My experience in education has created a very strong inclusive value. If I had entered education in the traditional manner, I might not have developed that value because I came from an economically privileged background and was very successful in the competitive school environment. I valued my place in that worldview.
Working with student’s who had been unsuccessful in academia was a revelation. These street kids were not in most cases people who had trouble learning, they had trouble learning in a traditional classroom. I was confronted with the issue of “Why were they being deprived of an education?”
My more recent revelation came from working with a very different group of students, medical students, frequently referred to as “the best of the best”. They have been very successful in academia or they wouldn’t be here, but that means they frequently bring habits of mind that we as a society don’t want in our doctors; habits like elitism individualism, competitiveness. How do you change those habits of mind?
Medical schools in North America are trying to change the way they teach. So we begin with a simple statement “All students who enter medical school are intellectually capable of becoming doctors” which leads to the question “How do we create empathic, team players?” The answer was a pass/fail system where students are expected to work in teams not just with medical students, but also with pharmacy, nursing, physiotherapy and dentistry students. We are in the third year of the change, students initially bulk and hate group work but by second year, they are in most cases becoming the empathic team players we want.
Faculty on the other hand keep asking me “But how do I know who the best students are?” and therein lies my second revelation. Traditional schooling is exclusive, it’s designed to identify the “best” and weed out the “worst”. The best go on to university/PHD programs, the mediocre go to technical schools and the worst drop out.
My problem with this isn’t the elitism inherent in the assumption that university = best choice (many tech graduates make more money that arts or education graduates). My problem is in the depriving of opportunities in all students to learn, to collaborate with other students, to be creative in one’s expression of knowing.