The four crucial “Cs”

The last month has been a troubling time for those of us who are in the space of education – or perhaps one could say it has been a troubling time in general. The issue of student suicide dominated the news for the better part of January, sparking off debates about equity and social justice in higher education, and forcing the discussion downward for us to consider whether the problem really has its genesis in school education. And then there were several stories about the school safety (or lack thereof), bringing into focus the veritable death traps that many school buildings and compounds have become. While the two sets of issues may seem unconnected, to my mind they reflect a continuum of disregard, to a willful blindness to think about education in the fullest sense – as context, as content, as convention, as consequence. This is not just a clever alliterative turn of phrase; the four “Cs” are fundamental to any discussion of what we mean by education.

While this of course merits a longer discussion than is possible in a short editorial comment, I’d like to briefly say what I mean by each – and would welcome readers’ comments or ideas to take this further. First, context: we need to ask ourselves, what is the physical, social, psychological, and cultural context which our children occupy, both within and outside the classroom? How do these contexts impinge or influence their learning and our own teaching/facilitation? How limiting, encouraging, or nurturing are these contexts? Second, content: what exactly are we ‘delivering’ and how? How sensitive and reflective is this content to the various contexts our children occupy? Does the content empower them intellectually, emotionally, socially, and culturally? And perhaps most importantly, does it give them the tools to grow into full participants in civic life? Third, convention: what are the structuring rules and frameworks that constrain (or liberate) the child and her learning? Specifically, how does our choice of method and the way in which we apply them, influence who learns, how they learn, and how much they learn? And finally, consequences: honestly, what do we expect education to do for the children we interact with? What does it actually end up doing (or not doing)? Are we paying too much attention to the what and the how of teaching and in the process ignoring or losing sensitivity to the many politics that structure the antecedents and the consequences of what we do? I have been struggling with these questions and many other related ones as I walk into my classroom every day. I’d love to hear other thoughts on this!