Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Difficult Path from Good to Better


From Good to Better, the title of my blog, is taken from the Voltaire quote, “The better is the enemy of the good”.  A variant of this quote was used recently at the BCSSA Conference in Victoria, and I think it describes very accurately the situation in which the BC public education system currently finds itself.

As with past PISA results, in the results released last week Canada has done quite well and BC has done quite well within Canada.  We in BC take pride in the fact that we have a strong and relatively progressive education system.  For instance, the graduation rates in BC as a whole are about 80%.  The graduation rate of my own district (Richmond) is consistently on the order of 90%, a statistic of which we are rightfully proud.  To find these statistics and others about BC education click here.  So by just about any accepted measure, the province of BC as a whole is doing quite well, educationally speaking.  But this is where we need to consider Voltaire’s quote.

Though the overall picture is good, there are populations and districts across the province that continue to struggle, and though we may wring our hands and come up with new strategies, these groups continue to flounder in the current system.  So maybe we really need to look at changing ‘all of it’ meaning the current paradigm of education and all the various mindsets that go with it.  This is where ‘good’ really is the enemy of ‘better’.

Our current system, particularly secondary schools, is essentially a factory model of school built around the ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor.  Reductionism and efficiency of purpose were the order of the day.  Couple these with a simplistic and limited model of intelligence; throw in some 20th century behaviourism, and the underpinnings of our educational model become apparent.  But as researchers in various fields have come to discover, true learning is not efficient and compartmentalized.  Intelligence is almost infinitely malleable and notoriously difficult to define, and behaviourism is a very weak model for how human beings actually learn and master things.  In other words, the foundations of our current model of education are shaky at best.

So we’re left in the awkward situation where we as a province are doing very well within a system that itself is not well designed for optimal learning.  If a system is failing its students, then in many ways it’s easier to chuck the whole thing in and start again.  But when you are doing very well according to the predominant model of education worldwide, then revolutionary ‘new beginnings’ are impossible, not to mention ill advised.  One (among many) of our major tasks is going to be overcoming the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality.  We need to work toward changing current thinking and current practices to take into account new findings in various fields such as neuro and evolutionary biology, cultural anthropology and psychology.  We need to review, and revise as necessary, our educational frameworks such that our pedagogical habits are more in line  “With the grain of the brain”.  Good may well be the enemy of better, but better is better.