I had an interesting discussion with two senior English teachers last night. They may have simply been taking advantage of the situation to vent their anecdotal frustrations over a few drinks, but it seems as if there is a trend and serious cultural problem in education. Basically, there is a problem in the capacity of teaching. I am choosing my words carefully, because the capacity to teach may be located from a common sense view with the teacher; however, the event of teaching (of being taught) is distributed across all related dimensions of the school governmental apparatus.
Here are the main points of this problematic that I can remember:
1) Learning is understood in terms of being the product of a service. Teaching is a service industry. Teachers and schools are service providers. One dimension of this can be located in the shift towards a privatised educational industry.
First problem: The service industry operates through various apparatuses of capturing the attention of consumers. As part of the service industry, the teaching industry needs to compete with other sources of attention. Durable architectures of captured attention are the holy grail of the service and entertainment industries. Of course, teaching cannot compete with Hollywood, Big Brother, and the weekend football. The medicalisation of this political economy of attention is now more than a decade old with drugs provided to ‘sufferers’ of ADHD and ADD.
Second problem: The teacher-student relation is modeled on a service provider-consumer relation. Students need to be convinced of why they should learn. The problem of motivation (different to, but also an extension of the problem of attention) can be indexed in terms of an instrumental imagination deficit. The flip side of this, from the point of view of the education service industry, is the test of relevance. Teach only what is relevant, do not teach to inspire imagination. Headmasters become mere administrators of a service measured in terms of a relatively declining quantitative parity.
2) The exceptionally poor quality of new teaching graduates. The education service industry teacher-student relation is doubled as the teacher-(student)teacher relation when gaps in the capacity of teachers (resources and practical abilities) become apparent.
First problem: The general resources of popular and specialist knowledges is lacking. This is a basic problem of a lack of exposure to various traditional and newer texts and other forms of teaching content.
Second problem: New teachers are now a product of the educational service industry. They lack the necessary courage, honesty and intellectual curiousity to engage in the space of the classroom interface with students. The new teachers (and new practices of teaching for old teachers) suffer from a profound fear of getting the service delivery of ‘education’ wrong, so they opt for secure and intellectually neutured forms of interaction. This makes me think of a friend’s honours project within medicine on medical error. Medical error is not understood as an unwanted, but inevitable resource that can be used to learn how to make the practice of medicine better. Instead it is understood solely within a governmental frame of inept service provision that needs to be covered up or at best expelled. This is a problem of the honesty required to assess one’s capabilities and pursue a course of development that addresses one’s deficiencies not simply a course of action whereby one seeks to maximise personal job security in a volatile and personally corrosive service industry.
3) The culture of education in the NSW education service industry has suffered from the absolute intellectual poverty of reactionary commentators from the government through to media pundits.
First problem: Teachers need to be encouraged and supported, not denounced so they are policed in line with the absolute stupidity of conservatives. In fact, traditional conservatives, those who speak out against so-called postmodernism and so on in support of ‘classical’ texts, probably do not realise that they make the situation worse when teachers are the intellectually crippled products of the education service industry. The new teachers simply have not read or experienced these ‘classic’ texts and they do not have the intellectual courage, curiousity and honesty to go learn them.
Second problem: The profound ignorance of most of the commentariat (and for that matter most of the teaching staff) of the development of intellectual tools. I do not mean tools of a ‘good’ ideological basis, I mean tools that actually allow students to have the capability for living in the contemporary post-industrial and media saturated world. The ‘postmodernist’ module in senior English suffers from an older teaching staff too scared and uncomfortable with having to learn it so as to teach it, and a younger teaching staff too stupid to understand it or even have the capacity to understand that they should try to understand it.
As the education service industry is a service industry it will be up to parents to put pressure on the industry to change.
One way to incorporate the dynamic, constantly changing terrain of the syllabus and the practicalities of having to modify its delivery is to institutionalise continual university-level retraining (for which teachers must be paid). A simply ‘information day’ is not enough. Teachers should be given substantial time to retrain over a set time frame. So, for example, switching to part time teaching loads for a term every two years to go back to uni. Having intellectually stimulated teachers should be understood as an important goal for any contemporary society.
A structural and institutional solution is the only way to solve this problem.