Leviathan at Dolans in Limerick
Last night the Leviathan Political Cabaret came to Limerick (to Dolan’s Warehouse, to be precise). Leviathan is a project to take political discussion out of the constraining domain of the radio or television studio and encourage people who might not normally take part in such discussions to get involved.
The topic for debate last night was “Can education save Ireland?”. The passion in the discussion. and the number of people there (even if they were mostly teachers), was good to see. Unfortunately though, I found myself unimpressed by the kind of points made, particularly by the panelists. Though the MC David McWilliams did his best to get people to be practical and specific with their suggestions, for the main the conversation was rather high level and heavily dosed with cliché and platitude. The majority, but certainly not all of it, wasn’t much more than a lunchtime bitching session at work.
Nevertheless, even such lunchtime bitching was good to see in a more open and public forum.
One definite bright light came out of the event though, and that is my (long overdue, I suspect) introduction to the Northside Learning Hub. This has been talked about at work a bit in passing, but I was never able to quite understand what it was. It turns out that’s because it’s something new.
The learning hub is a community project that offers opportunities for people of all ages from the surrounding area to engage with the educational resources (particularly secondary and third level) available. Secondary school students and adults take part in projects in collaboration with third level students and teachers, or local professionals, in the relevant discipline. It appears to be a genuine centre in which a person might explore ideas and skills in concert with a semi-structured educational community – the kind of thing that could or should act as a superb complement to the more rigidly structured forms of education that have become so anathema, but are likely to be very hard to shift.
I say complement here, because while I do think the secondary school system appears to be a bit of a mess at the moment, the kinds of broad sweeping transformation of it into a system that teaches (typically unspecified) “life skills” may be missing something very important about the learning of such skills. It takes practice. And effective practice requires structure and routine. While the shift toward more active forms of problem solving and more practical forms of thinking is certainly laudable, it is generally being made by adults who have a host of bedded-in, taken-for-granted skills that only arise because they are so over-practised, but which certainly don’t come without effort.
I suspect that a more effective form of educational system – one that supports the development of human beings rather than workers or students – will involve some kind of marriage between the structure of the traditional classroom and the more interest-provoked, playful exploration of environments like the Northside Learning Hub.