Apathy – to what extent is it my problem?

Avoid Apathyphoto © 2010 break.things | more info (via: Wylio)
Apathy has been on my mind recently. It has been highlighted in my mind by the current federal election that we are having in Canada. There has been a lot of talk about how disconnected young people are from our leaders. To make a long story short this has got me wondering to what extent this is my problem, or even to what extent am I responsible. As a social studies teacher for the last ten years I have worked with a large number of very dedicated colleagues and one of our fervent hopes has been to produce active, thriving, functioning citizens. When you look at the Alberta Program of Studies for Social Studies it says: “Social studies provides opportunities for students to develop the attitudes, skills and knowledge that will enable them to become engaged, active, informed and responsible citizens.” It has said roughly the same thing for quite a while, I would guess right around 35 years. Yet in those 35 years there is no evidence whatsoever that more of students are actually becoming engaged, active, informed and responsible citizens. I want my students to become all these things, and I am sure that some of them have become that, but I question whether many are. So if that’s the case, why? What are we doing?

The answer of course is much bigger than I could possibly discuss in one blog post, but here’s an observation I noted over the last couple of days. I have several students who are actually quote interested in knowing details about the current election and how government functions in general. They have a lot of questions about it. They may have been taught in the past how it works, but we all know the difference between teaching and learning can be pretty large sometimes, and they are hungry for answers. How many times though in our race to tackle the ‘material’ that we feel we need to cover that we rush through these questions without really answering much. I asked my students to complete the CBC vote compass and got a whole lot of questions about issues which are of interest to Canadians, yet at the same time I felt I couldn’t possibly explore the issues adequately. Of course I can answer their questions, but how long will that answer stick with them. I am convinced that as a social studies teacher I am missing something.

I also don’t think there’s one answer. I found this wonderful video today which highlighted some societal issues and practices (which can in many cases be applied to schools) that certainly help play a role. However if I was presenting this video I might add that we are not being very successful in school in getting students to be engaged. We probably would not be able to engage all students in society, but, at least from a social studies teacher’s perspective, we are missing something really important.

So yes it is my problem, both as a social studies teacher and a member of society.


Blown hard against the rocks…

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post for the last couple of days.  We had a school professional development day on Friday.  It was, I thought, a very good day and one that included some wonderful elements.  Even my presentation on web 2.0 went well, although I wish it would have been better attended, but it’s a difficult concept for some to wrap their heads around, and the way it was set up, everyone could really only make one choice.  Much of what interested me however, was what happened in our morning session where we were looking at what we need to do to tackle reform in education.  I am continually encouraged when it comes to the way we are approaching education reform in my world (understanding that there may be some rose-coloured glasses involved because it’s what I earnestly hope for).  First off we watched Sir Ken Robinson’s wonderful RSAnimate video on shifting education paradigms.  A video which, even though it’s been made available in plethora of locations I think it’s worth embedding here, again.

What heartened me was the general reaction of so many who saw the video that really Sir Ken brings forward some awesomely powerful arguments.  That so many really want to buy into what he has to say.  It reminded me of how much more powerfully change can be affected with the use of things like YouTube.  Sir Ken certainly brings vitality to the education ‘reform’ debate, and the web allows us to be affected by what he says much more immediately than we might have been in the past.  Certainly there is no need for schools or other institutions to go spend thousands (tens of thousands?) of dollars to be powerfully impacted by people like him.  I also noted that even our province’s website that is advocating a discussion in education reform has Sir Ken’s speech embedded in it.

Not everything is rosy however, I guess nothing ever is.  It was driven home for me again today when I read Dr. Scott McLeod’s Dangerously Irrelevant post from Thursday.  The points that Dr. McLeod enumerated for why we are not changing included this one comment about teachers who feel they cannot change:

believe they can’t because of “the tests” (a claim for which I’m skeptical for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that we already did low-level instruction with kids before “the tests”)

This point of view was of course in evidence although certainly with many variations of the theme.  So what to do?  Do we just keep going around and around in a circle chasing our tail or do we actually try and make a difference?

Ultimately I believe that Sir Ken argues that the structure criticized by Dr. McLeod is not necessarily our fault it has just happened over a period of time much longer than any of us have been alive.  That our system was originally designed for some very different purpose than what it is now being used for.  I am now convinced more than ever that we, the teachers, who are in the front line need to follow the pathfinders we already have in our midst and figure out how we can move in a direction of more engagement and a more diverse approach to education.

  • Will it be easy? – Not by a long shot.
  • Will it be messy? – Absolutely!
  • Do we have a choice? – I believe we do not!

We can try and wait for those in charge to lead us, but we could be waiting a long time.  Let’s not let these winds of reform get blown hard against the rocks like so many attempts before have been. With modern technology and people like Sir Ken Robinson advocating for change, we might just have a chance.

Just as long as no one mentions money (uggh).

A few thoughts on engagement

Yesterday morning my school brought in Keith Hawkins to speak to us on engaging students and it was a fabulous experience. I would highly recommend him to anybody with the authority to have him come speak at your school. It was engaging, thought-provoking and a timely reminder about what is really important in school: engaging students in learning.  His main emphasis was how important it is to try and make those connections with students and he demonstrated this in rather neat and entertaining ways.  One of the nicest reminders, since he was talking to just the teachers first was how really important we are as role models.  We are far too often the only stable role model that many of our students see and we have the potential to have great influence.  It’s our attitude that makes a difference and he was very forceful in reminding us about the importance of being committed to our students and the school that we work at.  I was a little surprised about how forceful he was considering his audience, but sometimes we need people to tell us like it is (or in this case speaking truth to power).

I know that we often hear these messages but when presented in an amusing funny manner it can be really enjoyable and memorable.  One little acronym that I’ll never forget is FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.  A reminder that everyone makes assumptions based on what we think is reality and many times these are false assumptions.  It was a motivating way to start the day.

It has begun!

I set up this blog in an attempt to provide my colleagues with access to web 2.0 content that I will be discussing at my PD session on Oct. 6, 2009.  It is what it is, and it remains my first attempt so I don’t expect too much.