Effective Pedagogies for Educating Young People

Introduction

The purpose of this essay is to discuss effective pedagogies in education young people in the urban environment. By pedagogies I mean those methodologies concerned with teaching and encouraging learning. I will be looking at the dominant pedagogies in place in Britain and in the USA. I will also discuss the particular significance of these in the urban environment, and how inner-city school's needs may differ from those of more rural schools.

It is worth noting here how we may define certain areas as being 'urban.' Britain is, on the whole, an urban country. But in their book Urban Schooling, Leslie Bash and colleagues write that beyond using common sense definitions of 'towns' 'cities' or 'villages,' an urban area might be identified as one where the population is high in proportion to the geographical area, and the housing dense. Urban areas are spaces of advanced economic activity, and also are defined by government/administrative/legal criteria. (Bash et al:1985:2)

But besides stating the type of geographical area concerned, the terms 'urban' and 'urban schooling' also imply a number of social concerns. Urban neighbourhoods have come to be understood, certainly as ones which have a high proportion of ethnic minorities, often as ones where poverty and disadvantage can be found, and ones where tension and inequalities are rife. It can be seen, therefore, that a link has been made in popular public understanding, between neighbourhoods in which there are many Black/Asian/Hispanic residents, and neighbourhoods where there is poverty, disadvantage and tension.

Bash et al write that urban schools reflect inequalities and tensions, because in the city the density of population and of numerous different communities make clearly visible these issues. (Bash et al:1985:49-50) Their definition of urban schools takes it as inevitable that they would be seen in this way. Walker, on the other hand, challenges the term:

The definitional looseness with which the term urban education is used conjures up images of dysfunctional educational and social institutions, acute levels of poverty, and high degrees of underachievement. The fact that some urban communities do exhibit these characteristics does not mean that education in all urban contexts must take place within dysfunctional institutions or be characterized by high levels of underachievement. (Walker:2003:5)

For the purposes of this essay, I consider it important that I discuss effective pedegogies for educating ethnic-minority children in Britain, and for educating those from working class backgrounds, and also that I discuss the issue of schools which are deemed to be 'failing.' However, I do not wish to assume that all of these factors occur in conjunction with one another. Further, as stated urban areas are ones in which numerous communities exist alongside one another. Urban schools provide education for a large number of white and middle class children, and also a good number of extremely bright ones - and so any pedagogical design should hesitate to accept the typical stereotype of children who attend urban schools as being none-white, and/or poor, and/or unintelligent. It is my view that the failing of past and current pedagogies have often been that they fail to acknowledge diversity. And so I will argue that effective pedagogies would be ones which use the diversity of children within a school to lead the design of a curriculum, rather than to try and force one set curriculum in spite of the students' diversity.

Before I go on to discuss methods of teaching and educating which are at work today, I would like to outline some history of state-provided schooling.

In 1870, Forster's Education Act made school compulsory in Britain, for all children between the ages of 5 and 13. Although it was a legal requirement that all children attend, though, schooling was not provided free of charge. Evidently, poor families were disadvantaged by this, and although the Act ensured that children were educated after a fashion, it did little to narrow the gap between the calibre of educations received by rich and poor.

Since the 17th Century, the church had been the only provider of formal education for poor children. Church-schooling had been pioneered in London, where the population was densest and so the need for education was highly visible. At this time, critics of the move to educate the poor argued that schooling was wasted on the working class. Children from poor families, the critics said, must get used to hard work and having to pay their own way. Even champions of schooling for poor children, seemed to be preoccupied with its advantages for the upper classes. Rather than being concerned with giving poor children a more equal chance in life, education was seen as a way of maintaining social control over the poor, and to ensure that poor children adhered to the desired social norms. (Bash et al:1985:14)

Parliamentary enquiries in the mid 1800s, indicated that the poor did want their children to be educated, and that as Britain's cities grew and grew, the churches simply could not cope with the number of children to be schooled. And so, as the result of Acts like Forster's, the government did become more active in ensuring all young people went to school. However, in Bash et al's opinions, the system of schooling, by which the type of schools attended and the amount of education received depended on what the parents could afford, only perpetuated a culture in which working class children and middle/upper class children were poles apart. The authors state that, in their view, the British schools of the 1900s simply taught:

  • The urban working class child to accept his or her position in life.

2. A belief that urban schools for the working class were generally bad schools, with unintelligent children and uncaring parents.
3. A curriculum that discouraged independence of thought, encouraged nationalism (and by implication racism) and confirmed gender stereotypes. (Bash et al:1985:16)

The field of Urban Studies saw developments in both the USA, across Europe and in Britain during the 1960's, and this was tied closely to the rise in urban education. The book Education and the City, edited by Gerald Grace, brings together essays from both Britain and the US, based on a number of cities including London and New York.
In 1975, urban sociologist Ray Pahl wrote that in all societies, metropolitan cities can be seen as an arena in which various social and cultural conflicts are played out. These conflicts appear in terms of economic and political factors, as well as in social and cultural interactions. Gerald Grace follows this argument in stating that metropolitan education is a crucial area of discussion, as urban schools are a space in which these conflicts have become clearly visible. Working class inner city schools make visible a wide range of cultural and pedagogic conflicts and contradictions. (Grace:1984:39)

In inner London in 1980's, around 40% of school pupils were from ethnic minorities, and one in ten pupils' first language was not English. The HMI report on Educational Provision in the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) stated that

Significant parts of the area suffer from urban decay and some have changing populations. The ILEA is faced with a combination of problems to an extent probably unmatched elsewhere in England and Wales. (Morrell:1984:196)

Pedagogic writing has tended to be in a framework of deficit theory; the idea that urban education is deficient in various areas that might be expected of good education. (Grace:1984:39)

It would become apparent that judgements about whether a particular curriculum or a particular pedagogic approach was 'working' would be linked to conflicting socio-political ends and not simply to some consensual version of an educational or individual norm. (Grace:1984:40)

EDUCATION ON BOTH SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC

When George W. Bush came to the US government, he introduced the No Child Left Behind Act, which he declared to be the cornerstone of my Administration. Speaking when the Act was passed, in January 2001, the President said,

These reforms express my deep belief in our public schools and their mission to build the mind and character of every child, from every background, in every part of America. (George W. Bush, Jan 2001)

The Act is based on four 'pillars,' these being:

  • Stronger accountability for results

  • More freedom for states and communities

  • Proven education methods

  • More choices for parents.

The NCLB website states, that:

Under No Child Left Behind , states are working to close the achievement gap and make sure all students, including those who are disadvantaged, achieve academic proficiency. (www.ed.gov/nclb)

Stronger Accountability for Results

Annual report cards are issued charting school's progress; these reports are distributed freely to parents and communities. Schools whose achievements fall below standards set by the state, are required to provide extra after-school tuition, summer schools and so on, to improve student's education. If no improvement is made in the school's results after five years, dramatic changes are made to the way the school is run. The website does not explain what is meant by these dramatic changes.

Further, although these extra lessons are available to any pupils who wish them, the families of the pupil are required to pay for them. Only students from low income families, and in schools which have been under-performing for over three years consecutively, can gain government funding for these privileges.

More Freedom for States and Communities

The outlines given focus on flexibility in terms of allowing an individual school's local district and state, to decide how money is spent. They may decide whether it would be more valuable to the school to hire more staff, or to provide further training for existing staff, for instance. There is no mention of increasing freedom for schools to decide on the curriculum for their pupils.

Proven Education Methods

Rigorous scientific research is used to prove certain pedagogies as effective. Children are tested annually to national standards, to ensure their ongoing effective education. But the website does not outline what these proven methods are. And, I would hesitate to assume that there are certain methods that will be effective for all young people in all communities, particularly in a society as diverse as the United States, in which one state will have an identity and culture very distinct from another.

More choices for Parents

In schools which fail to meet state standards for at least two consecutive years, parents may transfer their child to another public school within the district. This is also the case when a child has been the victim of violent crime inside school. Transport to the new school is provided by Title 1 funds.
Parents with children in failing schools would be allowed to transfer their child to a better-performing public or charter school immediately after a school is identified as failing. (www.ed.gov/nclb)

For one thing, the key phrase here is identified as failing. If a school's performance is measured by pedagogies standardised by the entire state, if not the nation, this leaves no room for an individual parent or family to decide that a school is failing their particular child, whether or not it is meeting state requirements. Further, the statement contradicts ones made earlier, which say that in fact a child cannot be transferred until the school has been failing for at least two years. In two years of formative education in a failing school, the damage may have already been done.

Extra tuition must come from providers approved and registered by the state. What the website fails to conceal in its descriptions of these 'advantages' is that a parent's ability to transfer their child to another school is considered to be a privilege rather than a basic right. And by restricting when a child can be transferred, and which providers may give children extra tuition, the government is increasing its control over education and maintaining parent's lack of choice.

Walker has written that:

Scrutiny of recent federal and state policies, for example the school choice movement, privatization initiatives, and the federal No Child Left Behind Legislation clearly reveals a trend towards affixing the blame for educational problems on the schools themselves. ( Walker:2003:12)

In this view, she echoes the way that Bash et al described the education systems of early 20th Century Britain, and suggests that very little has changed! I believe that what is most central to these policies, is the assumption that there is one system of effective pedagogy, and one appropriate curriculum, which is correct and desirable for the entire nation. Any schools, and by extension any individual students, who find that these methods are not the most effective for them, are simply deemed to be failures.

I find similar assumptions at work on this side of the Atlantic. Tony Blair's Labour campaign in the 1997 general education focused on 'education, education, education' as the key priority for the new government. The system of OFSTED inspections entails four-yearly inspections of every school in the UK, grading them on certain standards set for the entire country. Government-trained and regulated inspectors observe lessons delivered by every member of staff, and carry out audits on records kept within the school. Its aims, therefore, are to standardise the calibre of teachers in every classroom in the UK, and to increase accountability for a school's systems of planning and administration.

In the case of a school failing its inspection, it is placed on a 'warning' list. The school's management is advised on the areas in which the school is deemed to be failing. A further inspection is then made, a year later, to ensure that systems have been put in place to improve the school's management, the teaching methods of individual members of staff, or whatever changes have been desired.

If the school continues to make no improvement, OFSTED has the power to remove members of school management, and ultimately to close schools down.

It has long been the case that a school's achievements are judged largely on the number of passes gained in external examinations. I agree with Frances Morrell when she argues that, whilst no doubt exam grades are one valuable way in which pupil's achievements can be objectively recognised, at the same time there are numerous other aspects of pupil's development which cannot be tested by exam papers, and which should not be ignored. She writes that inspectors have often found that urban schools such as those in Inner London, stimulate qualities of creativity, of artistic expression, of articulateness, of initiative, co-operation and social concern among their pupils.

FORMING EFFECTIVE EDUCATION

Whilst pedagogical design for educating young people should, in theory, have individual young people themselves at its helm, I have found that education systems both past and present seem to focus more on social control and on reducing individual deviation from set social norm. The young people engaged in learning, and the methods by which they learn most effectively, seem to be secondary considerations compared to results tables and proven methods of gaining those results overall. Actual, individual young people have been lost in the midst of educational policy.

In the UK, Connexions is highly individualistic in that it offers individual students personal interviews, and schemes of consultation which take place outside of the school's normal curriculum, and which aim to help the student find the most effective path for their own development. However, the scheme has focused almost entirely on students who are judged to be 'underachieving,' or in some way 'disaffected.' It is the resort turned to when something appears to have gone wrong. This assumes that there is one norm which all young people in school should aspire to, and that any students who do not ascribe to this are 'underachieving.' Rather than celebrating individuality, its systems seem to discourage it and to seek ways of minimising it; and getting the individual student back onto a more acceptable path of work or study.

Some questions that might be asked in designing ways of educating young people are,

  • How are young people's identities influenced by their experiences of school?

  • How can young people's own life experiences and situations be used to stimulate discussion and learning? And, similarly,

  • How might young people's styles of learning, their motivations and perspectives be used to influence pedagogy?

Frances Morrell writes that education

has to proceed in the face of such social and economic disadvantage among its pupils, and in addition to this, a sensitive and flexible response has to be made to a whole range of cultural and ethnic traditions which characterise a varied and cosmopolitan school population. (Morrell:1984:196)

She argues that the practise of evaluating schools' progress and planning their reform without taking into account their social and economic contexts, is flawed both factually and ideologically; it is clearly not only unscholarly but deliberately misleading. (Morrell:1984:196)

For her, positive discrimination is essential; schools should receive resources depending on their level of socio-economic disadvantage. She also champions parental involvement at all levels of schooling, including meetings in which school staff consult parents for their opinions, and regular newsletters to be distributed to parents. (Morrell:1984:201) She believes that greater involvement of the Manual Trade Unions in education would be greatly beneficial. As working class children may find themselves less close to the ethos of the school than their middle-class classmates, and perhaps less able to identify well with the teachers educating them, many can find that they gain a sense of lower worth that they carry with them throughout life. As they expect school to have little rewards for them, so they come to expect similar in their working lives. Morrell believes that the Trade Unions, who since their inception have worked to make the rights of working class people a visible priority, may be able to give many students a greater sense of belonging, and higher expectations of their own futures. (Morrell:1984:204)

Further, she encourages the employment of more specialist-language teachers; ones who can teach children in their own first languages; at the same time, the number of teachers of English as a second language should be increased as it is without doubt vital that all pupils do learn to be fluent in English.


Similarly, Bash et al believe that national curriculum has not reflected British society today, and has distorted history and society to a Eurocentric bias. They consider it crucial for young people to be offered options to learn Bengali, for example, or Punjabi, instead of French or German - especially if this is more useful in the community in which the student lives. They also echo Morrell in saying that children should be educated in their own first languages. To teach a child in a language they speak only secondarily is to immediately render them disadvantaged. (Bash et al:1984:101-102)

But still more essentially, in my view, pedagogy should be altered to celebrate and utilise the diversity of students in a school, rather than to battle it and try to enforce standardisation. Bash et al write that in this situation, pedagogy would need to recognise the validity of the pupils' own experiences and use these for work, discussion and explanation. (Bash et al:1984:101)

Methods of educating young people must be open and flexible, and be prepared to change according to changes in culture and the influx of individual students in a school. To suggest that all schools and their curriculum should be standardised to one way of teaching, is in my view flawed. Ultimately, even if a curriculum is designed with good intentions, if it is conceived and delivered in a set way, it will only replace one form of domination by another. (Bash et al:1984:101)