Sunday, October 30, 2011

A brief history of education - the academic illusion.

I have recently finished reading 'Out Of Our Minds - Learning To Be Creative' - by Ken Robinson. It is a very thought provoking book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found the arguments he makes regarding the current practices of education and how it should be reformed for the future to be very interesting. Sir Ken's discussions are based heavily on the types of intelligences we traditionally value and judge our students on, specifically those stemming from the rationalist approach to thinking - the sciences. This has lead to particular types of education systems and I found it interesting to read through the history of how education has developed (in the western world).

The Kings School in Canterbury claims to be the oldest grammar school in England, stating that it's origins have been traced back to AD 597, although these sorts of institutions may have originated up to 1000 years prior to that. Grammar schools were founded by religious bodies and thus their purpose was to educate children (boys only in those years) for the church - the pathway to all professions such as law, politics or the civil service. This meant learning Greek and Latin literature (as Latin was the international language of the church). During the 15th and 16th centuries many non-religious organisations identified their own needs and established schools in order to meet them.

The 19th century impacted education specifically in the sense that during that time period there were significant advances in science and technology and it was also the time in which the Industrial revolution was taking place. This meant that there was a gradual movement away from a classical education (grammar; rhetoric; dialectic; arithmetic; geometry; music; astronomy) and more towards an education structure that is more familiar to us today. This generally involves a hierarchy of subjects - languages, mathematics, science and technology at the top and the arts and humanities at the bottom.

In 1870 the British Government passed an Act of Parliament to develop provision for primary schools. This extended to secondary education in 1902. In 1944 an act was passed which would enable the provision of free education for all. The purpose of this act was to develop a society of workers that would meet the needs of the post-war industrial economy which required a better educated workforce. It provided an opportunity for millions of people who had previously been denied education. Two types of schools emerged: grammar schools - to educate the top 20 percent of people, such as doctors, teachers, lawyers and accountants. Then came secondary modern schools - which were associated with vocational education and aimed to produce blue collar and manual labour workers. Despite all best efforts, because of the ways that these schools evolved there continues to be a higher status attributed to 'academic' programs.

Robinson refers to this as the 'academic illusion'. He argues that too narrow a view continues to be applied to academic intelligence and that teachers and parents must 'see through the academic illusion to their students' real abilities'. With the ever evolving knowledge of the human brain and the different ways that students learn, it is vitally important that teachers create environments where students can demonstrate their intelligence in the ways best suited to them.

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