The first featured commentary by David Chalke, one of Australia’s leading social analysts, who claimed that teachers were telling their students that all views are equally valid.
This has allegedly helped turn Australia into a nation of whingers (Courier Mail, Sept 2, ‘Blame it on education’).
A second Guardian article (‘Schools a microcosm of society’ Sept 27) quotes Sir Kevan Collins, Head of the UK Education Endowment Foundation, who argues that the best way to tackle declining student academic results, as revealed in various OECD reports, is to upskill teachers using evidence-based research.
According to Collins, “what teachers need are insights and information that give them the chance to make better decisions.”
Chalke may have an argument but to sheet the blame on teachers is unreasonable and myopic.
He implies that teachers, writ large, are preaching moral relativism in some post-modern conspiracy to undermine values such as tolerance and rational debate.
He is certainly correct in his observation that debate in this country and elsewhere has degenerated into mind-numbing mud-slinging and irrational diatribe.
The current gay-marriage debate typifies logic-free debate and the acceptance of playing the man rather than the ball.
It is a long straw to blame teachers for this malaise. Schools serve to reinforce society’s values.
It begs the question of exactly what values should schools be teaching?
What are these guiding values that teachers should be reinforcing every day in their classrooms?
The combative nature of Australia’s political and cultural discourse results in a world where anything goes, circumscribed by the latest canons of political correctness.
Meanwhile, teachers are expected to divine what values should underpin their lessons.
Complicating matters further, is the stated goal of offering a values-neutral curriculum.
To avoid the contamination of a non-secular curriculum, teachers are aware that they must not be seen to proselytize or push one particular barrow at the expense of another.
Parents will be quick to jump down those teachers’ throats who are seen to be indoctrinating their children.
As a result, teachers are loathe to champion any cause for fear that they may offend. God forbid we celebrate Christmas in our classrooms!
What is needed is a consensus as to exactly what we value most in our society.
For my part, teaching students to think critically and be willing to expose their attitudes and values to rigorous logic and self-analysis would be a good start!
Collins’ premise that the solution to declining academic results is better teaching is an insult to the majority of teachers who have to teach children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in our state schools.
Does anyone honestly think that private schools get better results because of superior teachers?
Most state school teachers can, at best, apply a compassionate band-aid to children whose lives are often dysfunctional and whose prospects are often hopeless.
All the magic tricks the best teachers have acquired will not overcome systemic and structural socio-economic disadvantage.
If a student arrives at school traumatised by their experiences in an abusive family, effective learning will be a pipedream.
Providing breakfast to these children would be a better fix than applying the latest jazzy educational pedagogy.
Unless students’ basic needs are being met, it is unlikely that they will succeed in the pursuit of learning.
Furthermore, if teachers are not given the support to effectively discipline their classes so that the majority can actually learn, all the latest teaching strategies are useless.
Teachers cannot solve endemic socio-economic and cultural problems. To suggest otherwise is naïve.
However, if we strive to build a fairer and more caring society, better learning outcomes will be more likely to follow.