Purpos/ed – time to learn

Posted on February 24th, 2011 in thoughts | 17 Comments »

Purposed Badge - text "I added my voice"

This is my 500 words for Purpose/d. Another wonderful project from a group of educators looking to inspire, create debate and eventually change. I’m supposed to read the posts before mine and respond to some of the points. I’ve read some but not all, and I’ll use that as my segway to my 500 words, because I just didn’t have time to read them all. And time is surely the killer for much change and innovation in education. There’s precious time to think, to innovate and be creative, and that goes for teachers and students.


In the UK, when we learn to be teachers, we don’t learn about pedagogical theories beyond a brief look at learning styles. In a 36 week practical based course there just isn’t time. When I did my MA the largest revelation was that all the things I did anyway in the classroom had a theory attached to them. But good teachers don’t always need a theory, they just do it because it works for them or their students, it just seems right to them. And a good teacher knows what makes it right in one situation doesn’t make it right for every teacher or every class.


There’s never enough time in the curriculum for every subject. Recently I’ve seen online campaigns to save PE, RE, ICT and Computing from being removed or marginalised in the UK. Campaigns led by specialist teachers and national subject associations may seem self serving, but they do it because they care. After all remove sports and kids may become unhealthy, remove RE and kids may become intolerant, remove ICT and kids may become unskilled. I can’t disagree with the passion of these teachers who know the ‘Purpose’ and the benefits of what they teach.


I’ve been out of the classroom now for 6 months. People ask me if I miss it and how life is different. There are many differences but the biggest one is not having the guilt on your shoulders because there isn’t enough time to do everything for your students. Teachers learn to live with many kinds of guilt; the guilt of not preparing enough, the guilt of not marking enough, the guilt of ignoring a school policy, the guilt of straying from the scheme of work, the guilt of setting too much homework. What is the ‘Purpose’ of all these things we worry about?


Our education system will improve greatly when teachers can remove the guilt from their shoulders and take pride in their skills and achievements.


I subscribe to the terribly liberal but certainly not revolutionary philosophy that different students and different teachers have different needs. We need different routes, different pathways and different systems open to everyone to enable each learner and each teacher to find their own way. There’s never enough time to teach everything and one, just one, purpose of education must be to give students the skills and the passion to learn and thrive in their own interests in their own time.


What is the overall ‘purpose’ and how do we get there? I don’t know but if we are to find it we need to give teachers the room to innovate, experiment and improve and we need to give students room to innovate, experiment and improve. And on that note I’ll leave you with a video of a discussion I led on this topic at the recent Collabor8 4Change event.

17 Responses to “Purpos/ed – time to learn”

Thanks Daniel! The very fact that people have to campaign to save subjects as well as teachers not being grounded in pedagogical theory shows just how broken and undirected education in this country is – don’t you think?

Yes, I think good teachers may be able to teach without the theories but it’s far from ideal. You gradually get used to making do and working around the system rather than change it. That teachers do campaign shows the passion of our educators for what they do and for their pupils.

Richard Woffenden

I agree with you entirely. What you said about the guilt is spot on as it is impossible to juggle all the demands however supportive your SLT are. As you say we should celebrate what we do instead of having to constantly defend our corners of the curriculum.

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Whenever anyone tells me that education is about the existing interests of students I think of P.S. Wilson’s thoughts on the subject of interest:

“And who in his senses would say that children should go to school to engage in interesting activities (however effortfully undertaken and however well executed eventually) such as hair-pulling, paper-flicking, ink-slinging, bullying, chair-banging teacher baiting … and so on? Again, what about all the trivial sorts of things which children show occasional interest in, such as wiggling their ears, standing on one leg, making themselves go cross-eyed, poking blotting paper into ink bottles or sticks into cracks in floors …? And what about the stereo-typed and boringly derivative occupations which seem to make up the whole impoverished gamut of some children’s interests? ; the apparently endless stream of battle pictures criss-crossed with never-fading tracer bullets and explosions labelled ‘Boom!’ and ‘Pow!’; the continual chatter about football, television, pop records; the comic-reading and gum- chewing; the pushing and shoving and all the pointless, tedious, repetitive, and often blindly stupid or unkind things which children do, apparently, with great interest? Is this what they should go to school for, just for going on to do these ‘with interest’? I remember vividly a boy who, on his first visit to the swimming baths with a class, ran straight up to the deep end, jump in and sank solidly to the bottom. He was chock-full of interest and as a result of ‘following’ it he very nearly drowned.”

Great quote – sorry fork keeping it held up in the spam filter for so long!
Of course I’m not advocating a free for all, though I have heard fantastic accounts of democratic schooling. Teachers need to help students discover and uncover their own interests rather than indulge students. This could mean a broader range of subjects or a narrower range of subjects depending on your perspective!

I was a child who always wanted to do science and more science and followed that path throughout school. In hindsight I would have probably achieved much better in written arts subjects, so I certainly see the point you make.

The question I’m really asking is “why?”

What children are interested in is not necessarily good in itself, and is sometimes harmful, so why make their interests central to education?

What I meant to make clear in my original reply to your comment is that a good teacher will take a student who has a passion in their subject and allow them to channel and extend it. This was particularly true in the subjects I taught, ICT & Computing, where talented students were way beyond the curriculum. My generation certainly didn’t learn their Computing skills in school nor did I learn most of my people skills in school. I was fortunate in that I did learn many other things very well from a traditional curriculum which is why I advocate options and variety in the system!

There are of course many arguments to answer your direct question of “why make students’ interests central to education”. Not going to debate them personally but feel free to say why not and maybe others will respond!

I think the quotation from P.S. Wilson explains pretty well why students’ interests shouldn’t be central to education.

What you describe, the encouragement of students with a particular interest and talent for a subject, is fine with me. I just can’t see it as the purpose of education as it obviously can’t be the case for every student.

It’s an aspiration but not the purpose. As I said in the last paragraph, I don’t claim to know the overall purpose, I wouldn’t be that arrogant, but I do enjoy discussing it and hearing different opinions on the topic.

Is it really arrogance for educators to know the point of what they are doing?

I can’t imagine doctors sit around thinking “Why do we treat illnesses?”

I’m yet to see a doctor come up with a cure to the common cold. If we had all the answers the world would be a boring place.

This is not like a failure to cure the common cold. This is like a failure to recognise that it is better to be well than ill.

Fortunately most doctors and teachers care passionately

[…] to writing. I’ve taken part in 3 stages of the project starting with my earlier blog post “Time To Learn”, then a bit more passively with this lovely picture quote mashup created and contributed by […]

[…] a table discussion at the last c84c at BETT last January (you can see the video at the bottom of this blog post) on “How can we encourage teachers to take risks and innovate with technology”. The […]

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