The Blackboard Jungle  

School is really day care

If we, as a society, were serious about education, we would have 10 students in a class with two assistants.

But, of course, this will never happen because we are constrained by logistics, which is directly related to money. And where do the logistics come from?

They come from the fact that the unsaid purpose of education, as far as the public is concerned, is day care.

With those opening paragraphs, I may have got your attention. I believe that educators, in general, are the ones who understand what the true purpose of education is, which I’ll explain a little later.

During a provincial election a number of years ago, I went to a forum on education. In amongst the practical issues of money, working conditions and all, I stood up and asked the candidates what they thought the true purpose of education was – in 25 words or fewer.

There was a slight titter throughout the meeting room while the candidates adjusted their composures. With a few little gasps and clearing of throats they began.

I’ll be kind, and not mention specific names, but the answers ranged from “producing a vibrant economy” to things like "life-long learner" — which was pretty good, but we all know where that came from — to “education is important” or “it’s important to know how to read."

The candidates did a good job answering considering most of them, I don’t think, really had a concept of the true purpose of education, except, perhaps, the NDP candidate. That doesn’t mean that I’m NDP. It’s just that she came the closest.

Back to day care for a moment. The last time teachers walked off the job, I don’t recall hearing complaints from parents about students missing out on their education.

I heard comments like, “What the heck am I supposed to do with my kids?”

There’s the unsaid purpose.

Do you remember the rumblings and slight uproar that took place when School District 23 went from one week to two weeks for spring break?

“What am I going to do with the kids?” cried many parents. And rightly so. That extra week is expensive. But I have to admit, as a teacher I loved it. 

I believe it is true that we have evolved into a school system where about 30 kids in a class seems acceptable; 24 in lower grades, more or less. And it’s been that way for quite a few years.

That’s what we do: we go to work, and our kids go to school. In the minds of many people, school is day care. And like I said above, 24-30 kids per person seems to work.

But if we really think about it, though, what exactly are we doing?

Imagine yourself staring at 30 plus Grade 6 students, for example, waiting for you to transform them into “21st Century learners," the latest government initiative.

Your job is to teach them as individuals and engage them in critical thinking, problem solving, flexibility, adaptability, imagination, creative thinking, collaboration, innovation, empathy, civic and environmental responsibility…

Oh, yes, and to read, write and compute, too.

Their academic levels might typically range anywhere from Grade 2-9. You will have a variety of learning disabilities and behaviour problems.

You will be planning, teaching, assessing and evaluating for Language Arts (Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Presenting), Social Studies, Science, Math, French, Health and Career Education, Music, Art, Drama, Physical Education.

I may have missed some.

Get the picture? Now, you’re going to successfully achieve all of the above with 30 plus kids in your class? You have got to be kidding.

On the one hand, we have a segment of society that believes it’s perfectly natural for one person to take care of 30 or so kids all day and teach them to read, write and do math.

On the other hand, we have the purists and academics who understand what the true purpose of education really is.

In 1916, John Dewey wrote in Democracy and Education:

“Beings who are born not only unaware of, but quite indifferent to, the aims and habits of the social group have to be rendered cognizant of them and actively interested. Education, and education alone, spans the gap.”

He is saying that while animals train their young in a biological sense, we must inculcate in our children all of our knowledge, skills, beliefs, values, goals, dreams… in short, transferring our “society” to them.

Is there anything more important than this?

And then there’s the famous quote from William Butler Yeats:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

The task of educators is to inspire.

Even Malcolm Forbes, a famous tycoon said:

 “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.”

Notice he doesn’t say “full one." This implies creativity, understanding and tolerance.

Before 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. said:

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”

That one pretty much speaks for itself as does another from John Dewey:

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

The government tends to have lofty goals, which really are in line with the true purpose of education. The problem is that they impose these goals on a system that is logistically designed for day care.

If we are to embrace the true purpose of education, which by the way is in alignment with the goals of the 21st Century learner, we must treat education accordingly.

If you think that I’m off my rocker suggesting that we have 10 kids to one teacher, then you’re probably in the day care camp.

If you agree with me, you’re probably just an extremely hardworking educator wondering how you made it through last month.


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About the Author


Richard Knight is a retired educator living in Kelowna. During his 30 plus years as an educator, he taught pretty much everything from primary to the junior high (now called Middle School).

His experiences generated many memorable stories, which is what this column is about.

He also gained some valuable experience at the university level as a faculty adviser in the Faculty of Education at UBCO.

Until recently, Richard wrote his column The Blackboard Jungle for The Daily Courier.

This was a mixture of fond memories and some political commentary. Now, Richard would like present his column on Castanet.

He can reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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