In the 19th century, the good teacher was primarily a disciplinarian charged with the task of re/forming farm children into factory workers through sanctioned access to a limited set of information. She could perform this task confident that the students she was teaching did not know what she knew since books were scarce and expensive and reading a skill not high on the priority list of farming families.
To teach students then was to instil in them a preference for punctuality and performance. It was to ensure that they were aware that some knowledge and information was of more value than other types. The student in a schoolroom in the 19th century learned to stay within the lines, to follow instructions and to not question authority. All these skills were necessary for the good factory worker who was responsible for uniformity of the products of the factory.
But now that manufacturing no longer drives the economic engine of many developed countries and creative problem solving is the skill most sought after by corporations who pay decent salaries, teachers who focus on discipline and control of information stunt their students’ growth and development of the kind of thinking that does not fit neatly within the lines of conformity. We are especially at a disadvantage when it comes to information – who can compete with what Google can deliver into the palms of students’ hands?
Although much can be said about the lack of resources in classrooms and in schools, there is still much that can be done despite the current attack on education budgets. We may be limited by what we can do to stem the bleeding of our education budgets but we are not limited by what our imaginations can do in response.
If Nelson Mandela could turn his tiny cell on Robben Island into his personal gym when he went through a rigorous set of exercises every morning, and if all the political prisoners with him on the island could turn their jail into a school as the ‘old guard’ and the ‘young lions’ shared knowledge, then surely we can turn our classrooms into places that students will want to be, despite everything.
Let’s practice creative problem solving ourselves as teachers so that we can model it for our students for surely they are going to need all the problem-solving skills they can master to deal with climate change and recurring economic crises in the world they will inherit from us.