Thursday, November 12, 2009

It Saddens Me

Yesterday, two separate news items saddened me. Koala bears face extinction in the wild. So do orang-utans. The planet will be less interesting and more the poorer for the loss of these two species.

On a different tack it also saddens me to hear uninformed criticism of our schools and teachers. They are better than their critics often realise. When I was executive director for the New Zealand Council for Teacher Education in the early 1990s amongst other duties I managed international teacher exchanges. At first teachers from overseas found our classrooms more stressful and energy sapping than they had imagined or experienced. Their stress was not just working in a new environment, but it was in finding that the preparation of lessons and fresh resources, day after day, took them much longer than in their homelands.

They often bewailed to me in the early stages of their stay the lack of textbooks, and of pre-packaged, school or state-wide “off-the-shelf” courses. Equally often at the end of their stay here, many had become converts to our system. Converts in that they realised how our education centred around the needs of the students, rather than dictates laid down by paternalistic officers in the capital city.

Likewise our teachers returned from their year’s exchange to report that initially they felt it was marvelous with less preparation time, but as the year progressed they increasingly realised the value of flexibility and the increased responsibility of our system. Don’t underestimate what we achieve here.

Teaching is a blend of theatre and scholarship. Each teacher combines their own character and their own talents within the learning situation. To outsiders it appears a simple task. In reality it is extremely complex one, requiring considerable professional expertise, emotional labour and commitment.

The Chinese have a proverb. Give a man a fish and he can feed his family for a day. Teach him to fish and he can provide for them every day. I add my own twist. There are many ways to catch fish. There is not just one way.

As a species humans are very adaptable. This is a blessing and a curse. It enables us to change the environment in which we exist. But a consequence of this is to endanger other species by reducing their habitat. Koalas and orangutans, like the panda, by their very specialisation are in an evolutionary cul-de-sac. They are vulnerable because of the changes we make. To take the proverb a step further – if you catch all the fish then you will starve. Common sense dictates that conservation should be part of the education curriculum.

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