Manifesto for Teaching Online – Aphorism No. 14, Part 2 “Assessment is a creative crisis as much as it is a statement of knowledge”

There are men in the employ of large corporations whose principal business it is to invent methods of circumventing the law. And when brought to trial, the real offenders are screened and protected, for money is a wonderful power. The processes of our courts rarely reach the men “higher up.” Evasion, deceit, and bribery on the one side are placed against the letter of the law on the other, while the spirit of the law sees righteousness put to rout. The misapplication of is one of the evils that reflects badly on our national character. There is scarce a department of law and justice that the predatory rich have not tried to seduce. The evils are so widespread that in the minds of many the impression is rapidly’ gaining ground that justice is a “purchasable thing, that the man who violates the law becomes a criminal only when he has no moneypower. When public leaders become thus corrupted and public conscience thus hardened, when the hearts of the poor become embittered beyond the point of endurance, the predatory rich, arrogant and domineering with ill-gotten gain, may well pause and reflect on the outcome. Michael L. Moriarty, The Notre Dame Scholastic, (1910) p.568

That it is almost matter of fact and without much thought that we send our children to school and university. But such a practice is a global phenomenon and one of the few aspirations shared between the global rich and global poor.

We send them there so that they, the children and young adults, and sometimes we, the parents (in countries which still revere and [have to] take care of their elderly), may flourish. To flourish means that they will become more worldly wise, learn useful skills and knowledge which will be used for their economic advance, that they will secure jobs and professions and occupations.

Simply the effort and time spent going to school constitutes a ritual, and modes and methods of teaching and assessment have become part of this, or constitute a kind of ‘sub-ritual’ space of their own.

In developing countries, in traditional households ‘going to school or university’ is seen as a route to social mobility, bettering one’s lot. Even in societies which are widely understood by their populations not to be meritous, but suffering from the scourges of cronyism and nepotism, affording rank, power and position according to friendship or familial relations, there is still the blind belief that bettering oneself by going to school or university is a way to prosper.

Cambodian pupils with their version of the iPad

Cambodian pupils with their version of the iPad

But attending schools manned by poorly paid staff, with austere and indifferent administrators, with severely limited and inadequate budgets, antiquated facilities and curricula, and poor governance and training they learn that it is pointless to apply effort. It is left to their own conscientiousness to work or not. With money everyone passes. This does not take away from the fact that some students have aptitude, and some have genuine curiosity and determination. Some do, but the system is simply not there to let them truly flourish. And the wider social system beyond education may not support or be able to utilise their talents, abilities and skills. It is like forced entrepreneurism having to find something to sell (like a box of banana on the street corner) just to get by, rather than inventing Windows operating system, or the Apple computer and being a success.

This contrasts with wealthy or well-off families in developed countries where there may a tradition of sending children to Eton, or Oxbridge, Harvard, Princeton or whatever before they join the Wall Street office, or enter politics. All are ritualised approaches to schooling which can mar our ability to understand or think more deeply the simple question ‘why’ were are sending them there in the first place and what we should expect in terms of skills and outcomes.

Clearly, there is something of a self-fulfilling prophesy when you send, if you can send, your children to a top rank public school. Beyond mixing with people of the privileged class, developing advantageous social networks, learning the social pleasantries and culture of this class, the expectations with regards to performance, the competition, all the social and technical facilitation will be there to promote achievement and excellence, including excellent, well-qualified, well remunerated and responsive teachers who will address shortcomings and provide sound mentorship at the individual level if needed.

They will also be fully cogniscient of the requirements of the best universities, hewn over years of relationship and mutual understanding. This culminates in a very potent mix indeed of tradition, genes, expectation, money and intelligence all of which compound and compel and lend power and sway.

The elite world-class schools and universities perpetuate their reputations on this – why have so many British politicians come out of Eton? Why have so many come from Oxford? So many U.S> presidents passed through Harvard? – and so it is with little wonder that social scientists and economists find that the primary determinant of higher education success is the quality the students, their preparation, motivation, and intelligence.

In other words it is a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating prophesy.

Such institutions have the best resources to have the finest campuses, best resources, the best instructors, the most money reserves, the best research funding, and, largely as a result of some or all of these, a very limited and exclusive amount of places available to only the brightest students whose families can afford them to go. But we have learned that programs in art and music are not cost effective for student consumers. Engineering and equipment-intensive courses are very expensive to equip labs and are lacking in the institutions of poor countries whose only hope lies in government funding.

HaCKing education

HaCKing education

Teaching as a everyday practice in these places can be a monotonous activity of recitation. It would be worse for the old school teacher who must lift verbatim the linear progress of history and its endless and ceaseless scroll of facts, dates figures, battles, heroic figures, nobility and the good, bad and ugly, all of which they have memorised and now whose turn it is the students to memorise. Lost in these accounts is the real life of the proletariat both then and now. How does these facts of history affect us now, on individual and at group or class levels? Same for geography, cultural identity is often bound up with traditional occupations: with farming and fishing and these were neglected in accounts of isthmus and mountain which were not local or not treated in a comparative fashion.

The opportunities for development and entrepreneurship in terms of local resources could be treated in terms of historical and geographical developments and contexts, as could local linkages between the local and regional, national and global but they are hardly done this way. The rise of the European Union, and the legislative powers by which it regulated farming and fishing, meant that changes quickly transformed traditional methods and interposed others which often failed to understand the environmental wisdom – evolved over centuries of practice – of the local Buchan farmer or Peterhead fisherman. It did so everywhere. Rather what happened is treated as if inevitable and not as the outcome of multitudinal impacts such as politics, the influence of capital, interest groups, governmental policies and technology.

Some of those who do so successfully can stand their revered place as a teacher of such dry, almost meaningless abstracted facts of distant places and things that happened long ago. Many will feel as if these are dissociated from their life and experience as a human being. In this order as the teacher emulates, then so must the student as it is emulation which will be tested. The basic idea to succeed is that not only do you become a clone of the teacher, but their training, maybe a little or a lot of their own leanings, predilections and bias, and the book or books whose facts the teacher is reciting.

In places such as China, and Asian countries, including Japan, education is fact based and rote learned. The same criticism has also been leveled however at European countries such as France. Students are continually trying to ‘remember’ the facts. Facts in isolation, facts as reductionist units, as singular items. This concurs with other forms of schooling such as religious education where the onus was on memorising large swathes of text, or repeating mantras as an aid to meditation. Walking around the campus of any Chinese institute of higher education today, you will meet students sitting under the trees not reciting mantras, but passages from their English text books in an effort to religiously memorise them.

They will ‘learn’ page after page of English conversation by heart, yet be unable to use the language, apply the correct nuances, embellish with metaphor, and to use allegory and humour. Rather they are robotic in a sick parody of human mimicking machine, all in a culture where the factory has become dominant and centralised party officials of  communist state count their enormous capitalist assets that define them leaders of the nouveau riche. School competitions and deep-seated cultural expectations are run together to encourage excellence in memorisation and copying, but the students who compete present speeches they have learned with no tangible evidence that they understand anything of what they are saying. There will be no passion, no pauses to reason, no conviction, and so it is unsurprising that few people will seemed to be moved or even listening. Former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa suggested that this system would ruin his country’s future. The base line seems to suggest that for manufacturing economies it works well, for social stability it works well, but in the face of change and the need for creative solutions it does not work. For the time beings that and the distribution chains are under the control of western brands from the high end designer brands to Wallmart.

Success in language learning in such an environment is not measured in fluency, but in the volume of ‘vocabulary’ and grammar rules you have memorised. This rigidity is matched, mirrored by the inflexibility of the teachers approach to knowledge and its dissemination: “What if a student asks a question and you don’t know the answer?” For a Chinese trainee-teacher this was the most appalling thing that could ever happen – loss of face. There is no slack whatsoever available for creativity here only crisp, precise answers that concur with the book. They are not entitled to think or form any form of personal opinion, regarding work or ideas. Manner or thing, way of thinking and content of thought must be given by the teacher or else  the book to be meaningful. It must be then recited faithfully word-for-word in exams to show intelligence.. This makes assessment relatively easy, there will be no polemics, pluralism, ambiguity, metaphors, nor impassioned pleas – only cold hard facts binary ‘corrects’ and ‘wrongs’. Getting it wrong will ensue ‘loss of face’ and scolding and ridiculing by the teacher in front of classmates, the aim being of course, is that you must study ‘harder’ to get it right.

From the teaching perspective there may be an initial ‘creative crisis’ that may arise when a course is taken on in one’s repertoire and lectures, notes, slides, ideas for break-out sessions and tests need to be compiled. After a few semesters or academic years of running, it consolidates and with a bit of pruning and inclusion of new bits of knowledge to update it. Your familiarity with the material increases and you develop rationales regarding, and defences of, its integrity as a topic of knowledge.

However, and is my belief and practice is that teaching could and should also be seen as a unique opportunity to participate in the learning adventures and enterprises of others in the guise of the steersmans of Weiner’s cybernetic theory. That going with, supporting and bolstering the explorations of individuals and groups set to conduct projects.

Assessment is typically marked by the period signifying some milestone in the curriculum, culminating in its imminent end or conclusion, with ‘finals’. Examinations have a long history dating back to the ancient Chinese Imperial examinations in the Han Dynasty 206BC-220AD.

The core texts consisted of the Four Books and the Five Classics, works attributed to Confucius and certain of his disciples, along with a number of approved commentaries:

“Rote learning of the Confucian classics was fundamental to success in the exams, and the scholar who obtained the highest degree, the jinshi, would have his memory trained to a tremendous degree. Texts of a total of over 400,000 characters had to be thoroughly memorised if a candidate was to have any hope of progressing to a civil service position, and even at the district level, the pass rate was only 1 or 2%.”

We read and reread a passage until we think we understand it. Then we are done. In fact, we learn much more effectively if we read, try to recall what we just read, and then write it down or say it in our own words. Those passing these tests gained admittance into the civil service and become an aristocrat with rank depending on the degree obtained. Aristocracy-by-examination had far-reaching consequences and laid the foundations not only of a more meritous society but one which remained very stable in its traditions and institutions through successive dynasties. However corruption was present and those who were not able to devote the time and afford the necessary tutors, books and brushes for study were excluded by default.

Also a concomitant impact of stability and perpetuation is statis or desperate lack of innovation or creativity, Crozier quotes Ye Shi (1150-1223) who wrote:

“A harmful corollary of using the examination to select government personnel is to convert all scholars into aspirants of governmental positions. A healthy society cannot come about when people study not for the purpose of gaining wisdom and knowledge but for the purpose of becoming government officials. . . . Nowadays . . . beginning with childhood, all of a man’s study is centered on one aim alone: to emerge successfully from the three days’ examinations, and all he has in his mind is what success can bring him in terms of power, influence, and prestige.”

Nevertheless the Chinese Imperial exam was put forward as the model for civil services examination in British India and eventually adopted by the mainstream British establishment as well as the Americans and French. Indeed, for a while the examinations were stopped in the early 20th century, but reinstated by the Communists, who value citizen conformity, compliance and calm every bit as much as the Imperial rulers. In a sense the exam is not based only upon ability to memorise but over and above this, one’s ability to conform to work or duties one is given in society.

Consider continual improvement against four main philosophic approaches to education that is identified, more commonly cited in American education than British. That the Chinese examination system influenced both British and American and other education systems amounts to the distinctions which we can see between key approaches to educational philosophy. each have there means and methods of teaching (pedagogy), approaching what constitutes knowledge (epistemology and ontology)and in terms of how learning is assessed. The four basic strands are as follows.

  • Perennialism,
  • Essentialism,
  • Progressivism, and;
  • Reconstructionism.

The first two, essentialism and perennialism, are classed as teacher-centred philosophies of education. The style tends to be more authoritarian and conservative, the content emphasising the values and knowledge that are thought to be useful and relevant to the culture, having been bequeathed to us through time and commonly shared as an experience between many. The focus is upon the memorisation of facts, and that appropriate models of thinking come through the advice and emulation of the ‘good and righteous’ – those who have written the ‘great books’ or classical texts and works. … As Thomas Carlyle said: “The greatest university of all is a collection of books.” This is something of the pre-cursor to the open-source availability of coursework from places like M.I.T. – the idea that with the right materials, if absorbed there can be learning as one becomes an autodidact.

However, these styles of education do not simply place a person in a library of books, they select them, sometimes in the place or absence of others, and also explain or dictate how we are to approach these works. Any exploration or inquiry welcomed is only within the bandwidth of these books, and topics addressed is at the discretion of the teacher who has selected salient points and proffered selected readings. The good teacher will interpret and make clear any misunderstandings or shortcomings we may have regarding the text, and any criticism raised must be performed in a ‘writerly’ close reading manner other than a ‘readerly’ interpretative manner. Knowledge is something to be imparted rather than discovered. There will be few occasions of ‘new’ insights at the expense of developing ‘deep’ insights which are concordant with the teachers or examiners understanding. It is accepting and taking upon oneself the received view.

William C. Bagley, of the Teachers College at Columbia – itself a centre and stronghold of progressivism due to the influence of John Dewey and others – said in 1934 that replacing “systematic and sequential learning” and putting in its place “activities” would “defeat the most important ends of education in democracy,” specifically, the objective of attaining “as high a level of common culture as possible.” In this view one of the pivotal shared assets of democratic life would be a firm grounding, and a shared appreciation of the ‘great books’ of the western canon. But which is more important: our experience of democracy or our appreciation of its roots in Ancient Athens. Its definitions such as: “a method of group decision making characterized by a kind of equality among the participants at an essential stage of the collective decision making”? (Christiano, 2008), are clearly something which could be identified in other terms than could be found in ‘great works’.

Today that could include a wide range of subjects beyond the ‘great books’ which also address issues to think deeply about, and face the most fundamental, most critical questions shaping man and society, about issues such as the nature of the soul, the ideal form of government, and the meaning and purpose of life. Nevertheless the ‘great books’ project provides lists of classic novels arranged by their relevance to different periods of history. It works then from a premise that, articulations of issues, wisdom and worldviews are suitably contained in the likes of Shakespeare, Dickens Mark Twain, Samuel Pepes and so on, reappear regardless of socio-economic change and technology and scientific advance.

But how much of this is a romantic construct, or one of distinction in the sense that Pierre Boridueu spoke of with relation to social classes distinguishing and reproducing themselves as social groups by consumption of cultural goods, open to display and discussion.

This idea of a perennial and fundamental knowledge, contrasts starkly with the student-centred philosophies which begin not with literary artefacts and legacies, but rather in ‘the now’, with a focus on the learner themselves, their perspectives and experiences, and begins from there. This means education that does not parse codified wisdom written in the past to the student, but addresses their individual needs, their contemporary relevancies, their concerns, perhaps only introducing texts or examples where and when they may be relevant. Whereas essentialism and perennialism have a distinctive focus on the past, the tried and tested, persistency and continuity, Thomas Carlyle’s ‘great men‘, and the central notion of legacy and its importance to lending to individuals a decision-making equal footing within a democracy. One question remains and that relates to Wittegenstien’s idea when he asks “how many houses or streets does it take before a town begins to be a town?” How many of the great works are needed to create this effect? And precisely how are they to be read and messages synthesised, only in concordance with the teacher or where examinations are centralised and universalised, the state?

The roots of progressionism and to an extent lie in the prevailing criticism of enlightenment rationalisation which was resisted by the Romantics such as Rousseau (1712-1778) [this is not withstanding its pedagogical approaches which date at least to Socrates]. Rousseau, termed as a ‘madman’ by the enlightenment philosopher and friend, Denis Diderot, did not tolerate any discipline, self-imposed or imposed externally, which can be seen in all of his writings, largely celebrations of the joys of a radical individual freedom. Rousseau, then can be read as an antidote to the increasing power of enlightenment thinking, which was advocating a cool, disinterested, detached and objective stance, which held that reason, idealism, empiricism, materialism and reductionism was the manner in which to understand people and the world.

Central to Michael Polanyi’s thinking was the belief that creative acts (especially acts of discovery) are shot-through or charged with strong personal feelings and commitments (hence the title of his most famous work Personal Knowledge). Arguing against the then dominant position that science was somehow value-free, Michael Polanyi sought to bring into creative tension a concern with reasoned and critical interrogation with other, more ‘tacit’, forms of knowing. Polanyi’s argument was that the informed guesses, hunches and imaginings that are part of exploratory acts are motivated by what he describes as ‘passions’.

Bringing this up to date in recent thinking, this is precisely the take of Roger Martin when he makes starting point his own emotions, his own longings, the subject matter of his writing. The leaning then is what has recently surfaced popularly as emotional intelligence. In both empiricism and rationalism (and materialism and idealism), the human, especially the individual human person, gets lost — either in the eternal bumping of atoms or in the grand scheme of God-making. Our thoughts and feelings are nothing of any importance, in many cases just a contaminant in efforts to elucidate and prove a point. Reason and the evidence of our senses were important, no doubt, but they mean nothing to us unless they touch our needs, our feelings, and our emotions. Only then do they acquire meaning.

jean-jacques_rousseau

One of the main themes is the beauties of nature and the simple life as opposed to the corrupt and artificial life in the cities. Roussea’s  Émile or On Education (1762) has had a residual impact on modern theories of elementary education. In Émile, Rousseau described a new form of education which was based on fostering the natural abilities of each child instead of trying to force all children into a single mold. This radically new method of education would preserve the child’s natural goodness instead of corrupting it. Of The Social Contract (1762) Rousseau argues that the existence of all states is based on a “social contract” which may be written or simply understood. In this contract, the members of the state surrender their individual rights to the “general will.” this emerging idea of the unique individual with people considered as only relative to each other, opposed to be only relative to god, was the genesis of decentralised ideas of the social, it was also the rise of non-secularism which in turn field not only humanism but also scientific inquiry.

I venture to believe that I am not made like any of those who are in existence. If I am not better, at least I am different.(Rousseau, 1996/1782; p.3)

Rousseau clearly prizes individually, diversity and individuality and celebrates it and nature over and above the ‘civilising’ encumbrances placed upon people by rules and regulations, habits and rituals. He is a anathema to the Chinese approach. An analogy using a technical metaphor would be for instance a flight simulator is not an educational device but a training device, the object of which is to ensure all trainees do something or react in the same way. Many military and industrial and bureaucratic methods and processes do the same in their regularising of human agency and to a lesser extent, thought (their are resistances, rebellions and protests even in the most totalitarian of regimes , I think of Orwell’s fictional account of Smith in 1984). The same is true for bureaucratic and administrative process, forms rules and regulations. The same is true in the orthodox idea of education, that it is desirable that everybody excels in a way that suits them, and that it fits the needs of society.

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Progressivism, and Reconstructionism, rather prepare students for a future which is viewed as ever-changing and somewhat fluid. In this view instead of the ‘great works’ being the focus of study in a systematic way, any perennial truths or values understood by the student would have them discover the relevant authorities and classic works in a project. The pedagogy here is straight-forward captured by Seymour Papert, one of the world’s foremost experts on how technology can provide new ways to learn. As Pommerau, (1996, p.68) states.“The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a [student] of the pleasure and benefit of discovery.” Truths in this view are not held between the lines of classical literature, but all around the student in their lived environments. Literature coming from anthropology and education research, in the UK, and in Oceania and Canada suggests that local knowledge can play a pivotal role in the success of schools by sustaining community participation in education. The main goal of community schools is to produce citizens who are skilled through curriculum in which local knowledge holds an equal place with credentialed knowledge, thus “creating a balance between school and community”. As Clifford Geertz (1983) suggests:

“To us, science, art, ideology, law, religion, technology, mathematics, even nowadays ethics and epistemology, seem genuine enough genres of cultural expression to lead us to ask (and ask, and ask) to what degree other peoples possess them, and to the degree that they do possess them what from do they take, and given the form they take what light has that to shed on our own version of them.” (p.92)

But this places great emphasis on a self-driven and self-motivated learner, who is innately curious or can distance themselves appropriately from the familiar in a kind of phenomenological epoche or bracketing in order to make the familiar unfamiliar so that it can be studied. Otherwise we may fall victim to our prejudices and bias which are programmed into us directly and indirectly through culture and social discourse.

But these techniques may only work in a culture which rewards curiosity, creativity and innovation. There has to be some pre-existing knowledge in order to enable them make sense or articulate problems in the first place. They are not tabula rasa’. The question remains that would a student ever find or discover the ‘great works’, or anything like them, on their own without recommendations from a teacher/interpreter.

Even if they found them would they read them? If they did they would exist within the glut of tweets, SMS, emails, web pages, advertisements, that students are likely to plough through today? Would they focus and understand Homer or Shakespeare, let alone uncover any perennial human nature therein? What if all that lies within is human nature as depicted by Pinker in The The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2000):

“Humans behave flexibly because they are programmed: their minds are packed with combinatorial software that can generate an unlimited set of thoughts and behavior. Behavior may vary across cultures, but the design of the mental programs that generate it need not vary.”

With brains hard-wired to be used as hunter-gatherers, it would seem that it would be unlikely to ‘naturally’ search out abstract ideas in books at all, not unless there was some foreseeable benefit in it. “As technology accumulates and people in more parts of the planet become interdependent, the hatred between them tends to decrease, for the simple reason that you can’t kill someone and trade with him too.”

The general argument would be that our genetic inheritance conditions our knowledge and is the true source then of all our elaborate egalitarian ideas and our conflicts. I can say myself that I am only finding value and delight in “great books” now as a mature adult, who has spent much more of his reading hours on a fairly diffuse range of literature in social sciences, management and user experience. At my time of life is beginning to think about eternity and why things last the test of time whilst others do not. Why works that are no more than passing fads perpetually come and go, wax and wane. was this genetically programmed to kick in at this phase of life, or is it the result of my previous experiences and education?

School is seen as an institution in this view that works with youth to improve society or help students realize their individuality. Progressivism, social reconstructionism, and other philosophies such as existentialism place the learner at the centre of the educational process: Students and teachers work together on determining what should be learned and how best to learn it. Reconstructionists separate from progressivism because they desired more direct and immediate attention to societal ills and wicked problems which are all around and typically immediate. They are interested in combining study and social action.

How would continuous improvement work here? At first it seems to be about personal development and at the same time a practical development of problem articulation, analyses and solving of everyday local and regional problems.

Clearly in Perennialism and Essentialism, assessment would be familiar the good old rigorous examination that proves empirically that the student had absorbed the texts and perhaps even that their inherent message will apply to modern life. But it is not a closed system, Adler insists that new texts can add to the list of ‘great books’ but that would be the subject of distinctive criteria.

It represents a patriarchal conservative perceive which is Eurocentric in orientation. Difficult to compete with if implemented in societies which lack their own ‘great works’ or come to that any decent books on subject matters like economics, engineering, and sciences. This why there is so much recourse to western publications, and by default western values and ideologies. Part and parcel of the fact that they were recorded and written down and preserved over time. Is there any slack for creativity or innovation? Marcus and Fischer write in Anthropology as Cultural Critique:

“the only way to an accurate view and confident knowledge of the world is through a sophisticated epistemology that takes full account of intractable contradiction, paradox, irony, and uncertainty in the explanation of human activities. This seems to be the spirit of the developing responses across the disciplines to what we described as a contemporary crisis of representation.” (1986: p.15)

In Progressivism and Reconstructionism there are dangers that its ‘openness’ can lead to at worst reinvention of the wheel, not just accepting that a wheel was bequeathed to us, but considering why it is useful. Where student ‘needs’ are directed and defined more by popular and consumer culture, or a fixation on survival and basic needs, or where pre- or out-of school education and already places strong conformist pressure to concur with tradition [with perhaps one of more extreme cases being the Taliban’s banning of female school pupils and the high-rofilin shooting of 14 year old Malala Yousafzai]. Clearly in such extreme environments there is no place, no culture, no foundation for ‘the natural curiosity’ that comes from within ‘inside’ the student. For some people, openness can mean inertia and bewilderment, and lack of direction. Forming learning needs and interests and discovering how the world works will be quite different depending upon socio-economic, cultural, technical, market and geographic environments, concerns, and realities. In Reconstructionism these very points would serve as focus for interest in the programme but access to government statistics, intelligence and knowledge can also vary from locations to location.

Motivations to study, finding interest to study, requires a leap of faith by both students and institutions with respect to both teacher-led and student-led learning camps, and it is often here that the real ‘culture wars’ battle plays out. In any case it is a leap of faith that the skills and knowledge will be relevant by the time one graduates. Do students truly believe in the relevance of the perennial knowledge of the great texts and the in-depth knowledge and enthusiasm of the teacher? Or do students truly have within themselves a ‘natural curiosity’ and can be placed within a system that truly provides for and facilitates any and all avenues of investigation that can be imagined?

It is clear that when students come from backgrounds where Homer is cited in common parlance, the classics festoon the bookshelves and classical music is played and listened too there will be nothing amiss with this being taught at school, where rituals and teaching practice is to prepare one for leadership, debate, confidence and assertion. But as in pre-school Montessori education, the classroom is not just an open piece of ground, but a ‘prepared environment‘ which still maintains certain dictates and rules, altho9ugh explorations and inquiry are made within the designed and selected selection environment. Having a finite selection of educational toys and books, having rules such as you can choose whatever you wish to play with that is available and not being used by another, and putting back whatever you use in a neat manner are examples of this style of learning.

Such children may succeed in both educational approaches, taught and exploratory. However, where the norm is impoverished communities and concomitant violent behaviour, gangs, criminality, drug and alcohol abuse is expected and normalised then motivations to study ‘great books’ as well as explore the sociology of why this is, diminishes. Even in earlier assessment processes designed to stream children with certain propensities and capacities, such as the eleven-plus in the UK in the 1950s, there found to be there was a strong class bias in the exam, with some questions referring to the role of household servants and classical composers. The world as it is depicted in these assessments is a wholesome middle-class view which in all fairness to those on political right and left, was the objective at the time for the aspiration for most people.

But even within this quagmire, we must accept that without assessment how can there be appraisal of what has taken place in the duration of the course. With respect to it being a creative crisis, the entire education system is in a creative crisis, and is so globally, not only that little, but important, part of the learning process called ‘assessment’. I mean how do you assess the effectiveness of the students learning, diligence, prior knowledge, curiosity and experience of the subject, general aptitudes and attitudes towards learning, like perseverance, concentration, focus and critical thinking? Many factors affect a given student’s motivation to work and to learn (Bligh, 1971; Sass, 1989): interest in the subject matter, perception of its usefulness, general desire to achieve, self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as patience and persistence.

All this while at the same time assessing as an academic manager or institutional head the effectiveness of the instruction and its support?

That is not mention the effectiveness of the institution, course, teacher, teaching approach, teachers aptitudes and attitudes, materials, technologies, support and so on. The list is actually endless, so pervasive and ubiquitous learning and its assessment is in lived experience, and even in its formal sense. At the vocational level there have been attempts to homogenise through job analysis and design.

There have been more than a few voices recently criticising education from a number of perspectives including governance, pedagogy, curriculum with respect to ‘really useful knowledge’, new technologies, and so on. Included in this mix is of course assessment. The nature, scope and scale of these debates go much further than any polemic that addresses the benefits, pitfalls and advantages of online against offline learning, and venture into the virulent debate that which pits ‘progressive’ against ‘orthodox’ learning, or even learning for a purpose (more vocationally and entrepreneurially orientated) against learning to be an informed and critical citizen, politically astute able to appreciate the better things in life and learning for learning’s sake.

The whole question about the nature and purpose of assessment and exams is a huge one for education at present with many feeling that the clock is being turned back to an age of traditional knowledge-based testing that could marginalise some students and fail to recognise the skills and actual application of knowledge that a modern society requires National Occupational Standards (NOS) set out measurable performance outcomes to which an individual is expected to work in a given occupation. Developed by employers across the UK, NOS set out the skills, knowledge and understanding required performing competently in the workplace and it would seem that ministers and others would like universities to bend to similar criteria.

Some commentators speak of our ritualised approach to school and schooling.

Marion Brady speaks of such ritual with respect to the curriculum of the American school system:

“The curriculum now in near-universal use in America’s classrooms was poor when it was adopted, and has become more dysfunctional with each passing year. About the only thing it has going for it is familiarity and the comforts of ritual. It’s accepted not because it’s good, but because, like most rituals, it’s unexamined. Its problems are myriad and serious.” (p. 5)

There is a call globally for governments to create jobs. But what does this mean in reality, how can governments create jobs, what kind of jobs would be created if they lowered barriers for foreign companies to invest, and would they be interesting relevant and pay enough? The primary job function of Richard Florida’s super creative core is to be creative and innovative. “Along with problem solving, their work may entail problem finding” (Florida, 2002, p. 69). healthcare, business and finance, the legal sector, and education. They “draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems” using higher degrees of education to do so (Florida, 2002). Does this characterise the kinds of jobs that could happen in Greece or Spain? Such stark realities must frame issues of teaching learning and assessment as education shifts focus to dealing with the intractable, the wicked problems of everyday life. Education and its assessments may shift to distributed and shared problem solving.

Ending with Davis, in Tools for Teaching (1999: p.278) puts forward a series of bulleted points which are aimed to help. They are in a progressive vein and include a personalised and intense view of the individual learner engaged in their own exploratory studies.

Give frequent, early, positive feedback that supports students’ beliefs that they can do well.

Ensure opportunities for students’ success by assigning tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult.

Help students find personal meaning and value in the material.

Create an atmosphere that is open and positive.

Help students feel that they are valued members of a learning community.

Obviously these are ‘tips’ for teacher practice, facilitator practice, but could these, and the student response become a framework of evaluation and assessment? And here I mean a bilateral assessment, teacher’s evaluation of students and students evaluations of teachers.

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