Redefining equality

28 03 2008

Equality in education in Australia seems to be defined as all students being offered a similar curriculum up to a certain point, say, the age of 15.  Of course, teachers and parents know that a student’s interests, talents and strengths can usually be identified well before this.

Here’s a new definition for equality.  Give all students the opportunity to excel at what they are really interested in.   Give every student an equal opportunity to experience success at school. 

Here’s an example.  Last year a friend’s daughter reluctantly went on an excursion to a local shopping mall to sing Christmas carols.  She was one of the school leaders, and this was something the leadership group had to do.  Surely I am not alone in finding this odd. Shouldn’t a singing excursion be offered to students who are interested in singing? Our reluctant protagonist even had a younger sister at the school who is an all singing, all dancing kind of student who would have excelled at an opportunity to perform in public, but was not offered the chance.  It doesn’t make sense.

Will it really be the end of the world if some students don’t do algebra? I’m a maths teacher, and I think algebra is important (not to mention incredibly fun), but some students just don’t get it during second term of year seven. Later , if and when they need it, they can learn it in the context of what they are working on, but if we force students to do algebra in year seven, term two, weeks 1 to 5, some students will fail, and we are setting them up for that failure.

If students had more flexiblity in what and when they learn, they may not graduate with a working knowledge of algebra, or be aware of the Agrarian and Industrial revolutions. They may, however, emerge as young adults who know what success feels like, success at something that is meaningful to them personally.  Imagine the flow on effect that could have on our communities.

Now that would be an education revolution. 

So what’s this got to do with school libraries?  Well, as Utopian as it may seem,  this is the kind of education that school libraries and teacher librarians can support.  Teachers and students tell us their information needs, and we help them to discover the answers, and in doing so, develop the information literacy skills that are so essential in this age.   We don’t work to a curriculum, although we do support it.  We work with methods that adapt to any subject, any year level.  We connect users with their resource needs.

If I could get Kevin and Julia’s undivided attention for a few minutes, I’d talk about school libraries, and then I would ask them to listen to Sir Ken Robinson *.  There’s a reason why every time someone blogs about this, they write, “everyone should watch this”. I too say, everyone should watch this.

* Taken from www.ted.com  – Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining (and profoundly moving) case for creating an education system that nurtures creativity, rather than undermining it. With ample anecdotes and witty asides, Robinson points out the many ways our schools fail to recognize — much less cultivate — the talents of many brilliant people.
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