SCREAM September 2009
Cultural treachery in every chance to dumb down and comply
If you do a google search on the ACT Government's "Every Chance To Learn", its new framework for educational practice for K to 10, the most striking thing is the complete absence of any criticism. Does this suggest there isn't any? Or is it symptomatic of approaches to policies whereby marketing spin and a general attitude of fear is engendered to prevent alternative viewpoints and diversity from being encouraged and aired in public forum.
To suggest that Every Chance To Learn is an act of cultural treachery is probably too harsh an assessment of it. Callous indifference to principles of diversity, deeper learning and artistic enrichment is more accurate. It makes educational practices into a series of horizontal layers of tick boxes and a distorted banking concept of education.
One wonders how serious and how committed the authors of the document were! Nowhere do their names appear (unless in some small print hidden below a rock where no one can find). The "disclaimer" is absurdly funny and might be worth a bit of a giggle if the subject of educating our kids wasn't so serious. And when it comes to copyright, who gets the nod? Is it some educational brains trust? Are there people with deep insights whose valuable research and contribution are of the highest value?
NO! In the true traditions of bureaucratic priority the copyright holders for this document (a document purporting to provide the framework through which schools will provide an educational program for our children) are listed as:
The Australian Capital Territory
Australian Capital Tourism.
This is in complete contrast to the senior college areas under the control of the Board of Senior Secondary Studies (BSSS) where all frameworks and courses are credited with specific authorship. However, is this practice in the senior college area also going to be threatened? The fact that this horizontal tick-box approach to education flies in the face of most educational research and thinking for over half a century seems of no concern in this authorless document. It also does not reflect the actual linked resources offered in the document.
But the malaise which has accompanied the adoption of Every Chance to Learn will start to come apart as parents wanting to enroll their children in Year 9 Arts subjects (yes there are such people) and other elective areas suddenly find they cannot enroll their children in those areas that are most suited to them or that were accomplished by older siblings before the introduction of Every Chance To Learn. The supposed choices on offer in Every Chance to Learn are more like a person being offered the chance to jump off a building or jump off a bridge. Neither choice offers satisfaction. In most schools, Year 9 students have been able to adopt at least two arts areas for more intense study. In following a horizontal approach, student choices are now being more prescriptive and it is unlikely that any will be able to take on compatible subjects like Visual Art and Drama or like Music and Media ...
The framework actually militates against the development and mining of deep knowledge in the arts. By making an assumption that all students MUST do a creative arts subject in years 9 and 10, this seemingly well intentioned assumption simply decreases the ability of subject streams to challenge students to engage more with the chosen art forms. Having fifteen or sixteen year old students being forced into taking subjects for which they have little interest nor aptitude is counter-productive and will only result in lessening teachers' options in differentiating for different thinking styles, experiences and interests. Limiting choices for students with a very high degree of ability and aptitude in the arts signals a lowering of arts subject status and ultimately will make arts subjects into frills on the edges of educational practices ... something akin to how they were in the 1950s and 60s.
Arts workers might feel a sense of betrayal from such a lowering of status. But on a wider cultural note, the de-emphasizing of cultural perspectives through artistic practices and study in schools in the older adolescence age range comes at a time when the world is facing major cultural clash. To understand who we are, we need to become more familiar with the relationship between the means for expressing our visions and the ability to create forms that communicate such visions.
To imagine our education system can be reduced to tick boxes like little commodities on a shopping list displays a denial of how people really grow and really experience the world. The document incorporates many links to valuable resources (eg. Edward de Bono) yet paradoxically is structured in a way that is antithetical to the notions they espouse. While it is difficult to argue against any one of the essential learning areas outlined as having merit, the assumption that each one must be somehow absorbed by every student is simply ridiculous. Yet this is the basis of Every Chance To Learn. The arts are most likely to be the main victim of this attempt. With too much crowding and cluttering of serious approaches in the name of a tick box of supposed essential ingrediants, schools will simply opt to prove compliancy. And this means a lack of real achievement for students in the areas and fields where they are most suited.
What school or teacher is going to stand up and be critical of the document when compliancy with the framework is a condition of funding? Even when there are obvious points where criticism is valid and indeed necessary! And while we are not as yet in the same circle with Iran's Ahmadinejad and his cleric masters, is it not timely to take a closer and more critical look at the sources of our educational and arts paradigms being engaged in our own society? Maybe we owe it to the next generations of Australians not to simply take the chance option to dumb down and comply because that is the easy way ...
Education is not a passive smorgasbord of tick-boxes. There are deep reasons and imperatives as to why our populations need to engage with the self and the other; with the life and death struggle to survive and prosper and fulfill potential. That so often, all too often, supposedly civilized societies engage in the most brutal of acts disguised in semantics of collatoral damage and distanced from direct feeling and responsibility suggests our purpose in education needs to be considered at far deeper levels than what we see in current curriculum discussions and agendas.
Please access Joe Woodward's 2003 SCREAM for a more impassioned discussion on the relationship between arts practice and society.
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