Education is Subjective, May It Remain So

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Schools awash with targets, data, and objective assessments seem to belong to a different world to that of the human being. Measures have been taken and each droplet of objectivity drips into our consciousness. At some point each school will become different, their core purpose will have moved from that of educating a child and children and they will have become a temple to percentages. Each child will cease to be a person and will become, instead, a type. Identified by sex, race, whether their parents pay for a meal or not, northern, southern, home-countied, Londoners, Seaside and deprived; each child will be known by the data they accrue. It won’t be obvious until it happens, and when it does happen those within the system may not appreciate it, but happen it will have. How many granules of sugar does it take to make a pile of sugar? Grains of sand a mound? How many hairs have to fall out before you are bald? When it happens, it is clear and when a school has gone from the granular introduction of systems that dehumanise to a school that is entirely a machine for education it will be as clear to all as the baldest head on the tallest man, though he might try to fool himself by attempting a comb-over with his remaining three hairs.

This is not to say data is a bad thing or that objective measurements don’t have anything to offer. It is to say that when these things become the business of the day to day that they replace education with measures and initiatives. For in the day to day at, what is still euphemistically termed, ‘the chalkface’ children and teachers exist cheek by jowl in a subjective space, not the objective world beloved of the mechanicals. If they are made to become slaves to the machine both become alienated from their purpose, children have little idea of what they are learning and teachers forget what they are teaching and instead targets and grades, tracking and progress, mindset and character take over. The school ceases to be a place of academic inquiry and becomes a delivery machine and, objectively, it might, indeed, be seen to work.

Husserl coined the word Lebenswelt which translates as ‘Life’s-world’ – this is the world we exist in and are conscious of. This world is subjective, it exists in our understanding and feelings about what we experience. One might best explain this by thinking about a piece of music, we react to it in a subjective sense, the objective ‘science’ of it is meaningless to our experience of it. Even scientific descriptions of our own brain seem all very well, but fail to get to the experience of what it is ‘to be’.

If schools try to fill the lebenswelt with the mechanics of their job, where everything is objectified, then education ceases to be fulfilling. Like a piece of music objectively described rather than heard and felt when education at the point of delivery becomes an exercise devoid of the meaning that matters it ceases to be of real interest for its own sake. In the classroom all should be focused on the subject of study, the human beings learning and the human beings teaching and nothing else should get in the way.

There is no need for a child to know what their target is and to have it written on their work, their expected grade and have it stamped on their books, their learning style, their mindset, their character profile, they just need to know what it is they are learning. Assessment should be about the child’s understanding, if they know and continue to know then great, if they perform or do, in a way that shows they can perform and do, then great, and if they don’t, then ensure that they do and continue to do. The teacher might make use of data to inform them about a pupil, but they should still teach the child and not over-burden them with the objective world. Sometimes it will be necessary to give them a glimpse, but it should not take precedence as part of the everyday.

The point is, imperceptibly, this objectification of education can take over and the real purpose of teaching can be lost. The pupil has then to be bribed with a grade, a job, or a course and any interest they might have been able to find for the subject they are studying is lost in the meaningless pursuit of a meaningful outcome. Each percentage gained or lost on a league table is not about getting a child over a line, it should be about each child accruing an understanding about things that should matter to them. Education should never be a means to an end; rather it is an end, and a beginning, in itself.

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