Thank you Mark Sonnemann, I love this!
Graham Brown-Martin
41

Thanks for the response. It is a snow day here in Eastern Ontario today, so I have the luxury of a little more thinking and writing time to reply to you.

First off, I have to say, I laughed alot listening to your talk. Seeing James T. Kirk battling with a Gorn just behind you was epic (hadn’t he just made gunpowder?), as was your anecdote about the mighty (and heavy)178Mb drive — I can still remember ‘writing’ programs on punch cards! A talk that includes the concepts of ‘flamboyant’ failures and getting ‘lost’ on purpose really speaks to me as a learner and a school leader. Learning and laughter, utile and dulce — a great talk.

I am wondering about the ”where’s” and the “how’s” of the conversation about the purpose of education.

The where is important because it has to be more than about the transformation of one school/community. I have worked for a long time now in systems touting that ‘pockets of excellence’ would influence and inform the work being done in the whole system. For a variety of reasons, I have found that this is not the case. Without a compelling reason for doing something else, people will continue to do what they have always done. I believe that there is value at having a dialogue at the local level to make sure that the school is meeting the needs of the community, but these needs have to be connected to a larger societal/global vision as well to make the learning and school context allows the students the maximum flexibility and opportunity possible (it is more than just about ‘Serve and Obey’).

So if not at the school, where then is the place to have this conversation? It is easy enough to go up the ladder a rung each time and say Board, or Ministry, or federally — but I think this just has us walking the same circular paths. The higher up the chain we go, the more disconnected things seem to get from the reality at the school level and especially from the reality and needs of the student.

I find myself calling to mind what you said about the ‘borders’ of education, and about who holds them and controls access. Our system was set up to serve the economies of nation-states by providing usable human capital as cheaply and efficiently as possible, and to grow citizens that shared the values our governments deemed important. However, we now live in an age where challenges tend to be global in scope, businesses often cannot predict the skills they will need to stay competitive, and in societies that lack a moral superstructure — unless paying your taxes counts.

The borders I see now relate to access to information/training (technology) and accreditation. Your story about your first job in a lab was both inspiring and amazing to me —how many people have the resilience to do this, or the opportunity to consider it? You were forced to, in some cases, steal the knowledge you wanted (your book trips into the city) because it wasn’t being made available to you. The cost of technology and of connectivity is one of the last levers that society holds, as is the insistence on having a degree or other certification as opposed to demonstrating knowledge by doing something.

I guess what I am coming to is that I think that there is no apparent and obvious place to have the conversation about the purpose of education — sort of.

The “where” for me is, as paradoxically as it may seem to some, at the level of the student — in the relationship between educators and the individual. Only at the level of the student can this question be answered because we all have different needs, different interests, and different learning styles. Our personal learning journey as students is our life’s answer to the question of ‘what is the purpose of education?’

This brings me to the question of how we can do this. Teacher education is the key, I think. I don’t know if I am alone here in stating that I did not learn much, if anything from my classwork or practicum at Teacher’s College. In class we were given templates and resources and sample lessons, and in our placements we were given the opportunity to use these things with kids. However, not until I was actually immersed in a classroom and working closely with kids do I think I ever really started to understand teaching or learning. Teachers must be trained differently. They should be taught that learning is not something that changes based on an arbitrary age grouping, but instead is a series of common skills and attitudes that is a part of every student’s profile. Training teachers this way would also give them a shared language to discuss growth. No longer could we hide behind the excuse that we only understand learning and teaching in our division.

It also requires that we focus not on subjects and subject knowledge but on connecting with learners and developing their ability to get what they need when they need it, on asking good questions, on helping them to reflect on what they learned and how best to demonstrate it, as well as what their next steps should be.

You highlight the staggering numbers of teachers who are not engaged with their work in your talk — I wonder whether, like our students, our educational system as it exists doesn’t give them the opportunity to build meaningful relationships, ask interesting questions, and explore possibilities. I wonder further if we changed this one aspect of education whether we could start to create the kind education we are talking about.

I think I need to do some more thinking and then some writing about what teacher education could look like.

Well, time to get outside and do some shovelling — and perhaps throw the odd snowball!

Mark

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