Telling it like it is, the Matt Damon way.

I’ve always liked Matt Damon. I don’t know him personally, obviously, him being a major Hollywood actor and all, but I’ve always liked what I saw as a no nonsense approach to stardom every time I saw him interviewed.

Today, I like him even more. Today, he made a special trip to Washington DC, to address a rally of teachers protesting near the White House about the regimen of standardised testing that seems to fuel the North American system of education. A system that Australian political honchos appear to want to emulate as we churn out NAPLAN tests every year, and look to introduce an Australian Curriculum in 2013 that suggests the inclusion of increased testing to “validate” that everyone is on the same page.

Take a read of Matt’s considered words, and see if you agree that this is a man who is making a whole lot of sense and who is probably speaking for the majority of citizens out there. (Apologies if there is some clause somewhere not allowing me to publish his speech in full. I’m pretty sure Matt won’t mind.)

“I flew overnight from Vancouver to be with you today. I landed in New York a few hours ago and caught a flight down here because I needed to tell you all in person that I think you’re awesome.

I was raised by a teacher. My mother is a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I went to kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I went to public schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything.

I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’ That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that.

I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.”

*Update – here’s the video of the speech. Thanks Neil Winton for tweeting the link.

Today, I was reminded of the important place teachers hold in student’s lives. I heard a voice say, “Hi Mrs. Luca, remember, me, Kirrily?” I did remember her, last name and all. Kirrily was a student I taught in my second year out of teacher’s college, 22 years ago. She was the lead in the school play I directed that year, and today she remembered the time we spent together. She introduced me to her son, and proudly told me the approach she takes to parenting her children, and she said it probably had something to do with the good teaching she received at school. No doubt it has a lot to do with the good parenting she received too, but it made me stop and think about the impact we have on young people’s lives. Kirrily is 38 now, but she remembered me fondly, as did I, her.

Thank you Matt Damon. Your words have meaning not only in your country, but in countries elsewhere too. Our political power players need reminding of the prescient need for our children to be creative, to love learning, to be curious, to be passionate about what excites them. Shading in yet another bubble on an out of context test paper, and prepping for weeks in advance to ensure they get it right so that a school looks the goods on the My School site, is not going to produce the citizens this country needs.

National Curriculum – where are we headed?

I went to a briefing last night regarding the National Curriculum and progress that is being made in relation to the major curriculum changes that will be changing the face of education in Australia. It was delivered by Tony Mackay, who is the Deputy Chair of the National Curriculum Board. I’d read the recent ‘Shape of the  Australian Curriculum’ report and felt quite positive about the direction it was taking.

I’m OK with the idea of a National Curriculum. I think the idea of it reflects the kind of country we are. We occupy a vast landscape, but I feel that most people are unified and take pride in calling themselves Australians. (That, of course, is my take and my take only.)  I, for one, don’t mind the fact that they are proposing quite a bit of focus on understanding the history of our country and our Asian counterparts. I do think it important to have a grounding in the history of our country and the region we inhabit.

What was troublesome for me after last night’s meeting was the apparent increase in testing, similar to Naplan testing that exists now,  that is going to result from a shift to a National Curriculum. The message I was receiving suggests that our students are going to be tested in quite a few areas, possibly four, on a regular basis. As a mother of a 10 year old,  who was quite stressed about the recent round of  Naplan testing, I’m not relishing the idea of putting our kids through more of it. Nor am I liking the idea from a teacher’s perspective. The suggestion made by Tony Mackay was that the tests would be cyclical. My reading of that was that we would test kids on differing subjects every second year, effectively meaning that our kids are going to face rounds of Naplan tests every year of their school lives from at least Grade three up. Maybe I’m wrong about that and I’m happy to stand corrected.  

My other concern is just what is going to be done with the data. Will schools be compared regardless of their socioeconomic locale? Will funding be tied to making sure the testing is done? Will schools be economically disadvantaged if they aren’t performing? Will our curriculum lack innovation if we find schools teaching to the tests because they are fearful of underperforming and having the data used against them? 

I used my Livescribe pen last night to record the session. I am seriously impressed with the pen. You need to use special paper to write your notes on and the pen records the audio. You then upload the data from the pen to your computer, both notes and audio. You can then pinpoint any part of the text and the audio will replay from that part of the session. You can do this just using the pen and notebook too. If you upload your recording to Livescribe online you can share the session with friends or share the link. I’m going to link to it below so you can get a feel for what it is. Excuse my messy handwriting and packed page of notes. I wasn’t sure if you needed to stop recording when you started a new page so I stuck to the one. I’ve since found out you don’t have to. (You can get one from IT made simple if you’re interested. And no, I’m not taking commission for that plug!)  

The session was being videoed for upload to a website, so I’m not concerned about linking to it here. If I were at a PD where it wasn’t already being recorded I would think it only fitting that you seek the permission of the speaker before you did so.

Take a listen and see what you think.

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