What Does "an Intelligent Medium of Action Mean"?

“It is advisable that the teacher should understand, and even be able to criticize the general principles upon which the whole educational system is formed and administered. He (sic) is not like a private soldier in an army, expected merely to obey, or like a cog in a wheel, expected to merely to respond to and transmit external energy; he (sic) must be an intelligent medium of action.”

John Dewey 1895

I have been reflecting on John Dewey’s comment made over 120 years ago and its relevance in 2016 (gender bias notwithstanding). Since we’ve recently commemorated the ANZACS, the analogy seems even more relevant – though I would imagine a modern-day soldier is expected to demonstrate a level of initiative previously unheard of by his predecessors.

But my reflection comes because this point illustrates what is a fundamental intent of my role here at the Education Council; namely, to ensure society values the role of our profession as one which fundamentally challenges – challenges students, teachers, doctrine, and dogma. Modern day teachers like modern day soldiers are not simply cogs in a wheel. I began as a teacher many years ago and I am still learning and challenging myself. I am learning to question, challenge, assess, and evaluate – and not to assume.

So what does an ‘intelligent medium of action’ mean to me?

I believe success in raising student achievement is more than a sum of its parts. We all hold a responsibility to raise achievement.  And teachers play the critical role. The Education Council does, too.

If my aim is to support my profession through the Education Council – to meaningfully and pragmatically advocate, to push for change when and where it is needed, and to push forward a programme of work which demonstrably progresses achievement of an agile, adaptive, innovative, professional workforce with the same status as other highly valued professions – I must use the evidence. Evidence will be the foundation upon which we build our programme of work.

For example, I have publicly challenged some assumptions and misunderstandings about National Standards and the role they play in helping us raise achievement for all students. I have asked parents to not to take National Standards at face value when assessing the progress their child is making in the schooling system. Why? Because National Standards categorise – at a point in time. They do so usefully and give a great deal of important information for system intervention, but they don’t provide parents with the whole picture.

You see, it is the teacher who is in a position to offer parents professional observations, advice and guidance on students’ progress in relation to the class, the school, the community, and the context.

So thank you ,John Dewey, for your comment. It is still relevant today, in a different way.  It is different because of the context we work. But at its core Dewey continues to speak to our profession’s role in society. Our job is to help nurture young and enquiring minds to flourish.


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