All talk and no values.

Are schools stuck in a ninety-day cycle where today’s directive will expire in ninety days, to replaced by another – often disconnected and un-related set of directives? Why is this happening? Are we in a culture of all talk and no value?

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One factor which has emerged from today’s ‘always on’ culture is group acceptance that change is both constant and easily demanded of subordinates. Teachers are often asked to describe the ‘value’ of their current unit of work or approach to learning. Those who teach and understand a subject don’t need to talk about it, and those who don’t understand it, will not also understand the talk about it. And yet, this is a constant demand in meetings and corridors.

Rationally, this ‘talk’ is almost useless, yet teachers in the ninety-day cycle are constantly being asked to talk about (justify) their practice – and in part, this is driven by our use of media. We love to talk, often to strangers, and give the Internet our advice on an array of topics – using thin evidence provided. Who hasn’t explained what’s wrong with that brake-caliper based on some shitty iPhone image to some random in Romania? This might sound facile but it’s exactly what teacher’s do online every day.  Teachers online love permissivism.

This tends to lead to people talking about the ‘good’ rather than the inadequacies because the ‘talk’ is driven by psychological factors. They respond by reinforcing the dominant view of those who have the power to demand ‘talk’ or people they hope to cosy up to. Most people will talk about the positive because it’s far less likely to be taken as a challenge or result in being in the out-group. This is even truer if you’re casual or temporary I guess.

Whether online or in-school, the ninety-day cycle is governed by the psychological state of those in a position to demand ‘talk’ from others. Be that Drumph on guns or the Head of Maths on why he hates Mathletics. It tends to reinforce the dominant person’s worldview and a useful flashpoint to discipline anyone seen as a rival or holding a different position.

Holding different position might simply mean understanding the subject – not a challenge to a duel at dawn – but that’s how some people take it. Avoid them, they can’t be saved and dead-end debates are un-winnable with logic, reason or evidence.

It should be obvious that reasonable people can disagree, even when confronted with the same body of evidence, but the one who holds the most power will claim to be more reasonable and more correct. Reason doesn’t prevent workplace issues such as gaslighting and bullying, however.

The slow-burning norms that underpin schools were shattered by dynamic injections of information technologies over a decade ago. Let’s call this ‘talk’. The ninety-day cycle is dominated by ‘talk’ about what is rational. It is served to us by a shifting platform of so-called ‘evidence’ – some of it little more than click-bait or attempts by individuals to appear correct, intelligent, innovative and so on.

Take for video games for example. The recent school-shooting has produced an array of evidence that video games promote violence, as evidence that school shooters play violent games. I can ‘talk’ about this, but I doubt I’ll shift anyone’s sense of reality because I am highlighting the inadequacies of media education; social understanding; parental regulation; school curriculum etc., Video games are therefore caught in the ninety-day cycle where they are sometimes fantastic and sometimes evil. We are left to talk about the ‘value’ of games as well as the values of those who play them more than the value of learning from them. It’s an ever-diminished set of ‘talks’ which are easily dismissed or ignored by individual gatekeepers who neither understand them or care.

For me, the ninety-day culture is a big problem. It reinforces authoritarian cultures as being rational and over-values ‘talk’ as a way to tackle the inadequacies and issues. A decade ago ‘talk’ was seen as a way to break the chains, but now it’s mainstream and is the chains. It places anyone with a different (or expert) view in negative social-territory and therefore discourages change and innovation.

Whether using games, books, or Mrs WhoTube, we also know what the current hero-talk culture of celebrating the minority (awards, social media amplification, puff articles) encourages the ninety-day cycle. It’s rational to think Mrs WhoTube is changing teachers in the ninety-day cycle, but research shows she’ll add little ‘value’ in the long term.

Studies have shown time and again that values education meets Australian societal desires. Most schools ask their community what they value most: Responsibility; Respect; Honesty; Tolerance; Equality; Freedom; Compassion; Happiness; Excellence and Peace. This seems perfectly rational – and I’d argue every school survey of parents and students will include these elements because they are part of the national ideology.

In 2002, the Minister for Education commissioned a report into Australian School Values. The research identified a range of challenges – which I argue are the central topics of ‘talk’ in the ninety-day cycle culture:

how to increase student engagement and minimise student disconnection to schooling; how to tackle violence, anti-social behaviour and behaviour management issues; how to improve student and staff health and well-being; how to foster improved relationships; how to build student resilience as a antidote to youth suicide and youth substance abuse; how to arrest declining youth civic participation; how to foster student empowerment; and how to reform whole-school cultures.

They concluded that schools which didn’t promote authoritarian structures where individual belief determines the ‘character of the school or students’ is a better place to learn and work. Where leaders avoided individual criticism – a more sustainable and harmonious culture takes hold.

This highlights how individualism doesn’t work – ie this weeks media-hero has no impact (neither good or bad) – and that those locked in the ninety-day cycle of change fail to create any value. As the band Super Organism say …  “Everybody wants to be famous”. 

The report argues that Values-Based Education requires an environment that recognises the limitations imposed by dogmatic power-structures – which really only work for a few people with the power to direct/diminish.

A high performing environment is one where

 

  • recognition that values education is best developed with a whole-school, total-school culture approach
  • promoting engagement of school staff, parents and students in a school-based cycle of reflection-articulation-publication-enactment of its values
  • recognition of the diversity of values and the value of diversity in school communities, and for the need to negotiate a set of common shared values within this diversity
  • recognition that school-based values education is more effective when the values espoused are congruent and consistent with the values enacted within the total-school environment
  • recognition that values interact with and are integral to all key learning areas, and that all teachers are teachers of values even though schools may choose not to engage in syllabus-specific values teaching and learning
  • the need to support effective teacher professional development and resourcing in values education.

In order to achieve these students need to access multiple, competing curriculums which schools and parents can choose from, according to their own values, tastes, preferences, and philosophies of education. To me, this is personalisation – the current Holy Grail of technology-enhanced education.

It’s likely that the attrition between and within schools over ‘values’ and ‘talk’ will continue to produce winners and loser for some time to come – as right now, we’re overly invested in hero teachers, ninety-day trends, celebrities, brand marketing cycles and the status of a few with the power to chase off rivals or gaslight issues which they are by design, unable to solve – but it is possible … maybe.

 

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