough often becomes the tool that will revolutionise teaching and learning. And in a oddly self-fulfilling spiral, educators set out to prove this by embarking on PD and PR that justifies the use of said devices.
Students feel entitled to have access to that which will make their life 'easy' and 'simpler'. Often these entitlements are used to show evidence of that magic bullet of teaching, namely "engagement" among students. Thus, tablets and devices become an entitled necessity, for both students and teachers to achieve 'engagement' nirvana.
I don't deny that many of these things do have useful teaching and learning purposes. But how often do we address those purposes? How often do we consider their worth. How often are they just part of our perceived entitlement as participants in education.
3. The Internet
Today, apart from the massively increased press coverage and wall-to-wall TV exposure, the internet means I read, write and talk about Arsenal every single day – sometimes for several hours (don’t tell my boss… or my wife).
Which, in turn, means that every setback, every concern, every defeat is scrutinised and agonised over to a degree that would have been unthinkable in the ‘70s or ‘80s.
This last theory – the internet – is the most convincing one for me. The first two theories may play their part as well, but it’s the sheer ubiquity of Arsenal in the modern fan’s world that makes the pain so hard to take: there is, literally, no escape.
Consider the sheer volume of discussion and debate and content now available to anyone with an interest in public education. Consider how vast and varied that material is. Consider how it's filtered through our own personal perceptions and understandings of what public education means and is. Consider how all of that content then feeds into our own expectations and sense of entitlement. Consider how it amplifies all of our biases. Consider how non-critical and non-reflective the majority of us are when confronted with something that's not within our expectations or beliefs.
And you wonder why no-one's really happy about the state of education in NZ?
I'll finish with this last bit from the post, because I think it captures quite succinctly why our national discourse around education, is so disjointed and disconnected.
I am not saying that any or all of these changes are bad things, just that they have left us (particularly, perhaps, the over 40s among us) feeling like there are fewer concrete things to hold on to than in our youth. We have changed from being a nation of people who all watched the same TV shows at the same time to a kaleidoscope society that has splintered into 10,000 niche interests and pastimes. As a result our sense of shared identity is more fragile than it ever used to be.