Product reviews for Educating Ruby

Barry O'Callaghan, NAPD, Leader Magazine, May-June 2015
While we are left to despair about the stance of the teacher unions in relation to junior cycle reform we cannot also ignore the failure on the official site to articulate the why of the reform. The unions in supplying us with soundbites and things they are prepared to go along with, have manifestly failed to articulate a coherent vision for the professional teacher. When we walk into a classroom in 2025, what will they have us see? Desks in rows, teachers telling and students listening, still learning essays of by heart? Inter Cert mark 3 finally reinstated? Depressingly, on the other side, those charged with leading the reform have failed to clearly and consistently describe why our centuries' old production-line model of schooling is outdated, irrelevant to our country's future and why we need urgently to change it - and how. Remember Pasi Salsberg in Finnish Lessons? - “children will learn more and more of what we used to learn in school out of school, through media, the internet and from different social networks to which they belong. This will lead to a situation in which an increasing number of students will find teaching in The Leader Reader school irrelevant because they have already learnt what is meaning of meaningful for them elsewhere”. The world in 2025 is certain to be a very different place than now. Does anyone really think young people will be willing to put up with what's on offer today? Come to school every day? Attend every class? To get some idea of what they're already thinking today, search for “I am genius” on YouTube; your four minutes will be well spent. Today, we find ourselves trapped in an unenlightened cul de sac, squabbling about what will happen if the mammy meets the teacher in the chipper after Johnny gets a bad mark in Geography. Instead we should be thinking about building an intelligent system of schooling that will prepare young people to thrive in a world which will be unrecognisable from the one we grew up in and one which faces challenges and problems never before encountered. This book, then, by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas is very timely. Many people know there is something wrong with our schooling system but don't have the language to describe it, nor perhaps the knowledge of what needs to change, never mind knowing how to go about initiating the change. I strongly recommend that anybody with an interest in education from Minister to humble learner, but particularly teachers and parents, read this book (and then pass it on). An adventurous Principal/Deputy might even spend a few bob and buy a copy for staff to read over the summer (it's an easy read) and then organise a workshop (title suggestion: “Now that we know what's wrong, how will we in our school begin to change it”) upon return in September. And while you're at it, put it in the hands of your students and find out what they think (maybe invite representatives to the workshop? Could they come up with their version of “I am Genius? Would the staff like to hear it? Why not?). This book rightly views parents as key allies in the struggle for education reform. So, Principals, put this book in the hands of your Parents' Council and Board of Management and ask them to reflect with the staff on the changes that can happen, in the first instance, in your school, and hopefully later system wide. The book advocates engagement between parents and the school not to complain about uniforms and lunch breaks but about the changes around effective learning that need to happen. Irish parents have traditionally been happy to hand over their children to the school and let those who knew best take it from there. Irish schools have tended to want parents at arm's length and I'm not sure this has served NAPD Leader 47 anybody, least of all our young, particularly well. Character formation, the nurturing of skills, dispositions and the building of knowledge and understanding are for both school and home - working together. Interestingly, the authors don't mention parents engaging with the unions. Maybe that's not a UK issue? Now, what a change that would be if informed parents refused to accept either “trust us, we know best” or “you'll not be getting any more productivity from us” and instead demanded future schools that really placed service to learners ahead of all others' needs. We have an outdated school calendar based on an agricultural cycle and a teacher contact that belongs to times past. If they know what's best for our young people's futures, what can stop them from acting otherwise? The book provides lots of ideas on what our children really need to learn. You won't find yourself agreeing with everything (I didn't) but that's not the point. It's written to provoke, to challenge, to make you think about your own beliefs about schooling; in short, it's intended to invite you outside your box for some serious (and brave) reflection. I sense the frustration of the authors (perhaps their motivation in writing the book?) who have been around the education block more than a few times, who have written ad nauseam about what's wrong and what needs to happen and yet who have witnessed only pockets of change (which they detail and rightly celebrate in chapter 5 - “Reasons to be cheerful”). We, in Ireland, have examples of such schools but, as in the UK, the question is scalability. Our challenge then: how do we make the excellent practices of the few become the practices of the many? For a wider and richer analysis of the issues it might be worthwhile to also read “What's The Point of School” by Guy Claxton, 2008. In many ways, this book distils the essence of this earlier book but then, importantly, moves past the rhetorical to explore the actions required to make effect reform. Oh, and who's Ruby? A fictitious character who is your average student in your average class, in your average school, who's quite bright but mostly bored (by teachers who are themselves bored by the lack of challenge and professional development) but whose experiences (and future) could dramatically change, but only if we make the changes first. Any Rubys in your school?! 
Guest | 09/06/2015 01:00
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