Human Potential and Hope

I came across this piece by Marcia Devlin this morning.

The first part of her post reminded me of my Grade 6 teacher. (A Mr Horn, if I remember correctly.) Now I liked Mr Horn very much. I thought he was an engaging teacher who always made us think. But I do remember him one day looking around the class and saying, quite seriously and matter of factly, “I don’t think any of you will go to university.”

I now have four degrees and I know one other member of the same class has a PhD.

Predictions are not really very useful. I could go on about that but the part of Marcia’s post that really caught my attention was :

I’m a bit taken lately with human potential ideology and hope theory. The former moves away from deficit models to models of human potential and the latter promotes the generation and pursuit of goals. (links added.)

I was excited by just the thought of these concepts. How would it be if we were to move away from all this talk about (inherently self-limiting) standards in education and moved towards finding the potential in each child in our care? That instead of focussing on all that is wrong with our world, we were to move towards generating hope.

Our previous prime minister was famous for saying he wanted Australians to be relaxed and comfortable. On reflection, this sounds like an opium for the masses. It sounds a long way from finding the potential in every member of our society and generating hope.

Education is currently dominated by standards. What if it were dominated by potential and hope?

Business leaders are evaluated on achievement against “key performance indicators.” What if they were evaluated against the extent to which they developed their organisation’s potential? What if they were evaluated against their achievement in promoting hope, both within their organisation and in the wider community?

Lot’s of questions I know. You didn’t really expect me to provide answers did you?

Further reading:

The Dangers of the Human Potential Movement.

Education is broken – but it doesn’t have to be

If you read this blog regularly you will know that my heart weeps for education.
At a time in which the world faces its greatest ever challenges, we are returning to
models of education that were essentially developed 200 years ago.

In Australia, we have the NAPLAN and
MySchool which are regressive simplistic
measures of student and school performance respectively. It is as though we have not moved a
millimetre from the industrial revolution model of education since wide scale public education
became common in the mid 19th Century.

In addition the Australian federal Education Minister,
Julia Gillard, declaring herself
a world expert on education has just announced a ‘back to basics’
national curriculum.

Kevin Donnelly, one of the most
conservative education commentators in the country has completed a 180 degree shift on national
testing. Previously one of the strongest and most vocal advocates for public accountability of
schools through ‘league tables’ Donnelly

now argues
that the evidence from overseas indicates that these measures do not increase
educational performance.

In this piece on the ABC website, he argues:

…an argument is put that test scores, while giving the impression of being scientific,
are not completely objective or reliable. In addition, standardised, multiple and short answer
tests (like Australia’s National Assessment Programme Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)) measure a
limited range of skills as schools are forced to narrow “the curriculum towards the knowledge
and skills that are easy to assess on such tests”


Jeremy Ludowyke
, principal of
Melbourne High School,
(itself ranked #1 on literacy in Victoria), pointing out that his school is one of those that
stands to gain the most from national comparisons of the type promoted by MySchool describes
the whole initiative as ‘nonsense’
(The Age 8/2/10.)

At heart these initiatives are based on a belief that 

  • teachers have a cosy life and have little or no interest in providing high quality education
  • education has been hijacked by left wing ideology (eg see this piece by Donnelly)
  • parents demands are more important than the view of educators

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Wide scale public education was a mid 19th Century response to the industrial revolution.

Many argue that as a result it was modelled on the successes of industrial production. Children could be treated as items to be produced. You start with raw materials and apply the same processes consistently to produce items of consistent quality. Put all children through the same education and they will all learn the same things. Of course, some children are ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ and refuse to either apply themselves or to learn. But, by and large, the successful products of the system have similar characteristics.

Right there, at the beginning of public education, we were confronted with a dilemma. Do we educate children to provide fodder for the industrial machine or do we educate them to produce thinking individuals who will experience better lives because of their ability to make decisions for themselves?

We have never fully addresses this dilemma.

Perhaps we don’t have to. Perhaps we have moved beyond the industrial revolution to a place where educated, independent thinking individuals able to make independent decisions are what we need as a post industrial society and is also a socially just outcome of education.

In a future article I will discuss ‘modern’ approaches to education and how they might indeed be just what we need.