chronic boredom and irrelevance

please excuse this rant

a diatribe concerning the captive consumers of our woe, the children

They are the future. We create the future through them. They do not choose to be there. They do not choose to study the available curriculum. It has been chosen for them. They do not choose the structures of schooling including the structure of the day, with whom they are taught, their timetables nor the time for which individual subjects are taught. They do not choose just what is to be taught from the infinities of possibilities, nor why. They do not choose to divide knowledge into the separate subjects. They do not choose their teachers, the teachers’ personalities and the teachers’ particular teaching styles and the theories of learning on which they are (presumably) based. They rarely choose their own work. They are marked and assessed according to criteria they do not choose, and are categorized accordingly.  They are embedded in a system, a technological machine, which I imagine they have to tacitly assume is the best possible type of machine that society can construct, through much deep thought, which will enable them to live happy fulfilled lives and fully prepare them for the future. They accept it because it is the way things are. The status quo. The embedding in this prevailing school machine technology has inevitable consequences. Many like it. After all it is a vast social flux, they make friends, often for life, they meet people all the time. It is busy and involving. No one likes their work all the time after all, unless they are very lucky, and for much of the time, it is ‘OK’. It can lead to qualifications which are basically passports to further qualifications and restricted better jobs, even vocations and ‘professional’ activities and lifestyles. Children see this and it causes a certain degree of concentration (which is a kind of motivation imitating intrinsic motivation), even great concentration in some who can achieve excellent results in their exams. These achieve because they are born with the capacities that enable them to relatively easily fit in. It ‘suits’ them, as it ‘suited’ me up to a point. Everyone is pleased and their self-esteem becomes high. It is a good feeling. All you have to do is work hard and learn things and do well in exams, though exams are ‘not what anyone in their right mind would actually choose’. Still, they get on with it. If they make it to A levels or university, similar structures and processes prevail. If they decide to work hard and play hard, they generally have a good time. After all, they have the advantage of choosing (to some extent) their general areas of study. Sometimes, even specifics.  For others the story is not quite so rosy. They perceive, early on that the work is hard. That it is not very interesting. They look around and see others doing it easily and being rewarded in various ways. They get rewarded too, but as they get older they cannot help comparing themselves to those who will obviously ‘do better’ in the long run. As the work is ‘hard’ to understand and hence it is not easy to ‘do well’ it begins to be chronically wearing. Sooner or later most students experience this. Even for those who have inclinations and innate abilities praised and needed by the system, the relentless learning of new things, often not seeming to have much if any direct relevance to them and their needs, except for the need to pass exams, can cause chronic weariness can set in. It happens at university too. “Mum, why can it seem so irrelevant and dull? Why does it have to be done, apart from the exam angle? Why is it all considered to be necessary? Why is it all compulsory?  What is it all actually for?” Sometimes, they have ‘learning difficulties’. If they are told, or perceive that they are in fact in a different ‘category’ to most, they might easily come to ‘believe it’ hence totally altering their view of themselves, often for life. They might have some real special differences that are obvious, such as for instance, blindness, deafness or cerebral palsy which undoubtedly provide challenges to themselves and the providers of experience, their teachers. Sometimes, they have ‘learning difficulties’ that are less tangible, but which are still ‘seen’ to cause ‘difficulties’ for the ‘normal’ processes of the technological machine system. It is rarely seen as a product of the system itself. The system is generally not sensitively reflexive enough for that. It is the fault of the others – parents, society in general, the children in particular. Sometimes through individual teachers’ enthusiasms, and sometimes because the children like the teachers as people, students can get carried along down even very abstract and esoteric routes and actually enjoy the processes and products of learning along the way getting satisfaction through the sense of a job well done. There is nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t always happen. In fact, it usually doesn’t happen. Some work is just too dull, or presented in too dull a style, in a flat, matter of fact, monotonous manner, ‘because its good for you’. It can be perceived as irrelevant by the students. Some teachers just cannot hold it all together. Other issues can emerge. ‘Disruption’ of the ‘lesson’ can easily occur due to others who have already given up the idea of pursuing the lessons’ aims and deciding to ‘have a bit of fun’ instead. It is true that it takes only one very disruptive person to destroy a teaching environment. Almost nothing can productively proceed in an atmosphere of noise and confusion. Threats and rewards can be issued and will ‘work’ with some at least temporarily. Machine gun nests work a treat. The lid can be kept on through externally imposed discipline. The repressive communist regime of Tito’s Yugoslavia managed this quite well. More ‘discipline’, including clearly visible, increasingly painful sanctions, parent/carer contracts and now quite common well established systems of ‘assertive discipline’ are acclaimed, and can ‘hold it all together’. Guilt and fear also work a treat. ‘Order’, real and apparent, is re-establishable. The normal processes of the status quo school technological machine are then re-established and proceed to the apparent satisfaction and indeed praise of all, often including the students. Certainly to most staff, the general population and government, who are seen to be improving standards. Indeed, at one level they are. Life is once again a bed of roses……but is it? Symptoms have been suppressed. What about the causes? Who bothers digging here? The causes are more insidious, more chronic, more pathological. They are potential viruses threatening the system itself. Leave them alone. In order to dig where it is dark one requires an active conscience, an unflagging, instinctual need for the development of self and professional knowledge. The digger requires courage, because what one might find in the dug hole might backfire on ones own beliefs and inner, tacitly held convictions. The digger might archaeologically expose himself and be taken away as a deviant. That is what societies do to maintain the deeply caused and little sensed status quo. It creates ‘objects of deviance’ which are cast out. Suck on these ideas and see for yourselves if there may be any substance in them. Do any cause resonances within you about teaching and learning. I am just one agent in this flux, self-constructed by my labours and experiences. Chronic boredom and irrelevance infect present educational systems, at all levels, but especially for the those compelled to be captive audiences. Dig where it is dark. Most people aren’t interested in this esoteric activity, because not only is it difficult, it is disturbing. It is also, transformative. Who wants that?