Pablum, Politics and Brilliant

Exhibit A:  New school a ‘window into the future’

An article that is partly pablum, partly political presentation, and partly punctuated and grammared bad.

Pablum:

With solar panels on its roof, it is the first net-zero energy school in New Zealand. It has ultra-fast broadband, its own radio station, and large, open classrooms — without any desks.

Political:

..but it’s the modern face of the future, and it’s what will be the hallmark of Christchurch as we build 21 of these schools as a result of the rebuild of Christchurch schools

Bad:

Mr Key walked through the open classrooms, joined by an internal hallways,

Trifecta:

This is a window into the future. All of the academic research shows you that these open, modern learning environments, with bigger classrooms, but with shared teachers, they are the way of the future, the way of making sure we life the professional development of teaching, but also doing the very best for our kids.”

I like how the “doing the very best for the kids” – is almost just an afterthought.

Convention dictates we blame the teachers for this sort of thing.

After blaming them I suppose we can also excuse the political promotion, which in an election year is understandable and the point of the exercise.

Pointing the finger at the NZ Herald is probably pointless, after all, it’s just a few simple errors of grammar in a vast online newspaper. Everyone knows what they really mean.

Sigh.

So we weep a little inside, but know that we have to pick our battles.

So here’s the battle I’ll pick:

“It’s a brilliant school,” he said.

Is it though? Because furniture, solar panels, UFB and a radio station doesn’t make a school brilliant. It makes it shiny and new. Which is great and all, and we love to shout about those aspects. But is ‘brilliant’ the adjective you really want to go for?

Students and parents, teachers, support staff, community – they’ll make that school something. At the very least useful. At the very best – possibly “brilliant”. But that’ll take time, and the culture of this new school may or may not build on the Waikuku School of the past.

The ‘brilliance’ of the places that we put at the heart of our communities, these places we call school, that bonafide brilliance takes time and care to foster and grow. The brilliance of this school may not ever be evident in a blog post, or a newspaper article. It may just be in the simple care a teacher takes to let a child know they’re alright – that ensures Pegasus Bay School lives on as ‘brilliant’.

I hope it does so. I hope that Pegasus Bay School is honest, and open and worthy – of all the grandest of hopes and dreams we have for our children. Like all of our schools should be.

But let’s not dilute “brilliant” by heralding the stuff that doesn’t really matter.

One thought on “Pablum, Politics and Brilliant

  1. Hi Tim,
    Being persuaded we are witnessing “the future” in education when we are in “the now” is interesting – and like you I am disheartened when our pedagogical imaginings are framed through solar panels and the absence of desks.

    The argument has been used before. I think you will find the critique in this reading – Witnessing the Future by Torben Elgaard Jensen http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/200 useful if you are ever required to create a Potemkin classroom at your place.

    I prefer how you frame “brilliance” based on the connection between people – albeit in the place we call school.

    There is an alarming amount of change rhetoric in education – I am persuaded that some of it comes because schools are increasingly seen (and see themselves)as a market place for consumer product. And it is hard to think clearly about what the future may be like when we are so embedded in a consumer culture – as Turkle claims – “We approach our technologies through a battery of advertising and media narratives; it is hard to think above the din.” Turkle, Sherry. (Ed.). The inner history of devices. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008. p4 We could make the same claim about teaching and learning.

    Your thinking reminds me of Maturana “What is conserved defines identity. But what is conserved also defines what can change. This is interesting. We are so concerned about change, yet what is most important is what is conserved… politics conserve. Even revolutionaries conserve. All systems only exist as long as there is conservation of that which defines them.”–Humberto Maturana, biologist.

    What will we conserve in our “Rivers North of the Future” school? What matters most – this should capture our attention not solar panels and the absence of desks.

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