Thursday, March 6, 2008

Who the Hell is Gianni?

Gianni is one of the boys who visited the school of Barbiana and one of the students who wrote the "Letter to a Teacher" back in 1967. Gianni as all the other schoolboys from Barbiana didn't succeed in school, meaning, that his school carreer was very short and a painful experience in opposition to the one of Pierino, a Doctor's son, who seemed to have been born for school and did quite well. The book starts with these words that really stroke me when I first read them as a student teacher in 1982: "Dear Miss, You won't remember me or my name. You have flunked so many of us. On the other hand I have often had thoughts about you, and the other teachers, and about that institution which you call "school" and about the kids that you flunk. You flunk us right out into the fields and factories and there you forget us."

What the PISA survey conducted by the OECD shows (and it seems to have been confirmed by a recent survey conducted by the University of Luxembourg) is in fact nothing we didn't know in Luxembourg, but something we liked and still like to ignore : Students - the Giannis - from low socio-economic status, and recent immigrant backgrounds are less likely to succeed in school than their native counterparts or the students from families with a higher socio-economic status - the Pierinos. This means that the inequality of educational opportunities has and continues to caracterise the Luxembourgish school system. The schoolboys of Barbiana would say that "It remains a school cut to measure for the rich. For people who can get their culture at home and are going to school just in order to collect diplomas."

It is no secret, that children - like Gianni - whose parents don't read much, have had a short educational career, don't speak the languages used in school and therefore can't assist them in doing their homework or in preparing for a test, will have enourmous difficulties to follow the teaching rhythm dictated by textbooks and testing. On the other hand, will the children - like Pierino - whose parents know what is expected from their kids at school have higher chances to get their degrees, regardless of the intellectual potential they may have. As the schoolboys from Barbiana put it : "The doctor's chromosomes are powerful. Pierino could write when he was only five. He has no need for a first grade. He enters the second at age six. And he can speak like a printed book. He, too, is already branded, but with the mark of the chosen race." and "Even the rich have difficult offspring. But they push them ahead."

A few pages later in the book the schoolboys continue quoting their former teacher. She sees the difficulty of teaching Giannis and Pierinos in one class from her own perspective, with these significant words : "Now that everybody comes to school it's impossible to teach. We get quite illiterate students."

This statement resonates with the viewpoint a lot of people persist in and share in Luxembourg and elsewhere. Keeping the doors open as long as possible for students with poor results (in the majority identical with children having a recent immigrant background and/or from families having a low socio-economic status), is suspected to be one of the main reasons for the leveling down of the value of educational degrees.

At the eve of the possible adoption of a new school law by the Luxembourgish government (the old law is from 1912 !) there are a lot of discussion on how to reform education. I'm curious to see if the changes will have a beneficial effect on the Giannis. I have strong doubts because a lot of key factors which determine the so called "hidden curriculum" are not questioned in all the discussions that I have followed so far. Two of these key factors I see are the textbooks that teachers are supposed to work through with an entire class in a given frame of time (on or two years) and the achievements that students are expected to reach in the same period and which they will get certified through test results or by checklists of attained skills and knowledge. If these key factors remain unquestioned, teachers will see themselves evaluated and ranked by these testings and checklists as much as the students and react like the former teacher of the schoolboys did. They will continue to teach under continuous pressure of attaining - in short term - equal outcomes for all students with very different potentials and backgrounds thus having the same old problem - "the Giannis they loose".

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Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967

  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967

Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain