Volume:7, Issue: 3

Dec. 15, 2015

Let us discard classical didactics and embrace false innovations
Lizinsky, Vladimir M. [about]

KEYWORDS: social education, educational activities of the school principal, anti-pedagogy.

ABSTRACT: A famous Russian researcher, educator and journal publisher is reflecting on the deficit of attention to social education issues in modern Russian schools. The author is sharing his understanding and views on practical anti-pedagogy and some forgotten but still valuable retro-innovations. He opines that these old strategies, if used again, would help to radically change the life of school students, fill it with new and important meanings, bring it close to reality and finally, transform instruction into a challenging and interesting teaching process.


Introduction

An increasing number of teachers have completely excluded social education from their professional activities. This was caused by a number of reasons. It was not only because the Unified State Exams as a given reality does not need social education and interaction with students. Nor was it only because the knowledge-centered instruction paradigm with its drills, orders, pressure, requirements, unsatisfactory grades, and cruel abuse of students’ memory does not need affectionate and friendly attitude towards children. Nor was it only because the sophisticated administrative mind replaced social education as a system with a set of major and minor activities. Nor was it only because the teacher has quickly realized that there is a huge gap between talks about spiritual, moral and patriotic education, on the one hand, and real systemic approach to social education, on the other. Nor was it only because of standardization, narrow outlook, fatigue factors, professional backwardness or fear to fail tests. All these and other reasons put together make it possible to easily eliminate both with social education systems and social education as a goal-oriented systemic process fully encompassing school life and work.

What is left for any given school? That is just to avoid obvious cases of juvenile vulgarity or offence while pretending at the same time to possess active school self-governance, initiatives, social practices, students’ creativity and leadership. Fighting against Article 278, the school must not only kiss boots but also be able in cooperation with some powerful students’ parents from law enforcement agencies, to hide teenagers’ crimes or offensive social behavior.

Current school situation and anti-pedagogy

I assume this is a result of the school administration decision to keep a school principal away from educational activities and real-life pedagogy. Since these activities are essential for any school, then, if the principal is not involved in them, s/he loses his/her authority and the leading role in the educational process.

When a principal has obtained interactive whiteboards, equipped the school with computers, had plenty of brooms in stock, cleaned the school roof and toilet seats, in fact, it is not enough for his/her school to succeed. However, it has become common practice for the principal not to know his/her teachers and/or not to be interested in their activities. More often than not, there is a wide gap between a school principal and his/her students, (in contrast, I recall from what US principals told me that they participated in students’ sport activities, rehearsals and celebrations, – similar things happen only with the best Russian principals). Unfortunately, regular school principals are different: while speaking at teachers’ forums they tend to use foreign terms borrowed from the general theory of management and completely irrelevant to the urgent problems of the given school; they delegate all their functions (apart from logistics and finance) to their deputies, prioritize a portfolio over work with children, implement a time-based remuneration which will split the staff; they suffer from subjectivism, and tend to consider students’ parents burdens or even enemies.

However, the existing school practice shows that most present-day principals neither conduct classes nor provide qualified advice to teachers how to make their classes interesting and useful, how to connect classes with out-of-school activities, and how to bring the educational aspect into the teaching process. On the contrary, they prefer to delegate these vital functions to their deputies (who de facto become acting principals) or just ignore this kind of work.

Consequently, such a principal loses a moral right to inspect classes (as, anyway, there is no use of his/her presence) while the deputies see his/her lack of enthusiasm and thus try to formalize the entire educational process by focusing on futile debates about proper accountability and quality. In such atmosphere a teacher, who is required to forget about the true value of instruction but concentrate all his/her effort on achieving high formal academic results, has to practically stifle his students and their parents with formal drills and pointless home assignments which are not connected with previous classes.

Perhaps, that is the reason why instructional requirements have become higher while the value of teachers’ personal impact on students (which always used to being the determining factor of relationships between teachers and students) has decreased. That is possibly the reason why the feelings of romance, love and pride in students’ attitude to school and to teachers have been fading.

Teachers’ priorities and criteria of their professional activities have also shifted. They are now divided into two groups: declared and latent criteria; and in a way, they are defining the attitudes of school administration, parents, and to some extent, students, to the teacher.

By adjusting to the situation, teachers have also changed and, led by daring managers, discard the laws of didactics and apply new (or old as the hills, to be more exact) approaches, typical of the times of rote, drills and rigid authoritarianism.

School administration, should they be willing to consider the interests of children and the society, may as well know where the practical anti-pedagogy is going to and who, in fact, is doing harm to their school and students.

Here are some features and symptoms of this anti-pedagogy. During the current education crisis in Russia and many other countries in the world, it is common to blame the authorities, but only a few understand that even during the most tragic moments of Russian history it was the teacher and the school that preserved major values and contributed to potential growth.

It is most unfortunate that, ignoring the officialdom, we must recognize that school administration can and must create proper conditions for teachers’ productive work and life while teachers can and must find moral strength to solve two vital problems of current schools. We mean, firstly, to ensure moral, cultural, physical and psychological safety of every education participants, especially children, and, secondly, to know, remember and do their best to provide children with a happy childhood, full of joy, appeal, diverse impressions, and wonderful teacher-child fellowships.

However, we can currently observe that, instead of teaching, teachers hold a myriad of testing and assessment activities, well aware that students will not be able to cope, so parents will have to hire private tutors. The latter will affect family budgets and/or make their miserable children spend all their free time doing homework. The life aimed at delight, living knowledge and sensible practice is replaced by the life full of tests and exams. A significant part of a child’s life is devoted to nothing but rote, drill and the so-called preparation for tests.

Instead of highly motivated patriotism-oriented instruction the teacher is assigned to force the child and his/her parents to prepare presentations which, usually having a knowledge-based nature, need nothing but a set of banal facts and graphics.

Notably, we have forgotten that the main purpose of any class is to prepare students for various interesting and creative home assignments. Instead, teachers are not ashamed to confess that we can completely ignore individualized instruction, students’ interests and abilities, their level of instructional difficulty and children’s readiness in general, because students are given absolutely identical home assignments – either to study a paragraph from a textbook (earlier even the most ignorant craftsmen did not use to do it) or to solve similar problems (this was prompted by the fact that teachers were obliged to publish their home assignments in the online logbook).

Teachers’ key instrument is not motivation, individualized work with students or special programs to support children with learning challenges but unsatisfactory grades; and even lazy teachers are made by the school administration to put those grades into the online logbook in hope that such consequences as child abuse in the family, a jump from the window, running away from home or turning a child’s life into hell – all these will solve some (but clearly not educational) problems.

Modern electronic gadgets and technologies are used brainlessly and not in educational or cognitive purposes but formally, just to check the box, following a fashionable trend of implementing the so-called innovation technologies (for example, a teacher of geography used special software and displayed a satellite image just to show to his students that the Volga river flows into the Caspian sea).

The Unified State Exams (in 9th and 11th grades), just like the hanging sword of Damocles, make teachers (fortunately, not all of them – very few best teachers argue that they do not face such a problem) abandon the priority of social education, development or creativity and instead, instruct by way of enforcing their students to know patterns, rules and models and be able to execute all necessary actions.

Any class is good only if it is related to the previous and next ones, when it is practically oriented and leads to interesting and cognitive out-of-school activities. However, all this is in the past due to enormous pressure caused by endless and uncontrollable amount of accounts and reports that overload teachers, especially the best ones.

Unfortunately, many teachers are not only properly preparing for classes but are also not able to do so. As a result, they set their class goals which are either random, impossible to achieve, completely irrelevant or not backed up by teaching aids and other resources.

Advanced curriculum schools have embraced the way of increased requirements and time for theoretical subjects. Isn’t this the reason why our young people are so sick and unpractical when classes and the overloaded homework wither the child’s soul, result in children’s fatigue and a burnout syndrome?

Discussion and suggestions

I suppose that we do not have to invent anything new in regards to the learning and social education environment. As a result of my research and observations, I suggest some organizational, content-based, psychological and pedagogical successions to use retro-innovations in order to dramatically change children’s lives, fill them with interest, rich meanings and impressions, and bring them closer to real life practice, regardless of some upsetting exceptions.

Succession #1

Class – additional electives in small groups according to individual interests – counselors and mentors within the class group – self-study groups – consultation modes – system of cognitive contests, practically oriented programs and projects.

Succession #2

A class – students’ research labs and clubs – library and archive activities – participation in interdisciplinary project environments (a publishing center, a script writing team, a botany lab, a literature studio, a history and archeology club, a book and poetry club, a practical law club, a software development club, the original problems and solutions club, a school of young lecturers, a modern politics club) –educational exchange trips to different cities or countries.

Succession #3

A class – students’ research society – research labs – development and presentation of research and practically oriented projects – camps – research mixed-age groups – specialized subject associations – teacher’s active assistants.

Succession #4

A class – students’ research center – advanced study groups (by subjects) – groups of future coaches to prepare for sport competitions – system of computer-based training and contests – regular competitions with an accumulative rating system through the academic year.

Succession #5

Advanced curriculum schools – more classes – more requirements, more fatigue, stress and memory exploitation – private tutors, enormous home assignments – from 3 to 20% of successful students expected to participate in contests and competitions – rough selection system – absence of coaching network to prepare for contests and competitions; prestige, unhealthy hypertrophied use of brain at the expense of the body – rejection of any social education and violation of students’ workload standards; priority of control over instruction – parents’ money as the main form of interaction between school and family – a number of pompous events to demonstrate school success; unsatisfactory grades as a teacher’s pressure tool towards children – formal selection of random activities in the second part of the day – even the pretence of students’ self-governance is rejected – 7-8 lessons per day – no teachers or homeroom teachers, there are only instructors and education service providers; the school atmosphere is penetrated by the spirit of rationalism – instead of a students’ collective there are some groups of students who are absolutely indifferent to each other. Students are usually not expelled from such schools – the school just creates unbearable conditions, so parents have to transfer their children to other schools – the most important requirement is to have abilities and necessary training without any hope to learn something useful.

Succession #6

Classes – a small number of successful students are supported – additional classes for students who are lagging behind – a number of random clubs – in fear to fail the Unified State Exams (in 9th and 11th grades) – three last years are spent in drills to successfully pass tests – formal extracurricular activities – students play various computer games a lot and well, but nobody cares to read. Teachers are quickly losing their professional qualification and personal enthusiasm, aggressive management style and conflicts are common – there is a pedagogical ping pong: parents blame the school in all evils while the school blames parents, latent increase of juvenile offence and crime – excellent reports, development programs and subprograms – at 2:15 pm most students leave school for home or street – no favorite teachers or subjects; graffiti is thriving; there is a lot of bullying, obscene language, smoking, juvenile alcoholism, sometimes drugs; negative environment contributes to involvement of children into aggressive subcultures; the school focuses on computers, flowerbeds and outsourcing while students are never told to clean their own litter.

Succession #7

A class is a key education unit that is designed to combine three major aspects of education: social education, understanding, and knowledge – education is based on an unconditional recognition of the fact that the school’s utmost priority is to provide a safe environment for children and adults and create conditions for interesting, useful, challenging, highly motivating, moral-based happy life of children – small communities (and, primarily, parents) are involved in children’s character building – each child is studied not in general but in order to discover and develop his/her productive and personally interesting qualities – children are involved into a sensitive and personally motivating activity through broader learning and socialization including students’ participation in social, intellectual and creative practices when each child, apart from learning, participates in some useful community service. Education and character building is based on psychology, which ensures both general tolerance and exceptionally kind attitude to children and adults partially expressed in constant support to those who needs it – adults and students together set up various attractive children’s organizations based on motivating activities, jointly developed rules of interesting life in a collective, encouragement of children’s sport, creative and productive activity – the shift in assessment from punishment and aggressive persecution towards encouragement and support – rejection of home assignments as a way of punishment, persecution or correction of teachers’ mistakes – students’ abilities, ways of development and family opportunities are taken into account in the realization of individual support – each student’s progress is recorded within three phases: to examine the condition, opportunities and interests of the student and his/her family, planning and implementation of the overall pedagogical support to the student, and records of the student’s achievements, rewards, and awards.

Conclusion

We should admit that classes and homework alone, irrespective of the amount of workload, do not fulfill school’s main goals. Without the creation of educational and character building environments schools are only able to drill and prepare students for tests, which deprives students of true childhood and sometimes – of future success.

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