Attila the Pun
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Article gets an "F"

Remember the snickering that occured when a teachers union in England wanted to replace the word "fail" with "deferred success"? If Neil Hooley's views are representative of the current crop of education lecturers in Australia, we could be heading the same way.

We can perhaps excuse ourselves a wry smile when we hear that the Federal Government is demanding that all schools fly the national flag. This is part of the agreement reached between Canberra and all states and territories on the provision of $31 billion of funding over the next five years. Interestingly, and as far as I am aware, flying the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander flag is not included in the contract.

Why is that interesting? Australia has one flag, that's the one that should be flown. I don't believe the flags of the states are part of the contract either, is that also "interesting"?

Unfortunately, it gets worse.

Yes it does.

States and territories are also required to ensure that student reports are based on a system of letter grades, A to E. Apparently, parents are confused by other terminology that might use words such as "established", "consolidated", "developed" and the like.

I am not so sure that parents are "confused", more likely they are annoyed or frustrated that such vague terms are used.

A grade of B, for example, is very explicit and everyone knows what it means.


But if I received a piece of paper inscribed with the letter B and nothing else, I would have very little idea of what was intended.

And you teach at a university? Of course comments can be provided suggesting how work could be improved, but where is the vice in providing a grade as well?

We have a distinct choice here. Either it is appropriate to draw up an absolute scale that measures achievement, or we look at progress that has been made over time.

So applying that logic to sport, the award for "most improved" should be more prestigious than that for "best and fairest" because the B & F winner may have won it last year as well, and therefore hasn't made as much "progress" as the willing but inferior player? Actually, Hooley does attempt to apply it to sport:

Matthew Hayden, for example, took a decade to break into the Australian cricket team and overcame many hurdles along the way. An absolute rating during his journey may have been a fail.

Actually, on a scale of A to E, it would be perfectly possible to compare Hayden's career to his peers and come up with a mark. This could be done per season (his tour of the sub-continent getting an A, his current tour of England getting a D) or over his entire career.

The allocation of absolute grades to the learning of children fits into a particular logic of knowledge.


This says that schools are involved in the passing on of predetermined information or subject content that can be known, taught, assessed and rated accurately at each age or year level.

He has a problem with schools "passing on" information that can be "known"? What role does he think schools should perform?

An alternative view indicates that children learn by building their own knowledge and that learning is always a work in progress. Under these conditions, it is highly problematic whether predetermined content can be known, taught, assessed and rated accurately.

Any school whose "logic" states that "predetermined content" cannot be known or taught has no right to call itself a school.

Can we construct one paradigm as more equitable than the other?

I hope this guy doesn't lecture in grammar.

Does it really matter whether criteria are used, whether one logic or the other is followed? There are two concerns.

If you are lecturing teachers to believe that kiddies can only build their own knowledge, and cannot be assessed on predetermined content, then I have more than two concerns.

First, not all children approach learning in the same way and following one approach will, by definition, exclude large numbers of children who prefer the other. Second, adopting one logic, whichever it is, says to children that there is only one way to learn and that deviation from this leads to personal and educational failure.

Note to kiddies - believing that there can never be a "correct approach" and that on your "learning voyage" only you can "build your own knowledge" will lead to educational failure, except in arts degress and lecturing in education apparently.

What many teachers try to do to get around these problems is to develop an inclusive curriculum that recognises the different approaches. The framework of learning involves participation with the knowledge, ideas and practices of others, but the starting point for inclusion is the child's interests, history and intent. The framework is democratic and inquiry-based rather than autocratic and obligatory.

I would never suggest that education shouldn't be tailored to a child's needs to a certain extent, but you can never have a "democratic" and voluntary framework - otherwise most kids would vote to do bugger all. How much maths would get taught in a democtratic classroom...?

Parents will make up their own minds, but children may have little option to do so, locked in the iron cage of A to E determinism.

They got children released from compulsory detention, surely getting them out of determinism should be a breeze by comparison.

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