What defines school?

Last weekend I attended the conference “A Voice for Education” in Nottingham. This was part of the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences and none of those titles prepared me at all for what to expect!

This was the first question of the day, and I did not have a very good answer.

Voice in Education Pic

The question is,”What are the principles or features that define our vision of how education could be, and should be?”

My group had a great discussion, but I feel like we really missed the point of the question. We discussed the principles that current schools are run on and what could be done to change that. But we didn’t answer the question of ‘what defines our vision’.

Here are the common questions that are often the subject of teacher professional development days (PD, INSET, some other silly acronym):

  • What are the practices in our school?
  • What new practices are we implementing at our school?
  • What does learning look like?
  • How do we assess student understanding?
  • What is best practice in . . . .?
  • What can we do to fix . . . . ?

But those are easy questions compared to this one. Those are the questions equivalent to identifying your favorite color, what type of leisure activities you enjoy, or what the best way to organize your closet is. Those questions take the profession of teaching down to a level of fact.

This question is bigger. So, I ask myself again; What are the principles or features that define our vision of how education could be, and should be?!?

Questions derived from this might be:

  • What is the ultimate goal of education? Of learning in classrooms? Of peer groups?
  • Upon what philosophical basis is school a legitimate place?
  • How do teachers negotiate the different roles they play?
  • What are the acceptable outcomes of education?
  • What constitutes evidence of success in schools?
  • Who controls the rhetoric of public discussion of education?
  • What learning at school occurs but doesn’t have specific outcomes?
  • Would we better off discussing the fundamental purposes of education rather than the processes or outcomes?
  • Can you put too many questions on a list?!?!

Damn, this was more questions than answers. But fortunately, that was the goal of the weekend. In the past, I have noticed the “workshop disease” that infects administrators and teachers. They come back from a fancy workshop weekend in a fancy location with fancy, highly-paid speakers who are hocking books. They seem to have all the answers and no questions, lots of powerpoint presentations and no discussion. Sometimes even huge philosophical changes occur at schools in an instant without any critical reflection.

Fortunately (in my view of the world), I did not come away from this weekend with “workshop disease”.  I left with more questions than answers and with a drive to seek out more questions. This conference was a ‘discourse-based’ conversation rather than typical workshops and keynotes. It was not what I expected, but I enjoyed every moment.




One thought on “What defines school?

  1. Pingback: Distortion – Chapter 2 | winchip

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