Modern Education

As any teacher knows, the so-called ‘breaks’ that dot the educational year are there to pack with urgent reviews, meetings and ‘professional development’. The only chance to get people all in a room at the one time and thus an exhausting and sometimes infuriating race to complete a forest of competing agendas. This last week was a ‘break from teaching’ which left me with a piercing headache as if belted in the forehead with a claw hammer.

Australia is going through a ‘modernisation’ of the education system. As with all things ‘modern’ it must be made measurable, homogenised, ‘open’ and entirely filtered of flashes of brilliance. It is the best of ideas, it is the worst of ideas.


I agree that every student deserves to be measured by the same rubric, that a distinction is a distinction no matter who does the marking. I think it’s fair that you be able to look up what the criteria are, and not be mislead. In principle it’s a fine idea which is to be expected as most fine ideas work in principle. The details are not as well behaved.

A high distinction in mathematics means that you have solved all the puzzles on the paper. That’s to be respected. A high distinction in art means … what? We were provided with a table of definitions which were sensible, no dispute there, just that everyone in the room struggled with their ghosts – the student that said very little but painted dreams, the low effort big talker that ended up in feature films, the smart one that never graduated – you know – people, individuals – that you struggled to place on any grid. The convener was firm. No. No intuition, no bargaining between opinions. You can write the grid, but there is a grid.

I looked at what a ‘fail’ means. In Australia, below 50 is a fail and it’s a pain to be only able to mark within the region between 50 and 85, with most students horrified to ever go less than credits. The grid elaborated that 50 percent, it expanded on all the ways you could fill that abyss – like Dante’s Inferno in Excel. I thought the vast majority of students would end up in there. And then there would be the inevitable investigation, firings and adjustment to bump everyone over the threshold. The headache started.

How do we assess? We assess on what we think they should become. Everything is tailored to fitting the criteria. The current jargon is about ‘Global Citizens’, which I can’t help think is ‘we are only impressed by people who leave’. I imagine some Gilgamesh in a suit striding through airports, shaking hands and hiring 1000 workers to mass produce jewelled skulls.

Really we’re back into the whole game of worker’s uniforms and idealised architecture that the post-modernists had to crush underfoot years ago. Instead of endless regimented housing and clothing we have regimented identities and aspirations: having to join Facebook gave me a chance to see what so many people choose as their home – an identikit worker’s cottage that you can accessorise with a few family photographs. They will live in these cottages and dream of being a CEO or at least a celebrity on YouTube. Whatever force was thwarted in the late 20th century bided its time and climbed in another window.

I parked my home here somewhere

There’s a pile of paperwork in front of me, to be absorbed into my thinking so I can produce measurable and accurately boxed ‘artists’. The headache is intense.

Bradbury rang up on the Friday. We talked shit for a long while as per usual, part of which was trying to figure out what ‘school’ ever got us started on our ways. It just seemed so obvious at the time and both of us still create as ‘the birds’ require. For my part I was stupid and ignorant enough to be impressed by everything and angry enough that I wanted to better it all. The notion that this grid will produce a nation of artists seems a vanity. Better this – to throw out ninety percent of them and beat the remainders into the scourges of society. Of course there’s no money in that, is there.

The temptation is to do what they ask, but ferociously, without mercy. Apply the rubric, mark like a machine. They will be horrified to see their monster unleashed, and will all the sooner come to see the folly in it all.

6 thoughts on “Modern Education

  1. One aspect of the rubric is about their cultural positioning. They should for example, have some notion of film culture before they create within it.

    90% of the students in film production that I see have no idea of any film that wasn’t released to at least a thousand theaters in the last 3 years. They have no idea about anything outside YouTube and couldn’t tell you who even Chris Nolan was. They will all fail. I will point to the document. There will be panic.

    Mind you, for some their ignorance is a kind of energy. That will be discounted.

  2. I’m a ‘Vet in Schools’ teacher (two nights a week) delivering a combination of Interactive Digital Media, Visual Arts and Animation to secondary students within the TAFE system, which gives students access to Industry Sector training with a view to higher education and/or employment. However, we are hamstrung by a list of competencies we must comply with that aim squarely for mediocrity.

    Our assessment matrix requires a score from ‘1’ being base, to ‘5’ being exemplary. We have been instructed that a successfully developed module should see every student receiving a score of 4-5. If a student falls below that, the problem is with the course itself and not the student. This includes the little fucker up the back YouTubing through every tutorial and 90% of his assignment time. Were I to adhere to the whims of the ‘Education System’ I would be little more than a glorified baby sitter. This is not what I signed on for!

    I choose to build and deliver a course that constantly challenges my students, with the top 5% achieving the desired outcomes listed above. No doubt I will eventually fall under the axe. :s

  3. Don’t worry the NSW government will solve that by shutting down all TAFE courses, giving parity to the entire student body. Including the little shit up back YouTubing.

    I was doing cameras today. Handed out the new gear for them to practice on, sure enough there’s a few of them up the back that would rather be on FaceBook – because you never know what important news you might miss. Seriously need to fail more people, so that the good ones get more access.

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