At this time, attempting to reimagine education may seem like too big an ask. However, while educators might be meeting the challenges of online learning, there are also moments of absurdity that should make us question our hopes for a return to normal.
Perhaps there should have been more than a little eyebrow-raising when the Victorian Minister for Education, James Merlino, told senior students in regional areas to stay home to “level the playing field”, as if it was ever really level, let alone if we consider how these competitive logics puts “the system” ahead of learning.
Even the more quotidian oddities such as uniforms-at-home and the clinging to school timetables should give us a pause to consider how these practices have always privileged order and compliance above freedom and creativity.
We should listen to students' voices
While the grown-ups are tying themselves in knots trying to keep the system going, young people caught in this moment might prefer a more revolutionary trajectory. Students are gaining their voice, and we would be wise to listen, because the challenges facing education exceed the implications of the dire job market, and the faltering world economy.
While we may not have the leisure to reflect on practice right now, circumstances do suggest the very necessity of doing just that. Our educational system has been withering on the vine for some time, yet the pace of decline is now potentially more urgent.
Economists grappling with the implications of the pandemic have argued that investing in education could future-proof the economy. However, this future-proofing is less than inspiring considering that education is already yoked to our “more-ish” global economic model, which at its core underpins an endless quest for growth that we all quietly know is leading the catastrophic destruction of our biosphere.
In this moment of crisis, educators grappling with their everyday challenges must be careful not to give in to the broader collective breath-holding and attempting to reproduce old industrial-age practices in the virtual domain.
Educators shouldn’t be hoping that life will return to how it was before, because there were always practices that never really worked anyway, and certainly not for those who couldn’t afford its more privileged offerings. The overworked and undervalued teachers, the high-stakes testing that runs roughshod over the rights of the child and the real needs of their school communities, and politicisation of all things educational are all symptoms of a diseased educational ecosystem. Instead, we must seek the potential of a life as never before.
And make no mistake, it is a potential through and through, because together we could construct an educational system more joyfully disposed towards human flourishing instead of competition and prestige that currently usurps education’s moral imperative.
Time is right for transformation
What I’m suggesting is that we can thrive in the present and reimagine our educational purpose if we transform our relationship with education. Some will say that this transformation is too big an ask, because we certainly aren’t any closer to transforming our economies in the face of COVID-19, and neither are we getting any closer to a greener future.
Yet already, parents are better understanding the work of teachers, and supporting their efforts in ways that might mark a departure from relations-as-usual between parents and their schools.
Our students, born into an age of endless crises, also know that the future will need their labour and wherewithal if solutions are to be found. But, we seem to be stuck doing education to them rather than with them.
Nietzsche once wrote that “the snake that cannot shed its skin perishes”, which makes me wonder how our educational system might likewise perish, and our social fabric fail us, if we fail to seize the moment.
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