School privatization is happening around the world. It should come as no surprise that many countries have the same draconian reforms foisted on their public schools like the U.S. I find it interesting to learn how other countries run their schools and the similarities and differences between their systems and ours.
Learning Matters: The Truth About Our Schools is by Roger Titcombe, who frequently posts about education issues in England on the respected Local Schools Network (LSN). While some language differences exist with terms, it is easy to see the likenesses in our systems.
Their Academies are like our charter schools, and when reading about them it is a bit uncanny to see the similarities. Roger writes:
Academies are independent schools and despite being paid for by the taxpayer the sponsors have had complete power to dictate how and what pupils learn. Much bizarre and educationally doubtful experimentation was taking place based on the whims and prejudices of sponsors, ranging from the evangelical presentation of religious mythology as historical truth and the discrediting of science, to a belief in the need to rigorously train all pupils in the practices and ethics of free market capitalism so as to properly prepare them for employment. One Academy installed a “call centre” so that “pupils’ aspirations could be raised” by training for this type of work. P. 61. If you want to read up on call centres HERE.
In the book, Roger starts out by writing about the “media and public perception” about the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). When he and a professional statistician looked at the schools with the most improvement they found a link to poverty. Poor children in England don’t do as well on the tests as their wealthy counterparts. Sound familiar?
Roger tackles I.Q. in an interesting light, sorting the good from bad. This is risky writing. How many of us are eager to touch this topic, even though psychological testing in most public schools still considers I.Q. testing for special education placements? We don’t talk about it for fear of being seen as supporting what many of us see as the troubled thinking of Charles Murray in The Bell Curve. But we should. There’s a vivid debate here, and Roger charges into it head on whether you agree with him or not. I like that kind of writing and see it as authentic.
A nice and different feature in Roger’s book is that he interjects the story of his life and how he came to be an educator and write the book. It is interesting to hear individual stories that help you understand the personal side of an individual. It can help us understand the “why” of the story and it can actually be of value in understanding how good teaching evolves.
Think about how different this human touch is from today’s Common Core push to drop personal student narrative from English classes. Writing defines students and adults and it should not be set aside as unimportant which Common Core seems to do. In Learning Matters, it is easy to understand Roger’s passion for schools and the students they serve when you hear about his upbringing and what he learned that gets him to where he is today.
He also speaks about others who influence his thinking. Some of his analogies are fascinating.
One of my favorites is when he mentions Richard Feynman, “one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists and original thinkers,” and cleverly, I think, he ties Feynman’s scientific curiosity to early childhood development.
Feynman had many talents including a great disregard for pomposity in all its forms He enjoyed the friendship of people from all walks of life. Should the “pleasure of finding things out” be confined to the minds of Nobel Prize winners? I am sure it must not. I am equally certain that it is a universal human characteristic to take deep pleasure in gaining understanding and intellectual development from the application of curiosity. Watching my pre-school grandchildren conducting an enthusiastic bug-hunt in the garden convinces me that such curiosity is not only an innate characteristic of the human species, but is also too precious to be dulled or squandered in an education system driven by the testing needed to provide school performance data that drives false ‘choice’ in a marketised education system. p. 64.
There is much more. The book is not big and it is not expensive, but it is packed with valuable information that will enlighten and impress.
Learning Matters is a great book to add to your collection of books about public schools and the quest to make education meaningful for all children—no matter where they live.