Without making a sound audible to his prey, he stalked the edge of the building. Each footfall testing the stability of the stone, each breath perfectly timed to optimise balance, each tiny movement of his eye catching glimpses of reflected light, each ear absorbing sounds soft and loud and his mind filtering all that information within a moment to separate essential knowledge from useless data.
His clothes, his movements, his thoughts were all centred on one goal but gathering so much of his surroundings within his well-trained mind so as to adapt should a bird interrupt his path or should a beam of light hit a potential hiding place.
He could do anything at any moment – including retreat – but that is not what he was trained to do, nor what we was being paid to do.
As some of you may know, I like to engage in a little escapism via my Xbox. A few years back, I was introduced to the Assassins’ Creed series produced by Ubisoft. The main story set some time in the near future, with the protagonist a man who shares a bloodline with a particular set of ancestors. Many of these ancestors had specific skills and abilities, and joined an order of Assassins in their given historical context. These Assassins were to protect the people from authoritarian control and mistreatment, mostly at the hands of the Assassins’ rivals and enemies: the Templars.
Whilst I don’t want to indulge my no-so-inner history nerd too much – the one who gets to run through amazing digital reconstructions of the Crusades-era Holy Land or the revolutionary American colonies or Ottoman-run Constantinople – one thought has stuck out from this excellent game which we can try to apply to our work as educators.
At one point in the most recent Assassins’ Creed incarnation, “Black Flag” (a game which I challenge you to not enjoy if you ever dressed up as a pirate as a kid) which joins the timeline of Edward Kenway, a pirate from the early 18th century, our main character questions the mantra his newly gained allies in the Assassin order: “nothing is true, everything is permitted.”
Having taught History Extension here in NSW a few times and thus exploring the nature and impact if postmodernism and post structuralism as theories applied to history, it hit me that this game was trying to tap into something of a zeitgeist for us in Western democratic nations and education.
As Kenway ponders, why believe in anything if nothing is true and why bother to act justly if everything is permitted?
To be honest with you, most of the time I kept playing the game without absorbing this.
But let’s just think about it for a minute. How much control do we have over our educational duty? There are obvious limits, but it nothing is really set in concrete (even curriculum documents change at least once a decade in Australia) then what standards and expectations do we set of ourselves at any given time? Even our National Teaching Standards focus on skills, approaches and relationships rather than needing to know particular chunks of knowledge forever. (and even on a basic procedural level… imagine if we didn’t update our CPR procedures or allergy training to suit updated medical understandings & research?)
Many teachers and schools have quite a bit of flexibility to provide learning experiences for their students. You can take out a textbook and turn to the next page, or you can start a new project, or you can visit a site of particular significance, or watch a video and discuss it. Of course we need to adhere to our curriculum documents and other priorities and expectations of the school, system or state, but at the coal face this doesn’t matter as much as the teacher’s ability to spark interest and joy in learning. But why do we do it?
Let’s face it, even when we try to apply evidence-based strategies into classrooms and schools we face the challenge of bridging the theory-practice gap and also we ignore the methodological or other faults within the evidence itself. Some fairly huge educational policies are based on studies which have limited scope and limited impact in their own context. Just because something is published in a journal does not make it directly applicable to the teacher/student experience without significant contextual analysis.
How much if what we do is based in what we believe to be true or what we read works rather than what we apply, test, reflect on and adapt to achieve our shared purpose with the students in our classrooms? If we had total freedom over curriculum and approach, what would learning look like in school?
As we move into a new school term, and begin our sometimes perilous journey between the reliable and security of the roof rather than the dark and uncertain world beyond the edge, let’s think about what evidence we are using to establish our truths: which is based on experience, which is based on the experience of others, which is true and which is only true at this moment.