So, I may have added a new book to my list of “maybe reads”.
Unlike Drive by Daniel Pink and Finnish Lessons by Pasi Sahlberg, both of which I consider must reads for anyone concerned about education, The Curiosity of School: Education and the Dark Side of Enlightenment, by Zander Sherman is still one of my question marks.
Recently featured in articles in the Globe and Mail and the Montreal Gazette, Sherman is a free lance writer, photographer and a musician who was home schooled until entering the public school system at the age of 13. This experience is the lens through which he views (and critiques) Canadian education.
I often shudder at the idea of people outside of the education system writing about education. One of the biggest issues education faces today is familiarity. Since a fair number of Canadians have spent a decade or so in school, we all feel that we know how the system works and how it should be fixed (Don’t even get me started on Ken Dryden’s book In School). We forget that many of the impressions we made of the system were constructed when we were teenagers, hardly a time of sound, dispassionate reasoning (Anyone remember 80’s hair and acid washed?).
However, from what I can gather by reading reviews and posts about his book, Sherman has one thing going for him. His is yet another voice in the rising chorus of Canadians who are critical of the top down system of educational micro-management.
Apparently, what Sherman lacks in expertise he makes up for in passion, and although perhaps not as founded in educational research as one might hope, his words do strike a chord with those of us seeking classroom autonomy. However painful the experience of public school may have been (he actually uses the word “excruciating”), it did cause Sherman to arrive at a point of view shared by many of us in the field today: Education systems that are designed to meet external, artificial standards fail. Period.
This is why education in Nova Scotia has been as successful as it has been over the past few years, despite the critics and shameful underfunding. Teachers have been slow to bow to the data driven mentality of standardization. We have continued to resist teaching solely to the test. And we have strived to maintain autonomy over what we teach under the ever focussing eye of the dreaded policy makers. Yet where others are recognizing the benefits of professional autonomy for teachers, we here in Nova Scotia are still being subjected to ideologies that push charter schools and even more accountability in the name of bureaucracy.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Sherman stated quite clearly that what excited him about education in Canada was classrooms where teachers focussed on the kids, not the data.
To my mind, the more voices sending that message, the clearer it will become. Maybe it will take a book written by someone outside education to entice policy makers see the light.
I believe Mr. Shermans book has gone up a notch on my list.