viernes, 18 de mayo de 2018

A baccalaureate diploma in the service of capitalism

A baccalaureate diploma
 in the service of capitalism
Lately I have been visiting several secondary schools for research purposes. This has allowed me to reflect on the possible behavior of those students who require a high qualification in order to enroll in those degrees with a particularly high entrance mark - the archetypal case being Medicine. From the very beginning of the first year of high school, they are forced to put all their efforts into achieving the highest marks in each and every subject, regardless of the degree of interest they might have in it, to the point that many of them, regardless of their religious beliefs, decide to enroll in the subject of Catholic Religion because they perceive that it is much easier to obtain a good grade in this subject than in its counterpart in Ethics.
As I have already commented in some previous posts in this blog, it is very difficult for me to think that there are students who, like some kind of “academicist” Leonardo Da Vinci, could have a very deep interest in each and every subject. It seems clear that what can lead them to seek these good grades is solely and exclusively the desire to be able to access the career of their choice. In short, in an important number of subjects, instrumental interest would prevail over expressive interest: a kind of alienation in which the important thing is not authentic learning, but to achieve good grades. In this context, it is not surprising that in a class of just over thirty students a minimum of twenty-five students would request a review of their exam.
Everyone knows that getting a good grade, more often than not, implies getting along with the corresponding teacher, or at least not getting along badly or avoiding open dissent.
With this type of baccalaureate and its consequent model of university entrance, Einstein would almost certainly not have studied physics - and certainly he would not have entered the double degree in physics and mathematics.
However, this should not be the case. As an example, it is known that in Finland only a minority of the secondary school students who aspire to such studies - about ten per cent of the applicants - enter the Grades leading to the teaching profession. However, this does not mean that selection is based on high school and college entrance grades. In an article published in, Pasi Sahlberg - a renowned Finnish educational researcher - reported that his niece, a student with excellent grades, was not admitted to the faculty that trains primary school teachers at the University of Helsinki. This is how Sahlberg explains the selection process:
Let’s take a closer look at the academic profile of the first-year cohort selected at the University of Helsinki. The entrance test has two phases. All students must first take a national written test. The best performers in this are invited on to the second phase, to take the university’s specific aptitude test. At the University of Helsinki, 60% of the accepted 120 students were selected on a combination of their score on the entrance test and their points on the subject exams they took to complete their upper-secondary education; 40% of students were awarded a study place based on their score on the entrance test alone
In short, the idea that the best are selected in academic terms is nothing more than a myth. Things are done this way because it is considered that very different types of people can be excellent teachers.
But they don’t do this because they know that teaching potential is hidden more evenly across the range of different people. Young athletes, musicians and youth leaders, for example, often have the emerging characteristics of great teachers without having the best academic record. What Finland shows is that rather than get “best and the brightest” into teaching, it is better to design initial teacher education in a way that will get the best from young people who have natural passion to teach for life.
What I wonder is what kind of person can become one who, from the early age of sixteen, enters this maddening career to excel in all subjects. I don't have any data on the subject, but in more than one school I have heard through the grapevine about how common it is for anxiety attacks to occur in the run-up to exams.
Finally, why in this entry do I speak of a baccalaureate being at the service of capitalism? In an excellent paper, Jean Anyon analysed, on the basis of ethnographic research, the functioning of five schools: two working class schools, one middle class, one for the children of professionals and the last one for the children of high executives (mostly multinational managers). In the latter one, the feature highlighted by this researcher was the predominance of the appropriation of knowledge. This is no more than a mere commodity with which to obtain educational credentials and a better position in the labor market. This is the education we are giving our brightest teenagers and I don't think this seems to matter much.