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A 21st century education: ‘New’ teachers and critical pedagogy for the digital age

Volume 1: The Nature and Purposes of Physical Education

In the previous blog we explored Fairclough, Stratton and Baldwin’s 2002 paper about the contribution that physical education makes to the lifetime physical activity habits of young people. The blog certainly struck a (dis)cord judging by the comments made this week. These suggest that we (as a subject) are caught between the traditions of provision and the difficulties of addressing the needs of a 21st century student population. Furthermore, we are being unfairly judged on the track records of those who vehemently seek to maintain the equilibrium rather than those who continually seek to push back the boundaries of curricular and extra-curricular provision.

This week’s paper suggests that the time for technocracy (the development of technically proficient performers) is over and that the current model of school is “so last century”. Indeed, in reading this paper I wondered if we are already well over a decade late for the changes that Fernández-Balboa was suggesting were on our doorstep in the digital age. I think we are getting closer, and the very fact that this blog is read around the world and that I can check where it is read online and share the contents on multiple devices suggests that some of us, at least, are ready for change. However, it will take brave and ethical practitioners to find the path through to a digital pedagogy fit for the digital age.

Paper 7:

Fernández-Balboa, J-M. (2012). Physical education in the digital (postmodern) era. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education. (pp. 99-115) London: Routledge.

My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

We must stop ignoring the experiences, conversations and actions of the disenfranchised youth because, in the digital age, they may simply buy a virtual body in the virtual world where the rules of video allow them to thrive and say “to hell” with them. Tradition is not enough. Disinterest in change is both irresponsible and dangerous. We need teachers and educators who are critical, rather than accepting, of the norm. People who challenge a subject status quo that allows sexism, racism, elitism, political ignorance and social stratification to exist in our schools and in our lessons.  

Fernández-Balboa paints a stark picture of commercial education driven by profit and brought to a living room near you via the latest gadget or toy. One that syncs with HQ and learns to satisfy a child’s needs through algorithms and Internet ‘likes’. He suggest that education has been identified as having ‘a high profit line’, and that those willing to pay will have the opportunity to access a high end form of education – one that doesn’t require the learner to step outside of their own home. In contrast those who can’t pay will be forced to occupy a desk in ever expanding schools and classroom where they will be lucky to get fourteen minutes of a teacher’s time across a school day.

Yet, such a conceptualisation of teaching and learning still positions the learner within an industrialised notion of school. A production line of schooling where standardisation, specialisation, synchronization, concentration, centralisation, massification and bureaucratisation hold sway over stratified, tracked, classified and age-arranged students (for a better idea of what this means I recommend the work of Sir Ken Robinson). Industrialised schooling fails to acknowledge that new pedagogies or therapies are needed to challenge the norm. Such pedagogies, Fernández-Balboa suggests, need to be critical, democratising and humanising and focus on social justice through individual responsibility (both of the teacher and the learner). He suggests that the digital age could have incredible benefits or terrifying consequences that may advantage some while bringing misery on others. I heard someone say that if you see the bandwagon you are already too late. Therefore, we need to be the bandwagon and that means we need to begin to envision the impossible and then help it to happen in our classrooms and schools.

The Paper

Fernández-Balboa draws on the work of Toffler (1980, 1990) and suggests that there have been three waves of civilization that have changed the world at a previously unprecedented pace. The first occurred 10,000 years ago, with the discovery of agriculture and animal husbandry, as these ended our nomadic lifestyles and allowed us to settle the land. The second occurred in the industrial revolution and the third is occurring now – in the digital age. He also holds that the schools of today were ‘invented’ in the same industrial age and this is seen in the classification of students as good or bad workers, the division of learning into tasks, the outcomes and products of schooling and so on and so forth. Yet, with the drive to seek lower costs and taxes many previously industrialised countries now rely on digital technologies and service industries to ‘power’ their economies. So why do we still have our education system?

In looking at third wave education Fernández-Balboa suggests three alternatives: private sector schooling, home schooling, or a new type of school.

Private sector schooling is driven by profit and is accountable only to the consumer and the shareholder. There is little or no public input, it privileges certain discourses, there will be no union protection for teachers and is available only to those who can afford it.

Home schooling is already an option available in many countries and, with the explosion of the Internet, it allows students and their teachers to access a multitude of educational resources. Fernández-Balboa suggests that the argument that home schooled students are less well socialised is increasingly inaccurate; especially as students are increasingly required to work independently in larger class groups and in silence. Furthermore, a home schooled student who gets 15 minutes of the teacher’s time each hour (as opposed to 2 in a school) can achieve in 3 hours what it takes a schooled children 3 days to achieve.

New schools, Fernández-Balboa believes, will be required to rethink the educational priorities that drive them but that this will require both political and financial backing. Such schools will be much smaller, with curricula that seek to develop the individual in non-compulsory lessons that are enticing and inviting and which create a school ambiance that inspires children to investigate social, moral and political issues. This will require a new teacher (although I believe this teacher exists, he or she just needs to be freed from the shackles that bind their actions) with a greater range of knowledge around people, society, history, language, science and geography to name a few. These teachers will engage in ongoing and communal learning and have an “acute sense of pedagogy”. They will display deep humanity, a strong commitment to the wider world, personal character, self-esteem and wisdom.

In physical education these teachers will challenge the tensions between traditional and critical pedagogies. They will acknowledge that there is competition from commercial concerns to manage agendas around sport, recreation, fitness and high performance. Instead they will challenge tradition and avoid the habitual use of “poisonous pedagogies” that are applied in the belief that they are beneficial to all students, when in fact they exclude and disenfranchise many more than they benefit. These teachers will focus on the personal development of their students and reveal the hidden curriculum for what it is – a place where the fostering of sexism, racism, elitism, political ignorance and social stratification is ‘allowed’. Such teachers will envision the impossible and work to make it happen. In other words they will be their own bandwagon for their students.

What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

about findings of the paper – do they resonate? Use the comment box below to ask question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.?
on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is this your responsibility or just something else to be put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be.
what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? Please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

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On Thursday 14 February at 15:55 Doug Gleddie said
Thinking: This particular paper needs a LOT of thought. It reminded me of a Provincial conference on curriculum reform I attended. We were having an excellent discussion at the table group when we all suddenly realized that we were not talking curricular reform - we were talking radical, sweeping, systemic change to the school system. The issue for us was how to go about doing it. I think more and more of us in the education world (and maybe without) are coming on board but how can we change this ingrained, industrial monster? Acting: I believe we have to try (if not now, when - if not you, then who?). Fr me, this trying will include working with my pre-service teacher colleagues to explore and expand notions of what education is (including education of the physical). It will include attempting to run the courses I teach in a way consistent with what I believe (joy-oriented PE a la Kretchmar, 2008) so that students experience something outside the norm of university education. Changing: Every day, in at least some small way. Thanks for this forum - very inspiring reading the comments and interacting around research.
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On Thursday 14 February at 19:11 Amanda Stanec said
I thought about this topic a few years ago when the rural elementary school where I taught was going to be shut down. The plan was - close down three schools and bus kids to a super sized school with all the latest and greatest of technology. Fortunately, it was shut down (no money to build the super sized school). I put forth a proposal outlining the health impact of such a move. If they closed these three schools, would they have three times the space (indoor and outdoor) to offer quality PE? If they closed these three schools, would they find ways to offset the increased time that students were sitting on the bus and lost time to play after school? If they closed these three schools, would they have additional school sports teams since clearly not as many would "make" the team out of the total number of schools. If they closed these three schools, would parents be able to gather their cherubs if they were able to stay after school to participate - given the additional distances many would have to travel. People hate change. People love technology. However, there is something about the traditional (small rural school) setting that has it right. It does foster health and physical activity - in many ways. There seem (in my humble opinion) to be fewer barriers in these environments to get things done. Less hoops to jump through. Yet at the same time, when I think of Kahn Academy, I wonder why PE isn't there. Why not? As Doug suggests above - radical perhaps is what is needed. I say, bring it. :) Thanks, Ash.
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On Thursday 14 February at 22:39 Dr. Lee Schaefer said
This article is timely. Fernandez-Balboa's call for future physical educators to be aware of not only the micro but macro political ideologies surrounding (informing) physical education is inspiring. In Apple's words, to understand how to change school agenda's we must first understand how these dominant narratives have come to be. These conversations come up often with the pre-service teachers I working alongside. "They are the change agent." "They will be the one's to shift a culture within their own local context." And we send them off to reform. This becomes their story, which adheres to the large poster that hangs in our Education faculty "Be a Teacher...Change the World." BUT HERE IS THE RUB. As these beginners move into a new profession, on a new landscape, with new colleagues, new curriculums, and usually teaching outside of their specialized areas, changing the world, or even the program they are working within, is difficult. Beginners are conceptualized as being deficient, they need to be skilled up, and learn to teach in the "real world." From my own research I have seen the grand canyon between what they imagined themselves doing and what they are actually doing. From my own research, I have identified this gap between imagined and actual as a part of the reason 40-50% of teachers are leaving the profession in their first five years. Action: The wolf in lambs clothing: I feel like I am the wolf. This brings up a number of questions. So my question to you is, as a community preparing these future PE teachers, what are we setting our new colleagues up for? How do we bridge the gap between their imagined stories of teaching and the realities they will no doubt face? How do we empower these individuals with the tools, political knowledge, and cultural knowledge to advocate for education for the physical and at the same time let them know that this struggle to shift things, to reform, will be done in isolation. It will be done while trying to keep their heads above water, while trying to survive their first few years of teaching. How do we negotiate these questions in a way that honours both our profession and our future colleagues who will soon be negotiating their new professional landscapes. Although this may seem to the glass half empty response, these are the questions I am thinking about as my students move into the field next week. Thanks as always for this space.
Ashley Casey
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On Friday 15 February at 08:27 Ashley Casey said
Thanks to everyone for their comments. In writing this/these blogs I am sure I am a little guilty of putting a slight 'Ash' slant on things. I try not to but I am sure it happens. When it does it is through the lens of my reading, research and experiences as a teacher. With that in mind I agree with everyone above but I also disagree. Personal I feel that we aren't going far enough. This isn't a matter to be address only by innovative and motivated teachers, or by forward-thinking teacher educator. Reform in physical education, in fact education itself, is beyond the resources of the subject. We can do something about it. We can continue to inspire teachers to do their very best. We can stop tolerating "roll out the ball" colleagues both in our schools and in our children's schools. We can listen to people who tell use that we talk too much in PE (which we do) and take some of the rough with the smooth. We can canvas for our subject and we can fight. We can acknowledge that the subject is self-replicating itself in the recruits that come into teaching. They are successful graduates of a traditional programme and they want to replicate what worked for them. University is not successful at changing the beliefs of these practitioners and so the story goes on...To make real steps we need to change the "expectations" that exist around our subject. We need to stop those in power from thinking of PE as it was in 'their day' or expecting it to be able to fix the "obesity epidemic", the drive for "olympic medals" and "social issues" involving misbehaving youth. We need to stop accepting a curriculum filled with 'isms' and try and find ways through it. Words are easy, actions are hard. For the first time we have a digital age and a communication system capable of joining our different strengths across oceans and finding likeminded colleagues to form a community that can have a voice. I can do more. I know I can. It is just a case of being prepared to take those steps. We need to keep challenging pre-service teachers but, as Universities we need to offer professional development to teachers that allows them to develop their practices and helps them to be more receptive to new ideas. Collaboration is the key. We need to work together, provide opportunities and realise that this is not an easy fix but one that we need to focus our combined efforts on. - I hope that is not too much a "soapbox" but...anyway. Cheers Ash.
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On Friday 15 February at 19:30 Dr. Lee Schaefer said
I don't want to hog this thread, so I will make this brief. Having said that I am finding a strong resonance between this thread conversation and questions I have surrounding my pedagogy at this very moment. Like mentioned above, this social networking collaboration provides a space to explore these questions with others in the field, I greatly appreciate that. First, I don't see a disagreement within your comment Ash. Shifting, disrupting, the dominant narratives around physical education which you mention above, is fundamentally important to the future of PE, it is the conceptual frame of our undergraduate program. This is not easy work, and as you mentioned, easy to say and much harder to do. I do disagree with the notion that, on the university landscape, we are not able to change the beliefs of our pre-service PE teachers. I believe strongly that they begin to see things differently, and want to do things differently, but as they enter the professional landscape they are pressured, socialized, into reverting back to the grand narratives of PE. And unfortunately the school landscapes and university landscapes are so disconnected that they are left to be PE activists on their own. One way to move from noun to verb I believe lies in your final few sentences. I see the connection between the university discourse and the school discourse as a pivotal shift that needs to happen. The paradigms need to be disrupted, radically shifted and we need begin to bail the water out of the boat together. Right now it feels like "us" against "them." As universities we need to get more connected to the grass roots, honour the knowledge in the field, listen to their stories. This may help teachers let down their guard, begin to see the university as a partner as opposed to the conduit that critically looks over their glasses at the field. In turn perhaps it allows us to become advocates along with, and alongside our future PE teachers. As you said, there is no easy fix, nothing could be more true. But forums like this, and the social media we now have access to, allow us to work together in an organized, and passionate fashion to continue to chip away. John Wooden always said "start small....but start." I believe we have started....Thanks again Ash.

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