Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rigor ends in rigor mortis...

I see that Michael Gove is now pushing for 'tougher exams' and an increase in rigor in education.

Always with the quick fix.  Always with the achievement of a standard which can be measured.  It doesn't matter that people come out of education with a dislike of learning.  A lack of confidence in their own potential.  Or their ability to grow and develop.  No.  What we need is 'more rigor'.

What's so bad about that?  I mean.  Shouldn't things be more rigorous?  Isn't that better?  Well... a good place to start is to look up what 'rigor' means in the dictionary...

Rigor: 1. harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment 
(Source: Merriam-Webster)

Oh, and if you're wondering, the alternatives for it aren't much better.

Is this really what we want for children's learning?  Inflexibility in an age where to survive you need to be flexible?  Or are we considering rigor as 'a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable'?  Still not looking massively attractive.

Now, I know by treating these kind of statements literally it could be argued that I wasn't being fair.  That what he actually means is that we need to have 'better standards' for our qualifications.  But what does *that* mean either?  Qualifications don't equate to knowledge.  They don't equate to a critical understanding.  Fact retention or a test of memory in a 'rigorous' exam doesn't mean that you're more prepared to face a challenging, changing and complex world.

What I learned when I was at school was how to be invisible.  This isn't strictly true... because it wasn't always like that.  I was a curious child when I was little.  Could spend hours reading or creating things.  Loved finding out how things worked.  But then secondary school happened.  It was a vast sea of children and with its increased 'rigor' and reliance on tests, streaming and comparisons... I disappeared.  I learned instead how to avoid the teacher's radar and survive.  On paper I was one of the 'good' pupils.  I got the 'good' GCSEs I needed.  I got my A-Levels.  I did a degree.

I didn't learn a damn thing that mattered.

How could I go through 16 years of education from 4 to 20 and, 15 years later, barely remember a thing from all those years?  I have a degree in Economics - but I couldn't talk to you intelligently about Economics.  On paper I can speak French and German.  Laughable.  I have an A-Level in Maths... but an allergy to trigonometry.

Only when I was in my mid-twenties did I realise that I could have a voice.  That it was okay to be wrong.  That the qualifications I'd been led to believe were all important and that I *had* to have weren't the door opener they were made out to be.  That being 'good at school' wasn't the same as being good at learning.  Only in my mid-twenties did I realise what I was interested in and had the intrinsic motivation to take myself to other more interesting places.  I walked out of University aged 20 thinking 'I'm done with education'.  Well, in many ways that's still right.  The difference is that I have a further three degrees now... and I'm only just started with learning.

Rigor in education?  On the list of important things about learning it is very, very low down the list.  Apparently though, Gove would also like to see the influence of business as well as rigor...
Gove would welcome school heads taking a lesson from business: "We now have great headteachers who will become educational entrepreneurs. They will build a brand and create chains."
(Source: The Guardian, 18 June 2011)

Build a brand and create chains.

Build a brand.  Create chains.

This almost leaves me speechless.  Instead, I think that an author whose work I rather like can express some of my feelings better than me...

Learning.  What is so wrong with learning?  Messy, creative, exciting, enjoyable, fun, stimulating, puzzling... learning?  You don't need a factory-like educational experience to learn.  In fact, I wouldn't want an experience like that.

Yet here we are again.  Governmental calls for rigor.

Real learning looks like it's about to enter a state of rigor mortis...
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