As a holdover from the “olden days” and one who has lived through many transitional stages in education I would like to hope that someday the efforts of those who were the practitioners, the front liners, the teachers who lived with and cared for the children of the 60’s and 70’s, will be respected. The label “old school thinking” is not only disrespectful but it smacks of a nasty accusation of “taking the easy way out”. In spite of this perception, there were theories of learning, even though there were very few theorists, so we were pretty much left to our own devices to develop our own theories of learning. Yes, there was an emphasis on cognitive, subject-based learning and there was a focus on behaviour that emphasized respect, courtesy and good will (not control). To imply that this thinking was wrong is simply….well….wrong. It wasn’t perfect but it had, at its centre, the best interests of our children, each and every precious little soul in our charge. So lest we continue to bash “old school” thinking and values, let us remember that those who went before us laid the foundations for the kinds of wonderful change we are experiencing today. I am not a trained theorist but I know the difference between effective teaching and poor teaching and what we did “back in the day” was good, wholesome and greatly beneficial to our kids.
There was, and still is, I guess, an old adage that states, “Those who can do. Those who can’t, teach”. There was a perception that becoming a teacher was the easiest thing in the world to do because a high school diploma was all that was required. No doubt there are some who took this route and quickly discovered that this was definitely not “the easy way”. They were totally intimidated by the challenge and soon dropped out to find an “easier” career path.
I make no claim that we were “gurus”, that we had “seen the light” but I do know that we were always searching for better, more effective ways of imparting knowledge and of opening the minds of our children to the wonders of the world. Our classrooms were almost totally inflexible spaces, with desks affixed to runners in straight rows. We discovered (back then) that children learned well when they were given the opportunity to do it in a collaborative or cooperative fashion, so we found ways to get around the rigidity of the classroom by gathering at the front or back of the room or out on the lawn under a tree. In short, we found ways to make it happen and we even managed to detach the desks from the runners so we could turn and face one another. So, if I sound like an apologist for the “good old days” then…so be it.