Educating in Nature

Ch 1 Motivation - Parent-Teacher Bond

In all discussions on education the first characteristic that needs to be examined is motivation. For teaching to occur the student has to be motivated, that is simple - they must want to learn. That is the starting point of education, a child comes to school or whatever institution to learn. Is it the case that students are motivated? And if not where has it gone wrong?

Understanding motivation is the key to unlocking the state of contemporary western education - and as a result the potential for exporting their problems in education globally. When a baby is born, what do they do? Instinctively they learn. Do they need motivation to learn? No, it happens. Or alternatively one can say that Nature gives babies the motivation to learn, and we call Nature's motivation instinct. This instinct is motivation, we do not supply the child with motivation. The mother does not tell the child to go and learn. In the home the baby is motivated to learn. In truth that is a bit stupid to say, more than a bit stupid, it is intellectual verbiage to use such words for what happens. Mother, baby and father grow together in the home and learning occurs - call it motivation, instinct, intuition, love or whatever. Learning happens.

But by the time western children go to secondary school learning does not instinctively happen. Most do not go to school to learn. Educationalists often say children at this stage have lost motivation, and equally often they say it is teachers who need to provide that motivation. As you might imagine I scoff at the notion that teachers should be providing the motivation, but at the moment I leave it at scoffing!

Students in secondary school have lost motivation. Above I stated that learning happens from birth, and that it is a natural process. Within the home parents provide babies with what they need to learn, what they need to survive, what they need to grow up. Few would dispute this but would they call it education? They learn what they need, and parents encourage them in this. It is a natural process all round. Here is the crunch, somewhere along the line this natural process breaks down, examining how this breaks down and how we prevent it from breaking down is the essence of this personal journey into education.

Key to the learning process in the home is familial love - mother, father and baby. All of these aspects of love create the environment that allows the baby to learn, and given Nature's instincts combined with this love the baby doesn't go wrong. Is there a loving environment involved in the process of education that is secondary school? Rather than just being able to say no, the situation is worse than that. If a teacher were to say they love their children they are more likely to be arrested than being considered as providing the appropriate environment for learning. Whilst it is important to protect our children from the few perverts, it is important not to drive out of education that which provides the appropriate nurture - love. Good education comes from love and a caring home, does the bond between parent and teacher in secondary school in any way correlate to this love and a caring home?

For me this is so sad, and again is a theme I hope to explore in this journey. If I am not arrested for perversion?

So the question of motivation is where has this natural motivation gone? How has love gone out of the process? In the UK it has become a self-fulfilling process. Various interests have intervened, and parents have stopped trusting teachers to provide their children with what is needed. Gradually the natural motivation in the children disappears, school becomes a chore and then eventually the students stop learning, some become ill-disciplined and some even more disruptive.

Let us consider schooling where that bond remains. Children in Africa, China and many parts of Asia go to schools where that bond is intact. Is it the quality of education? With all due respect that is not the reason. In Africa these children go to village schools with barely desks, a bit of chalk, and teachers who are comparatively untrained. It is not what is provided that is the problem which breaks the parent-teacher bond, fundamentally it is the social ethic which is missing. African education believes in the education it provides, western society doesn't. With that lack of belief, the parent-teacher bond disappears and with it the education environment of nurturing that can provide good education.

It is essential to see that the failing education in the West is not an objective factor of the institutions themselves only but the disappearance of the nurturing environment and this parent-teacher bond. In the UK this bond was intentionally destroyed by politics. It became politically successful to attack what was happening in schools. It was determined by the ad-men that the floating voters saw education as an important issue. The politicians then stepped in, and began manipulating education for votes. The poor behaviour of the students was not the cause of the failure to learn. Why? Because the parents of these students were voters. Which group of people could the politicians afford to lose the votes of? The teachers. The teachers became the scapegoat for the problems in education. In society it became acceptable to attack teachers, and the parent-teacher bond disappeared - and with it what remained of education.

I am not saying that at the time all was well in education. Far from it. The reason that education could be politically manipulated was that education was already beginning to fail the needs of the parents. But the politicians hastened this process because quite simply they had only one interest - the vote of the parents. That process of vote-grabbing has continued to this day. They talk of how much money is put into education but they never talk of the main cause of the bad education - the poor behaviour of the students. The primary fact that causes western education to fail is that the students do not go to school to learn, and the primary cause for this is the breakdown of the parent-teacher bond.

But this is not grounds for complacency on the part of educationalists. These usurping politicians only fed off the prevailing conditions, and these conditions cemented a building dissatisfaction amongst the parents. The politicians severed the parent-teacher bond in the west, society readily accepted the severing and education became the mess it is today. Elsewhere societies did not sever that bond, and education has not deteriorated. But there is no room for complacency. Re-establishing that bond takes more than just a recognition of the problem.

So we need to examine how the bond worked historically? UK education up to the 60s was working quite well in some senses. Students went to school, and came away with varying levels of qualifications. Because the bond was intact little was questioned. In the 60s, if I returned from school with a bad report or if the school reported me for ill-discipline my parents reinforced what the school did. My parents did not question the school, they might question me but it was never with a notion of attacking the teachers. There was a bond there. In truth I do not recall this bond as being close, I never had the feeling that my parents were 100% behind what the school did, but it was clear to me that my parents and the school were united. No matter what I did they were working together in a common interest.

Contrast that with today. Parent-teacher evenings are a battleground for teachers. Students cause problems in schools, blame the teachers, go home with their stories, parents believe them, and division between teacher and parent is established effectively ruining the education of the child. Has the quality of delivery of education altered? Maybe. Is it as bad as the desk, chalk and less-trained teacher in Africa? Absolutely not. Yet education remains in Africa because of the bond. And how much better off would western children be if the teachers were supported by the parents irrespective of blame and fault? In the home the unity of the parents provides a stable loving environment for nurturing the child. Children develop problems when they are able to cement a wedge between their two parents. Good parents see this coming, try to establish a working agreement, and so nurturing the child is effective. Where has this discipline gone in the parent-teacher bond?

The most important tool in dealing with this bond is recognising the common sense that if you allow the child to create a division between teachers and parents then education is reduced. How can learning occur when the teacher is considered the enemy? In loving homes is strictness a problem? Is punishment a problem? No, because in both cases love is the overriding factor. In good homes children bite the bullet, accept punishment from their parents quite simply because their parents love them. Why can't things similarly be accepted in schools? Teachers are trying to help the children, if things go a bit wrong so what? The children are learning. If the teacher genuinely cares about teaching then the child can learn irrespective of whether the teacher makes a mistake. Children need to tolerate those mistakes for the sake of their own learning, parents need to reinforce that toleration, and children can then learn.

Re-establishing the parent-teacher bond requires an acceptance of mutual interest between parents and teachers, and moving away from the conflictual position that has been established in the west. Is it always necessary to agree with the teachers? No, but it is necessary for the parents to support the teachers. But are the teachers and the educational establishment innocent in this? Far from it. Teachers have become increasingly career-orientated as the behaviour of the students has worsened. What happens to genuine teachers when they meet the hostility of student behaviour? How can a genuine desire to educate remain when all that is met is at best disinterest and often outright hostility? More and more working in western schools becomes a means for career and secure jobs rather than a desire to educate - a desire to be the elders of society passing on the knowledge to the next generation.

And how have teachers interacted with the parent-teacher bond? They have developed an aloof teacher speak. Rather than trying to unite with the parents they defend their own positions and attack the students, and then in the staffroom complain about the attitude of the parents. The parents encouraged by media denigration of the teaching profession go home and abuse the teachers. OK this is an exaggeration of sorts but the net result of parent-teacher interaction is an increasing division in the bond that is necessary for good education.

A starting point on this bond for teachers is a replenishment of the desire to teach, a return to the notion that a teacher has a vocation. I recently met a teacher colleague again after nearly 30 years. When we first worked together our approaches were similar, but our career paths were vastly different. Whilst he remained in UK education, for the latter half of my teaching life I have worked abroad - and now live outside the UK. For the latter half of my working life I have been in teaching situations where many teachers enjoy being teachers. They have complaints, who doesn't? But they believe in teaching, this has rubbed off on me. When I told my erstwhile colleague that a teacher needs to accept vocation, he described my position as absurd. Whilst it would be hard to maintain a vocational position in the UK, it is far from absurd. If parents met teachers at their meetings and saw a genuine vocation perhaps they would be far happier to trust them with the education of their children. Of course maintaining a vocation within a careerist institution where education matters little is extremely difficult even before you start to consider the poor behaviour of the students this vocation meets.

The parent within the bond needs to respect the professional. Over the last 30 years parental involvement has been encouraged but not parental respect for the teaching professional. The skills of these professionals are belittled, and it is generally viewed that a parent's view of education is as informed as the teacher. This of course is complete rubbish. The teaching professional usually starts with a vocation, has completed a school education, has gone to university to learn to be a teacher for three or four years, and then has all the classroom experience as well as ongoing training. How does a parents' knowledge of education compare to this? It doesn't so why do parents feel this way? We need to examine the political process of parental involvement. In the UK this started in the late 70's, at the same time the politicians started to use education as a vote winner. Parents were rightly becoming disenchanted with education as a whole, and the government offered them the opportunity to be involved in institutional decisions. As a by-product there developed this sub-culture that parents could be involved in professional decision-making, and questioning classroom management became a parental prerogative. This is ludicrous, meddlesome, and very destructive. How do you form a bond with a professional whose decision-making is being questioned by someone who considers they have a right to question such decisions but have no professional experience to bring to the matter.

This brings us to the responsibility of the parents with regards to their children's behaviour. Most parents do not consider that I am referring to their children. They fall into the trap of comparing behaviour in much the same way as students do in class. A typical classroom scenario is that a child misbehaves. The teacher attempts to chastise that child, then someone does something worse. Rather than accepting responsibility for their own behaviour and ensuing punishment they start comparing their behaviour with the more disruptive child who is perhaps not being punished. They perceive unfairness and it all prevents learning from occurring. How can the teacher deal with the two disruptions at the same time? Most people blame the teacher for losing control but if two or more students are not doing what they are supposed to do and the teacher is trying to control the behaviour without the cooperation of the students, is that poor teaching?

Following this scenario through in consideration of the parent-teacher bond, the first student reports that the teacher is picking on them. They did action A but the other student did action B which is easily explained to their parents as far worse by the first student. Parents might feel outrage and rather than support the teacher support the child. This type of scenario is significant in the breakdown of the parent-teacher bond, and could be obviated if the parent simply asked the child if what they were doing was right or wrong, and punished accordingly. How can the parent know about the class dynamics at the time? Why should they? They should trust the teacher - the bond.

But the teacher in general does not include the parent in this bond. Whilst their professional decisions are their own, professionals need to recognise they are teaching people - the students. How many teachers become old and tired because they say they are teaching the same old same old year in year out. This is completely untrue, every year their classes change. Every class they teach is a new set of students, and the teachers are there to help form the lives of these new people. Teaching needs to be personalised not only in terms of the ability of the students but in terms of their personalities. And this is where the bond comes in, and where legitimate personal involvement with the parents is essential. How many parents hear stories about children they don't recognise? How do they trust teachers who clearly do not recognise their own children for who they are? If teachers blanket attack then of course parents will defend and then attack the teachers. If this bond becomes central to the teaching and all parties recognise appropriate boundaries for involvement then there is little chance that the children can cause division and education of the child will improve.

Developing this parent-teacher bond is a practical lynchpin in improving education and recognising political involvement as a significant source of the division is important, but it does not really address why the politicians were able so easily to manipulate the education votes. And these reasons are political and educational - not teachers, not parents, not students but edu-political. In this journey it is important to recognise that the fundamental building block for good education is the parent-teacher bond, and that assumption has to underwrite all that I say, but it is far from the whole story. And the whole story relates to the connections between society and education, and that story concerns the journey of the student from the home through the school into society. How caring is this journey, is it a journey as Nature intends?