The Green School fiasco

I’ve been attending a few events out of the ordinary over the past week: the first was the Social Melbourne 5 year birthday meetup at Ponyfish Island, the second was the TEDxMelbourne network event at The Deck, then there was the Green School evening at the Hilton (I’ll get to that one in a sec), and last night was the SYN Awards at the State Library of Victoria. That’s a pretty mixed bunch of networks, and they all certainly made for some interesting conversations and experiences. All except for the Green School evening…

See, I should have had the ‘spidey-sense’ tingling when I signed up for that one. I should have seen that it was really a marketing ploy in disguise; using education to sell into the wallets of optimistic parents and teachers. It was only when I arrived that I started to question why the Green School would use the Hilton to talk about their school. It just didn’t seem ‘green’. Sure, there was about 100 people there, with a sprinkling of educators, but it was when the pop music started blasting over the PA as we took our seats and the presenters took to the stage that I started to look for the exit. OK, so I stayed just to see where it was going… and I tweeted the proceedings.

“Ok, so there’s going to be some selling of their camps for kids at #greenschoolmelb – it all makes sense now.”

“It seems Green School calls its library a ‘book bank’ – not sure about that one. #greenschoolmelb

“A slideshow of the campus which doesn’t seem to feature kids in the photos. Bad move. #greenschoolmelb

But then something weird happened. The provocative presenter, Alan Wagstaff (Learning Manager, Green School Bali) started challenging the audience about the purpose of school. ‘The mission of schooling is to send kids to university.’ ‘School timetables look the same all over the world. They are a magnet for everything that’s school centric, not kid centric.’ Saying this along with what was clearly a Powerpoint designed with animations from 1999 may have not seemed like a good idea, and you could sense that it made a number of audience members uncomfortable; he openly targeted the teachers in the room, which is why I never raised my hand when he asked. In a bizarre way though, I found myself bonding with these perspectives, as they are the kind of disruptive system thinking that I often enjoy debating with others. It was in two further statements he made that I found the gems in what was otherwise a pretty desperate sales pitch to the room:  ‘Student centered programs are crippled by teacher fear and parent prejudice.’ and ‘If you want something to stick, teach it over ‘three days in three ways.’

As soon as he walked off stage, I picked up my phone like I was taking a call and marched out of the Hilton. For a school that was trying to communicate a love of its philosophy and of the way it teaches children, they failed. Points for the provocative statements though – not many people can take a stage, metaphorically kick the audience in the head, and make them grateful for it. Alan Wagstaff gave it a shot, but it didn’t quite come off with the audience. I often give provocative statements a shot too when I present to teachers and librarians; perhaps I need to alter my strategy.

In an interesting footnote, the Twitter chat on the way home about these comments generated some further stimulating points – some of which I was challenged to defend. I like that. It makes us accountable for our opinions. It makes attending that portion of the event worthwhile. It means I will write a post at some point expanding my thoughts on why schools should ditch their timetables, stop using exam and test results to wax about how good they are, and why schools should stop behaving like people expect schools to behave.