Thank you for the opportunity to tell how my own personal experience fits with the ideas presented in Overschooled but Undereducated. I am pleased I have this opportunity – it came by chance that my younger sister heard John Abbott on local radio and she knew I would be interested.
For many years now I have shook my head in dismay at where society is heading and at times felt like an alien in my own country– does anybody else think like me? Well I am delighted and relieved to see that John Abbott appears to, and has been able to cohesively bring together a range of truths that have rumbled annoyingly within me as unsubstantiated “soapbox” opinions. I do not have much knowledge or experience within education, but have learned a lot reading this manuscript and now I have some data to back up my gut feel! I am also keenly interested in education’s direction, and am learning all over again with a 3 year old boy attending pre-school.
My memories and experiences of my time in the educational system are unremarkably fine. I was born and bred in regional Victoria, Australia, during the 1970’s – early 80’s and luckily came from a stable home and developed into a self motivated student who learned how to look after myself in the playground. I went to a “disadvantaged” primary school, which meant it had a high number of children from Aboriginal, single or broken families attending, hence received additional government funding (at the time we were the only school in town with a hall!). Then I went to one of two local state high schools until Year 11 when a major change in the local schooling structure occurred, and has continued to occur. At the time, this change created “junior” and “senior” high schools, resulting in me completing my Year 12 (Higher School Certificate) at another school, and the closure of local Technical Schools which had provided more trade over academic based education. That year (1988) the HSC changed name to VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) but I got through before other changes occurred (I suspect dumbing down changes, based on observations of my younger sister’s education). I successfully made it to university to complete in 1993 with honours a combined degree – Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Engineering. Again my memories are fine – I had a great time and learned how to pass exams, but more importantly learned how to learn.
But my memories are very much out of date. Much has changed since I went through the system and I am grateful it served me well and I got what I wanted out of it. Twenty years later, we are experiencing a “skills shortage” and I wonder what the above educational changes did to contribute to it. My husband and I also recently visited some local primary schools as part of Education Week and were stunned by what we saw. In Prep classes were vision and mission statements, signed contracts of behaviour codes, De Bonos 6 thinking hats and problem solving methods such as 5 whys – all things neither of us had experienced until reaching the workforce, and some of which I teach and coach adults! Education is a very different beast now, and we have much to learn and experience as our son goes through the modern system.
Now back to how my own personal experience fits with the ideas presented in Overschooled but Undereducated. For me, reading this manuscript was difficult as I cried a lot and it was like an emotional rollercoaster ride in 5 areas:
1) Joy and pride. I continue to feel more validated in my choice – I have chosen to be a stay at home mother, rather than outsourcing the raising my child. Why would a woman not want to bring up her own children? Why do parents put themselves in a position where they have to struggle with someone else’s imposed habits, beliefs and values thrown back at them via their children – especially when they become teenagers? Unfortunately many people brainwashed by marketing believe they need to return to work for economic reasons to maintain their consumer lifestyle. What is more important? It is all a choice.
2) Relief that I am not the only person in the world who thinks that there might be more to life than earning and spending money. I believe that our blind consumerism is a result of low personal self esteem. We are marketed to, to spend money to make us feel better about ourselves. Why has this happened on a mass westerner scale? Does it all come back to the distortion and collapse of the school – family-community trio? Reading this manuscript has also made me ponder why I am why I am. It has made me delve into my upbringing and further reflect on experiences (some which I would prefer to forget!) as well as re-examine the role model I am to others. How is it that I enjoyed living five years on university campus without trying drugs or drinking alcohol? Why is it that I choose not to colour my graying hair and wear make up, even when I am told to do so? Am I not worth it?
3) Sadness for those who are a product of the marketing machine and who don’t know it, so can’t acknowledge it, so can’t change it.
4) Anger and disgust at British history showing such short term, traditional, non systems thinking. We get what we deserve. Is it a case of the Empire coming back and biting you on the bum? I am not close to British life, however, I get a glimpse through newsletters from www.systemsthinking.co.uk. and it looks uglier than in Australia. I loved the big picture, holistic approach to ideas presented in this manuscript – it fits well with systems thinking and lean philosophy (from Toyota). How does the Japanese education system compare to ours? Certainly lean thinking/philosophy has the big picture focus and true respect for people needed to solve some problems presented in the manuscript.
5) Nervousness at the future of society. But confidence in my own ability as a mother and in my husband’s ability as a father to provide the most functional foundations for our child. And acceptance that the rest will be up to him.
The ideas presented in this manuscript are explosive and much bigger than education issues – these are social issues which affect everybody. I have sent this link to all the people I know and have encouraged them to read it too. All westerners need to read this manuscript urgently, have a damn good look at ourselves, and using the principles outlined in Chapter 8 with long term system thinking and leadership,do something.