In considering the issue of fun and learning (how schools might take the fun out of learning), one teacher writes the following.
I wonder if it’s the point at which we start to frame the school as a factory, and the learners as workers, that the real damage starts to be done? Some of the ways this can happen are very explicit. Today on BBC Click, for example, I saw a wall display headed “Our best work”. I see a lot of displays and notices around schools, and am surprised how many use the language of a very hierarchical, unequal workplace, even in primary schools. These artefacts are evidence of learning, not factory products, and signs should reflect that. Maybe if we were to consciously avoid using factory metaphors things might improve?”
When I was doing my teacher training, the metaphor we were offered for education (based if I remember correctly on philosophers such as R. S. Peters) was one of initiation – initiation into disciplinary ways of thinking, into ways of writing, into sports, into appreciation of art, music and literature and trying these for ourselves, and so on. Then came the eighties and a new language began to dominate that reflects technological, engineering and manufacturing metaphors for the educational process. Here are some examples of the form(s) of language that seems to me to be underpinned by these types of metaphors – our product is our students, quality indicators, specified and measurable outcomes, standards, developing our students, moving our teachers forward, producing a workforce for the future, students are a resource, and so on (how many more can you add?).
This language is pervasive – I find it difficult to avoid using myself after 30 odd years of working in an environment dominated by it. Indeed, one reason for asking the question is that I see this language used by people on RG who are grappling with issues of how to ensure education is not dehumanizing, controlling and is truly engaging and liberating for students. Are they, like me, using it through habit? However, I have even seen it specifically argued that the engineering metaphor can be used to these sorts of ends, so perhaps we are just not using the metaphors to best effect
So are there better metaphors, and resulting language for education than the technological, engineering, manufacturing metaphors? Or can these be better distinguished so that the good features of them prevail? Do we return to initiation metaphors? Or do we look for some new metaphors that better serve our values?