The customer is always right…

I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for the results of last post’s question…..so here is a convoluted response…

Last week, I was sitting in Wellington airport, enjoying a quiet moment with a Fuel latte and taking advantage of the free Internet access (just joking, Wild at Heart).

The taxi driver, on my way there, asked me which route I’d prefer to the airport. The cheerful barrista at aforementioned coffee emporium checked to see if I wanted large or regular, one shot or two, sugar…(not, am sweet enough).

And a teacher with which I recently worked on a themed unit, asked her students:
“What do you think about this?”
“Which texts would you like to start with?”
“Would you prefer to study this independently?”
“Which type of response suits the way you work: digital essay, oral presentation or blog?”

As you can see, the busy voices in my head have been considering the importance of ‘student voice’ and trying to make connections between a range of seemingly disparate sources – and before you log off with mutterings of ‘oh, not that hackneyed soapbox’, the idea of actually talking to students about their own education does seem to be emerging more and more frequently, from a range of quarters. And it is the surprise at this apparently novel idea that grabs me the most.

I wonder if there is such a focus on control of every aspect of own lives (Victoria Beckham Syndrome, Sunday Star Times, 18/11/07) that we forget that young people might also want to be in control of theirs? Or at least have a say. And yet many people, including educational professionals, find it a surprising idea that we should consult our ‘customers’ before we serve them up an Mc-Education. Do they want to super-size their group work? Would they like a novel on teenage angst, with some poetry on the side? How about a choice of different flavoured multi-media presentations?

Damien Wilkins’ description in the recent English in Aotearoa rang a few sad and somnolent bells:

“Schools are places in which status is seen at its most naked. The truth about almost every school in the world is obvious to those who have eyes to see: teachers are high status, students are low status. This is the foundation upon which the school is built, literally and metaphorically. Literally, in that the architecture emphasises this truth at every turn. Metaphorically, in that the school depends upon this hierarchy being preserved.

Why are we surprised that students are depressed, frustrated, angry and alienated by their school experiences? The wonder is that so many of them are good-natured about school. Their benevolence is remarkable, when one considers that for 13 years they are treated with a gross lack of courtesy. Truly was it said in England in the 19th century that the mark of a man was the way he treated his servants. In the 21st century, the mark of adults is the way they treat children.

In many schools the students are not even allowed to use the main entrance, the front door. They are apparently too scruffy or noisy or smelly to be allowed in the million-dollar foyer. They are given hard uncomfortable seats, or made to sit on the floor. Their ablutions blocks are often filthy and even unsafe. They are moved in mobs, while teachers shout directions like farmers working their dogs….We should didactically teach status to our students, including ways in which the status messages they give others will determine many outcomes in life….”

How do we listen to our students? How do we give them authentic voice and authentic choice?

The newly-released NZ Curriculum, with its learner-centred pedagogy and practice almost demands we consult with our learners. Recent comments from Derek Wenmouth [check out his Derek’s Blog on this page] reflect similar concerns.

Those of you familiar with Ewan McIntosh and the Bass Player Blog [see blogroll] know full well that the voices are out there. If the schools in which we work are not engaging with those voices, then we need to find ways in which we can.

Because if we don’t make sure our customers get what they want and need, the customers will go somewhere else….

Thank you for your comment. Much appreciated:-)

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