Can #Education truely deal with increasing #Diversity?

The answer is almost uncomfortably simple: CEOs care about stock value because that’s how we measure them. If we want to change what they care about, we should change what we measure. – Dan Ariely, Harvard Business Review

The central difficulty that schools are grappling with in the 21st century is that the world now faces challenges in daily news events and the economy that demand people develop awareness and personal skills that schools have never measured. Like most human behaviour, when an institution doesn’t measure and report on something, it inadvertently promotes its unimportance to both teachers and students.

You may have heard but the the world is changing rather quickly. As migration and urbanisation increase our social and cultural diversity, most communities are being reshaped faster than education, as a system, can cope with. Fortunately for a few students, some teachers are making an effort but when wanting to improve the situation wherever conflict appears, we need to move beyond knowing (theory) and alter people’s natural behaviour (practice).

Education’s fools gold

Our Dollars are Cents and vice versa. Schools deal in three types of learning, which I will evidence in terms of schools dealing with the supposed development of skills at handling conflicts and understanding trade-offs.

1. Academic Theory
– Explaining the what, how and why

A History teacher I work with is known for comparing student conflicts in school with historical events.  Just because something is taught doesn’t mean something is learnt and even if something is leant, I have quoted before “knowing is not doing.” Solving conflict requires empathy and communication skills, behaviours one develops and not just topics to understand. Here lies the problem: It is easy to measure one’s current but arbitrary knowledge using standardised tests and therefore this becomes the driving currency of factory model (people-as-product) schools. Knowledge has always been the driving currency but it’s loosing its stock value faster than ever and a continued focus on it fails to develop the next generation to act positively and cope with the diversity they will face.

2. Academic Experience

-Contrived task designed by teacher to evoke the situation

Using the Academic belief of “Teacher knows best,” these are the activities that your teacher hopes will give meaning to a topic or skill and remove the sense that its just for the test/knowledge. A teacher I know took a recent news story and asked her students to role-play the following scenario:

The Philippines Basketball team had a huge team punch-up with the Australians, how do you react as their team coach?

The students had to prepare a short performance in how the coach and players might behave in a post match team-talk. They apparently did “great performances” but after a few years of school, children develop a well practiced instinct for when teachers are trying to “make things interesting” when they know the teacher would rather just explain it. The unfortunate regularity of these contrived teaching scenarios, regardless of teachers’ well-meaning intentions, leads to students not truely engaging, especially as these types of activities are almost never measured and reported on and thus accidentally promoted as less important.

3. True Experience
(Genuine need for the understanding & skills)

Industrialised / standardised schools face the problem that their main currency has always been knowledge and so daily learning time is focused on information and this leaves skills like conflict resolution and empathic behaviours relegated to one-off lessons or special days like Pink-Shirt day which I have clear evidence don’t change the behaviour of children long-term. Lessons, events, and single activities focus on the surface of the idea, the knowledge of such a situation or issue, but can not change on-going behaviours for the majority.

Not a lesson or event

When considering an example I can offer that genuinely develops people who behave and display skills in dealing with conflicting values and assumptions, or indeed any skill or behavioural trait, it would never be a task, lesson, or event. It would have to be a school where the design of its environment and all activity is based on creating daily situations that demand students deal with differences and opinions and this forms part of their learning conversations. To develop any skill, the practice has to be regular and this means that treating conflict like any other school topic doesn’t work. High Tech High (U.S.) and Hobsonville Point secondary (N.Z.) are such examples and I’m working with my school to become one.

Author: Richard Wells
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of  The Global Search for Education: Our Top Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers.