Changing Education Paradigms

The RSAnimate lecture series is a really brilliant resource, especially for people like me who have a slightly unpredictable attention span. Really interesting topics, explained in around 10 minutes by amazing thinkers like David Harvey and Slavoj Žižek. This video, with a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson, is really great.

Firstly, his take on ADHD – as a ‘fictional epidemic’ – is really interesting, I’ve been interested in ADHD since before starting my undergraduate degree when I worked at Disability Challengers. I’d recommend Richard DeGrandpre’s Ritalin Nation for anyone interested in the growth of the ADHD industry, if a little out of date by now. Robinson describes how the ADHD ‘epidemic’ isn’t quite as ‘epidemic’ as we might think, and also shows how education, and particularly the arts, are negatively affected by the growth in ADHD prescription drugs like ritalin – if the arts rely on the aesthetic experience, then the use of anaesthetics cannot be conducive to being inspired and engaged. As someone who spent the summer trying to write whilst having to take co-codamol almost everyday, I agree!

He then goes on to talk about how the growth in the ADHD epidemic mirrors the growth of standardised testing in schools, and challenges the industrial approach of education, which sees the school as a factory, with children passed through in uniform batches. Why do children have to go through schools in classes based on age group? Why are they taught there is only one right answer, why are they told they must do their ‘own work’, when collaboration is such a positive aspect of learning?

Its given me something to think about, at the end of my first semester tutoring on the Introduction to Social Anthropology undergraduate course at Edinburgh. The legacy of formal, school learning has such an impact on the students – sometimes the groups felt like pulling teeth, no one wanted to speak. Of course they didn’t – having a tutorial, where students are supposed to be doing the talking, asking the questions, pulling apart the ideas, is completely alien to school education. You’re not taught that you have anything interesting or worthwhile to add, you’re taught that you know less than the teacher, and you need to listen to them. If you ask a question, it’s because you don’t understand something, not because you want to challenge an idea, or consider it differently. And you ask questions of the teacher, not of your fellow students. So trying to shake off all that and get students to bring their own ideas, opinions and analysis to class and actually discuss rather than listen is pretty tough.

I’m going to my first session of a Paulo Friere reading group next week run by the Adult Learning Project, who are an amazing organisation. I’m working with some friends on a new course for them for next year, but in the mean time keen to learn about more creative, empowering forms of education. We’ll be talking about this piece by Nigel Gibson next week, hopefully it might give me some ideas on how to make next semester’s tutorials run a little more interactively.

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