I spent some time in my younger days working as a brickie’s labourer. It was a tough job but I was young, I liked working outside, and I was working for a mate. We worked hard, finished each day with 3 or 4 beers and enjoyed actually building things. I say ‘we’, because my mate said I was the most important person on the job site. He took great pride in his work but always made a point of saying that he couldn’t achieve much if the mortar wasn’t perfect. I think we can use this as a metaphor in education generally.
There is lots of discussion in education circles about making sure students are ready for the rapid changes that the 21c is bringing. We need by all accounts collaborative, entrepreneurial, critical thinking and connected problem-solvers that construct their own knowledge to succeed in this new exciting world. There are any number of educhats and conferences that reflect this urgent, insatiable need to pass these skills on so that students may succeed in the new work order. I personally think this drive is something of an ill adventure but assuming it’s not, these skills mentioned above are the bricks of education. We just don’t seem to talk often enough about the mortar.
The mortar is strong basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Without this mortar the bricklayer (student) if not helpless, is at the very least laying less than stable brickwork. I was chided on more than one occasion for mixing up sub standard mortar on the job. It held up construction and made the job that much harder.
It’s not particularly popular on Australian edutwitter to mention that we have so many students finishing high school without strong foundations in literacy and numeracy. The main focus is what’s coming up around the corner to engage and drive student learning, and how can we disrupt the paradigm and rush to the new age. But we need to talk about the mortar. Yes, the piles of new bricks look great, but without the mortar to hold them together they are just a pile of bricks. Get you mortar mix right first, then we are ready to grab some bricks and we can start building.