Empty ClassroomIt is a curious time to be reflecting upon the cybernetic networks of our schools, given that they are effectively closed at the moment. But the absence of something can help bring it into sharper focus - and in the case of schools, their vanishing leaves me with three small children to teach myself. This immediately gave me a sense of awed respect for the teachers who somehow manage to keep everyone’s attention for six hours, for at home even one hour is a struggle, especially when dealing with kids of wildly different ages and attention spans.

My ‘home schooling’ turned a corner when I abandoned any pretence of following the official curriculum and simply taught what I knew well enough to teach confidently and what my kids showed aptitude or interest in learning. This has led to a dramatic improvement: I’ve largely eliminated the cryptic deciphering of exercises that come from a nebulous source and instead made teaching and learning an agreement between two individuals, in the manner advocated by Jacques Rancière in The Ignorant Schoolmaster. And isn’t this, in fact, what all education amounts to, if we take it as a purposeful activity and not a striving to check boxes?

Comparing my situation to the curriculum makes me question the entire guiding principle of school curriculum, at least as they are usually understood: as the proscribed template for subdividing learning. The necessity of the curriculum is to ensure that everyone advances slowly enough that everyone learns. This, it seems to me, still doesn’t work. Going slowly doesn’t magically get everyone’s attention, doesn’t guarantee an environment where students will commit to the active process of learning. Teaching is not like spraying crops, you can just lay it down thinly and hope it’s enough. Teaching is irrelevant until the student chooses to learn. The curriculum does nothing to address this problem - it merely provides a cybernetic brake on the rate of possible learning.

I don’t know what primary school teachers make of the curriculum - maybe they’re glad of a framework that regulates what they are doing. But it seems to me that the curriculum is a tool intended to absorb many students, and not a tool for facilitating teaching and learning. Maybe that is indeed what’s needed to deal with the conditions in the schools as they currently operate. But for the time being, I am content to pass what skills I have to my kids, and I hope that other parents are doing the same. I’m using pen and paper game designs to teach maths and English because I’m a game designer. I would be delighted to know other parents had taught plumbing, or sewing, or word processors, or carpentry, or indeed any skill at all, regardless of what the curriculum says. Learning is something that happens when people want to learn. Why do we attempt to force this opportunity to take a specific shape...?

A Hundred Cyborgs, #88

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