I popped down to The RSA at lunchtime yesterday to see Sir Ken Robinson speak. He was very, very good. Very inspiring and well worth seeing whenever you can. Also, his TED talk is legendary so make sure you watch it here.
He talked for a while about vocational education and as a society how we belittle it and think academic education is much more important. On top of that how the very act of teaching is not about facilitating and encouraging risktaking and self-expression, but about box ticking and teaching kids how to play the system.
Having experience of teaching at Higher Education here in the UK has certainly emphasised this to me. I was exposed to a large proportion of teachers who merely made "mini-me's" in their own image. (Not from the course I tutored on I hasten to add. There's a reason I tutored on that course, and a lot of it was down to the fact that we actively encouraged risk taking, we celebrated making mistakes and we in no way made clones of ourselves. I can think of nothing worse than a younger, better looking, more energetic, less pessimitic version of myself... and I'm sure you can't either.)
But I don't really want to talk about that. I want to talk about my brothers. I talked about my dad a while ago, now it's time for Our Paul and Our Stephen.
You see, we're brothers. We've been through some shit in our lives and that has brought us closer together. But, we're all very different.
Our Stephen: He's my younger brother. He's the manager of a bookies in the North East. He tried out Sixth Form after school, but didn't fancy it. He's not really the academic type but he's bloody brainy. He likes the life in the North East and still lives there. He enjoys his life, enjoys his job and is happy doing what he does. I think he sees work as a job and not so much a career. He works to live, much like our dad... and boy does he live. Our Stephen is like: Rodney. The youngest, but possibly the brainiest.
Our Paul: He's our older brother. He's different to both of us in a way. In a way he's an extreme version of both of us. He actively distanced himself from academia as soon as he could. I hope he won't mind me saying he didn't ace his GCSEs. He just wasn't engaged academically, but like Our Stephen he's a tremendously brainy person. His artistic skills used to be amazing and I used to spend hours looking at his sketches. He left school and learned from the university of life. As cliched as it sounds he really did: He's lived on building sites, he's sold door-to-door and he's really got himself into some scrapes... most of which I'm sure I don't know about and don't want to know about. If the economy collapsed tomorrow (as it may do) he'll be fine. He can always find money from somewhere by using his superb selling and schmoozing skills. Our Paul is like: Boycie. Has the skills to really catapult himself up.
Me: I'm the one that the Government love. I went to Uni, got into loads of debt, play everything by the rules and am very academic. I like studying. If I'm honest, I like the fact I'm a Master of the Arts from a good Uni. Sad as it sounds that gives me a bit of a buzz. I'm a career boy. I'm always looking for the next bit of responsibility and how to fast track my career. I'm passionate about what I do and I think I'm pretty good at it. But I want to get much, much better at what I do and will work hard to do that. I'm the one that has 'made it' in the family. (They're not my words.) I always want to read more, learn more and be at the forefront of what I'm doing. I'm not really one for too much schmoozing so I'm hoping to do this through genuine hard graft and some skill. We'll see. I'm like: Cassandra's dad, Alan. Supposedly in a better career, but not so sure, and a bit jealous of Boycie and Rodney.
The point I'm trying to make here is to mirror what Sir Ken said yesterday.
My choice to be academic instead of vocational hasn't really made any difference in my professional happiness, even though the education system I was part of implicitly told me it would. Professionally I'm no better than my brothers at all. We're the same but different. Emotionally I'd even go as so far as to say they're happier than me. If not happier then as happy at the very least.
Sir Ken talked about how the education system shouldn't be managed with systems and compared to running a service like Railtrack. The fact is, education is about people, and people are organic things. We're not the same. We learn in different ways, at different speeds, and we're interested in different things. We shouldn't treat education as a national standard, it should be micro managed to suit relevant interests. Relavent to the people learning, not the government. The sooner we realise this, the better for the country and society as a whole.