Schools, football clubs and a changing world.

club171Our AFL (Australian Football League) season has begun. We’ve had three rounds so far this season and my team, the Melbourne Demons, have lost all three games. By significant margins. Not for the first time, we’re near the bottom of the ladder. Some things don’t seem to change much.

But appearances can be deceptive. When the Demons were winning everything in the 50s and early 60s, football was a very different game. The players were virtually amateurs, training was by modern standards a pretty relaxed affair, and on game day the coach’s role was to spur the players with a ‘blood and guts’ type speech before the game.

It’s not like that anymore. Football writer Martin Flanagan described what he saw when he spent a day with the Demons’ coaching staff before the first match of the season, a few weeks ago:

There was a last team meeting with midfield coach Mark Williams. Williams brings excitement and passion to the game. He and the midfielders discuss the structures they will adopt. I don’t understand a word. Football was a relatively simple game when I encountered it. Now it’s much more technical. Josh Mahoney takes the forwards. I vaguely understand what he is saying. It bears some resemblance to the game I thought I knew, although there is no mention of terms such as full-forward. The forward roles are numbered …The coach’s box defies description. It’s like being inside the mind of a six-headed creature that’s playing chess with mobile chess pieces that have minds of their own.

Everything about football has changed, and everyone knows it. I watch post-match discussions on TV and, like Martin Flanagan, understand very little.

Schools haven’t changed much. I’ve been teaching for 40 years and it’s never been a big effort to keep up. Structures are pretty much the same. Attitudes and assessment practices are familiar.

It’s a pity, especially given that the world has changed.

What will it take, I wonder, for schools to respond to a changing world as radically as football clubs have done?

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3 Responses to Schools, football clubs and a changing world.

  1. I think some of this depends on the nature of the change. If all that changed in football are the words used to describe the positions and the plays that are run than not much has really changed; all that has changed is the language we use to describe what we have always done. I do not know if this is the kind of change that has taken place in football but it seems this is the nature of most change in education. We do not change practice just the words we use to describe that practice.

    By having our own arcane language to describe what we do we can create the appearance of a kind of “secret society” that only the initiated fully understand and everyone else is something of an outsider. I think this can help teachers intimidate parents a bit on parent night and the like but I do not think it really does that much to improve the profession.

    The real problem with education reform is that it is costly. And this is not to say teachers need to be paid more (it would be nice if they were) but that the world is becoming much more technologically oriented and the technology is expensive, both in the initial investment and in the maintenance. It is also potentially expensive in professional development costs. Though most teachers new to the profession are probably already familiar with the technology they need guidance as to how to adapt the technology to their classroom discipline.

    But perhaps the real change that needs to take place is in “purpose”. Why do we teach what we teach? Is it just to carry on a tradition, to make sure our kids know what we know, or is it, on the one hand, to give students a cultural base from which to view the world and, on the other, to give students the tools they will need to compete in the world as it is. There are things that all our students need to know and need to be taught, but the content of every discipline is changing so quickly that teaching students how to find things out is at least as important as teaching students the content of our disciplines.

    I suppose at the end of the day, the only things that do not change are dead things. Latin as a language does not change because it is a “dead” language and all the wonderful poems and stories and ideas that are expressed in that language cannot bring it back to life. The same is true of educational practice, if it does not change it is not living, and a dead institution might help us understand the past and the old ideas that created that institution it probably does not have much to say about the future.

    J. D.

    • steveshann says:

      Everything is changing about football, J.D.! Not just the language. The way the game is played and the way the players are trained and coached are all completely different.
      This is what prompted me to write in this post, in fact. Seeing how much has changed in football, and how quickly the game continues to change, threw into relief how little has changed in our schools.

  2. I kind of thought so, and that was what I was trying to underscore by contrast. Where football has changed not just the language but the way things are done, it seems in education all that we change is the language.

    J. D. Wilson, Jr.

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