I can be guilty of book-hopping – opening one while finishing another – but Ian Gilbert’s latest has so far managed to both grab and keep my attention. The rhetorical title – ‘Why do I need a teacher when I’ve got Google?’ – certainly helps catch the eye, but within it he presents, with great skill and humour, a simple argument: the primary purpose of the education system is to teach children to think and, in its current form, the system is failing in this purpose.
That’s a serious charge, but a pretty persuasive one. Mind you, having just emerged from a few weeks of cramming juvenile brains with certainties – facts to be reproduced on SATs day – it wouldn’t take much to win me over.
I won’t repeat his points at length – mainly because he writes better than I do and, besides, you’ve got Google so you can go and find out for yourself. But what he says about the absence of genuine thought within the average child’s school day rings true. Yes, we cover a lot and are busy, busy, busy. Is that enough though?
For me, in the classroom, some of the most revelatory moments have arisen when I’ve put the plan to one side – jam-packed as it is with differentiated activities, resources, assessment opportunities and the rest – and allowed for a discussion to emerge. A proper one – with opinions, and disagreement, and challenge. This is learning, just as much – if not more – than a neatly marked page full of times tables or a list of English Kings and Queens in a text book.
Sometimes the discussion can lasts minutes, sometimes it fizzes around the room until necessity brings it to a close. On these occasions, there is a shift that can be hard to describe and difficult to define, but it sure looks and feels a lot like thinking. My guess is that brains – in some small way – have been re-configured, re-shaped for the better.
It’s hard to disagree that with Gilbert’s view that we need to find a way to generate more of these moments, not less. And that’s why we still need teachers.