Wednesday, July 15, 2015

We make people

So I came across an interesting idea recently. For some reason I was listening to David Graeber give a conference presentation  in Hamburg. He is an academic famously associated with the Occupy movement who always says some interesting things that I'm never quite sure I properly understand or entirely agree with. The idea he was exploring here is that economies, and the jobs within them are ultimately about producing people. 

If you bake bread for a living, you don't do that to make money, or even to make bread. You do that to make people. Specifically, to make people keep on living because food is a necessary part of that. If you make roads, or drive a tram, you are in the business of getting people to where they need to be. If you are a paramedic or a GP, you are in the business of keeping people alive when they are ill. If you run the local swimming pool, you maintain a facility so that people can meet with other people and have an experience together that all those people appreciate. People are the ends of all of our means. This mode of thinking appeals to me because it demonstrates that parents have a fundamentally important job and hedge fund managers have a fundamentally bullshit job

Teachers too, in this mode of thinking are fundamentally important. We are important in ways that don't often get talked about in schools. The standard narrative around schools is that it is important to raise the ATARs of students. That way they get into a better university, can get access to better employment, earn more money and contribute more to the economy. For some students, schools have that function as a ladder out of poverty. But if we look at teachers as producers of people all of those things are kind of secondary. Better, more capable people will naturally be able to access better paid, more fulfilling work. Although this is nice, my goal is not to get people access to better jobs, it is to make better people. Poverty, by the way, tends to make people worse. People who are worried about where their next meal is coming from or how they are going to keep a roof over the heads of their family are less capable in a range of ways because they are in poverty - which tends to keep them there. 

It is not my object here to put the boot in to the illiterate (for example). Rather my object is to point out that if you take an illiterate person and work to make them literate then you have improved that person. You have made them more capable of achieving their goals, more able to engage in society, more likely to move humanity as a whole forward. 

By teaching we are trying to create the world - as long as your view is that the most important thing in the world is the people. 

This realisation also allows us to moderate some of the worst excesses in education. Heavy competition between students, hours of study that push out the rest of life, homework policies that create family conflict - all of these things might improve academic performance but they do not make our students better people on balance. Realising that we produce people and not test scores, or job skills, or university entrance credentials means realising the fundamental humanity of the teaching profession and encourages us to be more human and more humane in the way we practice that profession. 

There is also a bit of a current in some schools where the aim is to improve the school's results. This could mean increasing the average ATAR score, or improving NAPLAN scores, or even getting more students to volunteer in the community. The thing to keep in mind that all of these school improvement goals are secondary goals - you have to remember that the primary goal is to improve the people who are students in our school. You could achieve any of these three goals by somehow attracting more impressive students to your school - students who study harder, are more literate or like helping little old ladies. In that case your school might look like it is improving but you wouldn't actually be doing anything towards your real job - producing better people. 

So I think this is a better way of thinking about my job and it also leads into an excellent answer to the question 'So what do you make?'

No comments:

Post a Comment