Monday, July 28, 2014

Origins of school leadership

I am particularly interested in the origins of industrial-based educational values and the operational systems that emerged in the late 19th century. Despite a century of teaching and learning the structural design, values and operational outputs continue to display a lingering influence on 21st century education. Ironically, we are in similar conditions where technology is revolutionizing society, and significant educational reform is required.


The birth of the industrial era presented societal leaders with a complex problem and this problem called for educational reform. A on-mass educational system was required to output a supply of disciplined workers to satisfy the production needs of factories demanded by the emerging manufacturing economy. 21st century nations (such as Australia) are now presented with a new problem and this problem is also calling for educational reform. Whilst we do have a mass and comprehensive educational system it’s rooted basis, the manufacturing era, is over. A competitive global era has commenced. Led by significant changes spurred by information technologies new skills are required. Factory jobs are fastly disappearing in Australia, however our inherited schooling system is largely about filling 20th century jobs and not the emerging digital economy.


There are many educational discussions which are similar to the concerns of late 19th century. This is evident within discussions such as:
  • Gonski needs based funding.
  • Inherited poverty.
  • Achievement gaps
  • Morals, values and standards.
  • Vocation based learning.
  • Teacher student ratios.
Educational discussions on decision making through the lense of well-being and happiness also transcend the centuries. John Benthan’s a 19th century social reformer perspective of school education identified happiness as an educational pursuit. He saw schools as a space and a place for students to develop judgment and behavior through the pursuit of happiness. His utilitarian perspectives are considerations contemporary school leaders (teachers and principals), system administration leaders and societal leaders could reconsider. Bentham's philosophical framework on utilitarianism is detailed at http://utilitarianism.com/bentham.htm






Benthan’s principle of utilitarianism differentiates action and behavior as an enabler of  happiness/pleasure, or unhappiness/pain. From my 21st Century point of view the complexity of this utilitarian delineation is that doing the right thing doesn't necessarily evoke happiness/pleasure, and unfulfillment can evoke unhappiness/pain. Based on my observations as an educator, doing the right thing is a dominant pursuit within Australian classrooms and many students exit schooling unfulfilled. It is possible that the rigor of rules which are enforced by school leaders (principals and teachers) are contributing to students’ unhappiness. It is also possible that a centralised standards-based curriculum and assessment program may not be fulfilling student’s sense of fulfillment and thus contributing to the significant levels student disengagement. Continuous mass media communications that describe public schools as falling behind could also be contributing to a cultural expression of dissatisfaction and a sense of unhappiness and unfulfillment. This sense of falling behind may be based on the social anxieties towards rapid change and fears of rapid globalisation rather than what actual learning schools are affording our youth. An analysis of Benthan’s utilitarian principles and a societal discussion addressing utilitarian principles across the educational sector could be of benefit today. As school reform challenges a restructured socio-economic Australia utilitarian principles may be of benefit.


Utilitarian principles of happiness and well being which Benthan evokes, in the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, were largely ignored back in the 19th century. These principles were not embedded and or embraced by Australian 20th century schooling. The Industrial era education provision was based largely on the logististics of outputting a disciplined work force. This provisioning enabled a continuous supply of disciplined workers who could do the right thing and have the base skills required to work in a factory. A large percentage of these factory workers held the same job for more than a decade.


On reading the Principles of Morals and Legislation my initial questions are;
  • In this contemporary era where unskilled and semi-skilled jobs are quickly disappearing - and that it be increasingly difficult to attain a job -  is this the appropriate era to consider utilitarian principles of student well-being and happiness?
  • Can the principles of utilitarianism be employed to leverage the purpose of education in a continually revolutionising global economy?
  • Is it possible that society will expect our school leaders (principals and teachers) to move away from an emphasis on behaviour control based (what is right), and re-engage students through a focus on student well-being and happiness?
  • There is little doubt Australian schooling (of the past) benefited the nation through its’ output of a manufacturing and factory ready workforce. But what is now -  as increased productivity and automated technologies reduce the need of mass jobs - where manufacturing and factories are leaving Australia at a consistent rate - as the retail industry goes online? It is most probable that decisions are made to expedite structural change.


The basis of the above questions sits firmly in the realm of who is the key benefactor of gaining pleasure (well-being and happiness). My emphasis is the students, but the complexity of change concerns teacher, administrator, associated community members, employers and the controllers of funding sense of fulfillment and happiness. My significant concerns associated with Benthan’s Principles of Morals and Legislation is the complicated framework that is required to measure pleasure and happiness, and the percentage of prioritisation which participating stakeholder should enjoy. To a certain extent the well-being and happiness of Anglo Australians (good for) were prioritised over German Australians in world war 1 and 2. The sense of national fulfillment were denied Australian Germans (bad for) as they were classified as enemy aliens. Similar conclusions can be made in favor of or against Operations Sovereign Borders Policy and the Indigenous Intervention Program. In regards to Educational reform;
  • Is Return on Investment a societal happiness priority over student happiness?
  • Can Benthan’s utilitarian measurements adequately measure programs such as Direct Instruction?


In regards to the behavioral management duties many school leaders perform, Benthan provides good advice. In adherence to school business such as doing the right thing and methods of punishment, each transaction should examine;
  1. The act itself, which is done.
  2. The circumstances in which it is done.
  3. The intentionality that may have accompanied it.
  4. The consciousness, unconsciousness, or false consciousness, that may have accompanied it.
    (Benthan 1781)
It is time that all schools in Australia step away from punitive punishment processes which are rooted in making the child suffer for actions taken, and adapt processes that encourage a sense of empathy, shared well being and happiness.



Bibliography

Fernex, A., & Capucine Mazeix, M. (2012). A Problematization of the Concept of Utility: Bentham's Chrestomathic Project (Master's thesis, Pierre Mendes France University, Grenoble 11, France, 2012). EA, 602: Laboratory of Educational Services.

Gillard, D. (2011). Education in England - Chapter 2. Retrieved July 27, 2014, from http://www.educationengland.org.uk/history/chapter02.html

Wartime internment camps in Australia. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2014, from http://naa.gov.au/collection/snapshots/internment-camps/index.aspx

Bentham, J. (1781). Jeremy Bentham: An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Retrieved July 28, 2014, from http://utilitarianism.com/jeremy-bentham/index.html#one