Below is an article from a magazine (unknown) that was sent to me. If you know the author, Irene Dunn and where they can be contacted please e-mail me.
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A Man of our Times:
Braehead school has been widely publicised and now that its head teacher,
Mr. Mackenzie has left for Aberdeen, we feel some assessment of his achievements should be made.
Today education is one of the most important factors in determining whether a nation is efficient or poverty-stricken, highly industrialised or wretchedly feudal, rapidly developing or stagnant. Britain, which enjoys, a comparatively large proportion of the world's wealth, or so we are told, has always been proud of her education system and Scotland especially has been a model for other countries.
For some time now, however, the feeling has been growing that our education system has become too static and traditional, and has developed into a struggle by educationists to stuff more and more knowledge, however useless, into children's minds. Although education has progressed from Gradgrind's theory:
"Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts", the traditional approach to
education is still all-powerful. A fallacy has arisen, from which official departments seem loathe to depart - that all minds are alike and can profit by the same system of training. Most official systems of education are systems for pumping the same knowledge by the same methods into radically different minds, and since minds are living organisms and not uniform, the official system are not particularly successful.
Into this world of educational darkness and immovable traditionalism has come Mr. Mackenzie. Not content with developing a new theory of education, he has put his ideas into practice and the result is Braehead Secondary School.
Mackenzie started off with the premise that our education system "needs remaking from the foundation, that is, starting with the whole purpose of having schools at all". There was little criticism of this statement, or of Mackenzie's valid criticism that 75% of Britain's children are placed at an educational disadvantage and ultimately a social disadvantage in being labeled 'rejects' for a senior secondary education. Educationally they suffer the disadvantages of teaching shortages, since higher wages are offered in the senior secondaries. Substandard school-buildings (Braehead had to make do with the building Buckhaven High School left to move into a modern one) lower the children's morale and socially they are made to feel at a disadvantage since there is a certain 'snob value' in going to a senior secondary. Are 75% of Britain's children to be made to feel 'rejects'? Small wonder an atmosphere of guarded hostility has grown up between the two schools. Future society is being graded into 'them' and 'us'.
Mackenzie's innovations at Braehead are designed not only to improve the traditional education system, which he considers an inadequate training for life, in that it does not train every individual to realize all his potentialities and become completely himself, but also to restore his pupil's faith in themselves as useful and indispensable members of society.
'Freedom' is the key-word in Mackenzie's educational vocabulary - freedom from the impossible strains which the examination system imposes on education, making it inflexible and dull; freedom from conformity and the battery-type atmosphere surrounding education, which we struggle against for a time before eventually taking refuge in apathy. If Mackenzie can relieve this apathy by making education more interesting and relevant, then good luck to him.
This new found freedom which Braehead pupils enjoy has however, aroused much controversy and opposition. The general view among educationists is that it's all right in theory, but not so good in practice, and parents especially, by Mackenzie's own admission, are wary of the scheme. They feel that instead of "educating" their children, he is encouraging them to waste their time playing, and most of all they fear that by giving them an entirely different education he is ruining their chances of ever getting to the senior secondary.
Opposition from the Scottish Education Department has made Mackenzie's task even harder. An important part of his theory is that facts are best retained when they are used and understood, and his pupils' interest is more easily aroused in new surroundings. For this purpose, he proposed to find a lodge in the Highlands, where each week a small party of pupils could live, but he received no support at all from the Scottish Education Department and the scheme had to be financed privately. But Mackenzie questions the Scottish Education Department's suitability for dealing with junior secondary schools, since most of its officials were themselves educated in senior secondaries and have therefore no idea of what it feels like to be a pupil in a junior secondary.
In the face of such formidable opposition, Mackenzie's tasks of revolutionising junior secondary education was the more difficult, but he does claim a measure of success. The Braehead experiment has been fully publicised in the press, on sound radio and television. Mackenzie's books are widely read and approved, but the publicity, he feels, has come more as a result of the overwhelming success of his new system of education. Meanwhile he continues his good work in Aberdeen, and we are left to wonder whether Braehead, without his guidance, will return to traditional methods.
Mackenzie's influence on modern education is, however, far from negligible and although his innovations affect us only indirectly, our children might be concerned, if the Braehead system becomes the junior secondary education of
the future. But will other teachers and schools accept his ideas? If so the assumption will be a long process. As Wells said "Few men who have toiled to build up any system of knowledge in their minds willingly scrap it in favour of something strange and new".
A large question mark still hangs over Mackenzie's theories - they have still not yet been fully explored. But does this new system of education prepare junior secondary pupils for life as it really is, any better than the traditional system? Is he not encouraging his pupils to indulge in escapism? After all a week in Ranoch moor is largely irrelevant when the majority of his pupils will spend their lives in industrial towns. Is his system of education not further widening the gap between the two schools?
Whether posterity remembers Mackenzie as a nine day's wonder or as one of the most important reformers in education, his is definitely - a man of our times.
Written by Irene Dunn V1
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