“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” B. F. Skinner (1904 – 1990)
Ah, education. What is it? Psychologist B.F. Skinner thinks that education is the remnants of learning, not the beginning of it.
Almost everyone has an opinion about education. Ask a dozen people and you’ll get a dozen answers. Ask one hundred groups, as B.C. Minister of Education Christy Clark did, and you’ll get many more.
It’s no wonder that everyone has an opinion. We spend a dozen or more years on the receiving end of education. Some of us spend many more years on the delivery end.
Students, parents, and the general public rightfully expect results. British Columbians spend a lot of money on education, second only to health care. Last year we spent $6.8 billion on education and $9.5 billion health care.
Minister Clark’s recently released goals for Education are ambitious. She would require school districts to make physical education mandatory for grades 11 and 12. She wants school districts to enhance student life skills and readiness for employment. She expects a lot from school boards.
Clark has to be careful with how far she pushes school boards. School boards now provide a convenient scapegoat for the B.C. Liberals. They do the governments dirty work in cutting expensive programs and take all the flack.
Recently, some school boards have rebelled and run deficits. This left the government with no option but to fire the boards and take them over. In doing so, the government becomes directly answerable to the electorate – – something the Liberals would like to avoid.
Clarke’s plans are potentially expensive and she is not giving school boards any more money to implement these plans. The B.C. Liberals plan to spend less on education, when you take inflation into account.
In addition to financial and political problems with Clark’s plan, there are logistical problem. Some goals contradict others. She plans to introduce “pathway concentrations” in areas like trades and technology, humanities, science, and business and marketing.
That contradicts another Clark proposal: “critical thinking, problem solving and community and social responsibility.” Whereas pathway concentrations require a focus on a clusters of studies, critical thinking and problem solving require a broad range of subjects. Specific pathways don’t allow for exploration. Critical thinking requires a broad liberal education with many paths traveled.
Then there are the pedagogical problems having to do with the design of a curriculum that will meet her goals. Curriculum design is based on concepts first identified by Benjamin Bloom in 1948.
Bloom categorized three levels of educational abstraction which he called “domains.” Bloom called them the psychomotor, cognitive, and affective domains. The first step in curriculum design is to decide which domain your educational goal falls. Next, write objectives that meet that goal.
The affective domain contains the highest level of abstraction, including Clark’s goals of critical thinking, problem solving and community and social responsibility. It also includes the teaching of attitudes, values, and commitments.
It’s the kind of life-long learning that B. F. Skinner talks about. We may forget facts, but things learned in the affective domain last a lifetime.
Teaching in the affective domain requires that students analyze “complex sets of values, possible disparate values, resolve conflicts between them, and begin to build an internally consistent value system,” according to one school of education.
It can be done but it requires not only careful planning but also requires that students are developed to the point of accepting higher levels of abstraction.
Teaching in the other educational domains – – the psychomotor and the cognitive – – are more manageable.
The psychomotor domain is for the teaching of manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, and fine motor skills. The cognitive domain is the teaching of knowledge as a result of the presentation of facts and ideas. Teaching in the cognitive domain requires analysis, evaluation and synthesis. It’s difficult but can be done.
I agree with Education Minister Clark when she says that “Education must go beyond teaching the skills necessary for university…” Teachers are always ready for a challenge.
Teachers will train the bodies, educate the minds, and often sooth the souls of their students. Teachers will do the difficult right now – – the impossible will take a little while.