Why I won’t be signing the Manifesto15

First of all, best wishes for the new year!

Last year I wrote a blog post explaining why I didn’t want to sign the open letter against PISA. There is a new call for signatures with the Manifesto15 and for the past 3 days I have been thinking and making up my mind. And no, I won’t be signing it.

There are several reasons, but first let me begin with the parts I agree with:

  • not unlike the open letter against PISA I agree with the danger of a too big influence of  the OECD on education worldwide, although I still think that as one source of information it can be very interesting. There is also an economic focus the writers of the manifesto have troubles with, one I can agree with too, but they aren’t that consequent in this, as I will explain later.
  • the plea for less focus on technology, even the idea that it has to become invisible as being a normal part of education, is something that I can understand and even subscribe, iPads aren’t books, smart boards shouldn’t be blackboards,… Accessing new possibilities of technology is a good goal, although it shouldn’t mean abolishing ‘older’ stuff that works.
  • Kids are people too, of course. But as Paul Kirschner added on twitter: @P_A_Kirschner: And while kids are people, others (teachers?) might have a better idea of what can/should be learnt.
  • The importance of trust in schools and communities I can only applaud.

Still, I have several issues that prevent me from signing:

  • First of all: the day that I use a concept such as “kids 3.0″ just slap me. Kids are no software! And please don’t use kids 3.0 to describe anything besides kids. In the manifesto the concept is used to describe a contradiction between education 1.0 and society today, not the children. So it’s not an example of digital native-thinking, but there are other misconceptions. There are more differences inside generations than between generations, so labelling kids as one group, well, is talking about mankind 3.0. And I think that for some parts we’re still mankind 1.0 and for many other mankind 7.9. Also, schools 5.8 or something similar would be more adapt. In the manifesto education 1.0 is the factory-based model from the 18th century. But schools go back way further. Compulsory education is something from the 18th century – and the 19th and 20th depending of the region. But schools have been around from ancient times and have developed throughout the middle-ages and Renaissance, and have been changing steadily throughout. The manifesto made me reread Comenius who described schools as “the slaughterhouses of minds” and “places where minds are fed on words” something that the authors seems to subscribe. These weren’t the factory-based schools, as he wrote it in 1657 almost a century before the first factory was established. But schools nowadays have changed, a lot, influenced by Comenius, Rousseau, Dewey, and many others. Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. The grammar of schooling remained, is this what the subscribers are attacking or is it something else?
  • The fact that education is compulsory is not something that the manifesto is attacking, I hope? I don’t think that making education not compulsory anymore will benefit all kids from all layers of our society. Or maybe they are attacking the compulsory curriculum? Could be, many of the original signatories have a background in Sudbury schools. Still, I think that Biesta is correct in describing 3 functions of school: qualification, socialization, subjectification. A compulsory curriculum is therefor needed imho.
  • Although the manifesto speaks about the importance of networks, referring to Siemens and connectivistic thinking, the emphasis in the manifesto is highly individual. Combining individualism with entrepreneurship orentreprenerds is a bit to neoliberal to my taste. The individual is important, I agree, but the group as such too. And although the entreprenerd should look for solutions that benefit all , “creating futures with positive outcomes that benefit all people in the world”, even when discussing this form of learning together it is dominantly individual-based: “We must center on the ability of individuals to navigate this space and make connections on their own, discovering how their unique knowledge and talents can be contextualized to solve new problems.” A bit more social, group and together would have benefited the manifesto.
  • Asking for trust in educators and at the same time describing schools as built on “cultures of obedience, enforced compliance, and complacency”, well is showing that the authors of the manifesto distrust present educators themselves claiming them as lazy “It is easier to be told what to think than to think ourselves” This is a very old rhetorical trick, making a parody of what you’re attacking, but it doesn’t help their case. I’ve met too many great teachers, principals and policy makers actually thinking for themselves, working their hearts out to sign something claiming the opposite.
  • If schooling was so brainwashing and creativity killing as the authors describe how come we have seen so many developments? Is it despite schools? Don’t think so.

Don’t think I don’t want change, certainly not, as I think that education is changing all of the time. And I do appreciate the fact that people get together to think about education. I appreciate the fact that it kept my mind busy for 3 days. But no, I won’t be signing.

8 Reacties to “Why I won’t be signing the Manifesto15”

  1. Pedro, I beg to differ. Don’t take it personally, but I think this post proves exactly why education isn’t changing. It is because we spend far too many time bickering about what precisely the change should be, and in fear of being the victim of rants like these (excusez le mot), nobody dares to say anything anymore. So nothing happens, except for fueling outsiders’ opinion that the education world is inhabited by a strange lot of wise guys.
    And yes, education does need change. Of course, there has been some change over the years since the concept of the ‘silent classroom’ was introduced in the 18th century. But not much. Education is still mostly teacher centered, happens in homogenous groups of around 30 kids who are expected to be on the same page of the textbook. Is that a problem? Yes it is. Education is boring to death, just read this:
    https://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/a-veteran-teacher-turned-coach-shadows-2-students-for-2-days-a-sobering-lesson-learned/

    The fact that education should be more tailored to the individual student doesn’t mean all education will be a solely individual process. The Montessori system (but there are many more alternative approaches) has shown for a century how to combine individual and group learning, for instance. Most of them do a great job. I can give you a few examples in The Netherlands.
    And, if you allow me, quoting Biesta to prove that Sudbury schools are too narrowly focused is hilarious. Biesta has written a few words (and then some) about what is missing in traditional education, I’m happy to provide a reading list. And I’m not so sure there is still a lot of Dewey’s ideas to be found in most schools.

    However. Most important, in my point of view, is that PISA, and all other generic tests devised to make up league tables, promote competition between countries, schools, teachers, and eventually students. We don’t need competition in education, we need to provide chances to grow for all children. You can’t stimulate grow by measuring alone. Furthermore, because of PISA, the test industry is thriving, and rapidly becoming the main force to determine what is educated in schools. Just read Diane Ravitch’ The fall and rise of the great American school system if you’re not convinced.

    So, Pedro, thank you for your insights, you’ve helped me finding the reasons why I’m signing Manifesto15!

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  2. Good for you, but debunking Sudburry in a few words wasn’t the purpose of my post and I’m always open to discussion. But accepting a manifesto without thinking for myself, aka ‘ranting’ or ‘bickering’, thanks but no thanks. And if you read carefully, I never wrote I don’t want change.
    Nobody dares to say anymore? I beg to differ, #onderwijs2032, anyone? Operation Education? So many initiatives about education, the manifesto being just one of many. Oh, btw, often not really including the voice of teachers or students but at the same time thinking and talking for them. And if you think that most of the pupils think school is boring, that evil PISA-research shows something different for our language area. But that will be wrong, of course.

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  3. Pedro makes a few points worth considering, but in the end I completely agree with Hartger that we should get rid of PISA asap. Pedro may find their data interesting, it has been shown time and again that they are almost useless. There is hardly any point in measuring and comparing the quality of various national education systems the way PISA does. They are a fiction and an instrument for governments in the international economic race. The contribution of these data to the improvement of our education is approximately nill.
    Yes, we need to change our education, but the road to more testing and ranking will lead to disaster, as anyone who follows the developments in the USA will confirm. And, since you mention Biesta, he has dedicated an entire book to the culture of measurement in education.

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  4. Dick, as being interested in comparative education, I just can’t write to get rid of PISA as it’s a valuable source when combined with PIRLS, TIMSS, Eurydice and so many other sources. As I wrote in my blogpost I agree with the danger of a too big influence of the OECD on education worldwide and its consequences.

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  5. As to the argument whether our schools are boring or not. I happen to work with underachieving students a lot. We see large numbers of young people who are uninspired by school and end their school career below their starting level. Just do as Hartger suggests and follow some kid at school for a few days and see for yourself.

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    • I agree with Dick and Hartger. Comparative research, like Pisa, create competition. Much more important is to use research for inquiring teachers and teams. On what questions gives Pisa now answer. I believe it is not the questions of the passionate and inquiring professional in education.

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      • Actually, besides the – indeed dreadfull – rankings there is much more interesting data collected in PISA e.g. on resilience, equality, wellbeing,… Stuff that sadly gets much les media coverage but as one of – again many – sources can be relevant. Something about a baby and bathwater.

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