Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Is Education being Politicised?

Yesterday the Telegraph ran a story on a think tank document by Civitas, (the Institute for the Study of Civil Society) entitled "Corruption of the Curriculum" or "School curriculum corrupted by politics". You can read Civitas's full press release here, though the full report will cost you £12. (These think tanks need to get with the Internet age, and publish it online for free!)

It has to be said the press release makes interesting reading, but then so did the BBC's rebuttal piece (surely that should be the Labour parties, or governments?) on Radio 4's Today program.

They wheeled on someone who used to be a number 10 advisor but now teaches history who went on about how he still taught dates, and history in chronological order. To some extent this rings true, because I went to my sons new secondary school last year (he will be there from September) and one of the subject areas I noted was history and how different years covered different date ranges in history so that all seems chronological. Obviously it is no good just teaching events, dear boy with out some background on why they may be significant.

It has to be clear that it is not clear when the curriculum of which Civitas complain is being brought in. (Some research needed, as I ain't paying £12, normally think tanks invite me for drinks and nibbles to discuss their ideas, he hinted!)

The press release makes even grimmer reading when it comes to science which is to be amalgamated into one subject. Again according to the press release they want to get pupils to discuss things like GM crops, and abortion, it seems from an ethical point of view. The ethics of science is an interesting an indeed important subject, but it is a philosophical subject rather than a purely scientific one, and tends to be something taught at universities as part of degrees in science rather than as a replacement to it.

As a physicist, and possibly a chemist I strongly object. Firstly science is about many things but it has to be about scientific method, that is looking at observations, coming up with a hypothesis and then testing them by experiment. It's fun as well! Then there is learning how theories fit together. One of the most fascinating facts I learnt at A level (from a Dr of Chemistry who could not write! Well, with a pen, I always made a point of asking what his illegible notes in the margin said which usually was about being tidy and clear in writing!) was how the man who came up with the periodic table, or at least a version of it, John Newlands noticed a musical octave spaced quality to it. In fact there is a reason for this, and it boils down to quantum mechanics, but I won't bore you with the details, but the next time you listen to a really good piece of music it's the maths in it that makes it sound good.

It has to be said that maths, physics and chemistry became more understandable together, and set in some useful context such as the things and machines we see about us when I was at school.

If we want to build a knowledge based economy, it is not peoples ability to debate the ethics of abortion or global warming that will count. It is the ability to produce technology to produce clean energy and the like that will, and you don't get the knowledge to do that from discussing the ethics.

The Telegraph also has this attack on what is being put in our curriculum by politicians. It does not make good reading.


Anonymous said...


youdontknowme said...

This is why the government should not be able to control education. I have said before that I believe that we should have elected education commissioners for each county who decide education policy for that county or have elected headteachers with less power than what the commissioners would get but more power than they have now.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, this phenomenon is present throughout the Anglosphere (and beyond).

Here is a post on an example from the US:


Anonymous said...

You Don't Know Me - I agree with you. I hate the centralisation of education. It is so Stalineque. An independent elected education commission for each county is one route we should try. I think it's a good idea.

As are elected police chiefs.

Anonymous said...

I read a biography of Mrs Thatcher a few years ago and it highlighted that,
1)By the time she left the Education brief she was regarded as the most popular and effective Education Minister in many a year and ended up doing a lot of good eg. obtaining adequate funding and fighting to get the Open University up and running.
2)She does not brag about her time there because she thought she had been manipulated and led by the academic establishment.
Looking at what this government has done to undermine and destroy learning her time there now seems even more of a success because the right people were setting the agenda.
Labour have politicised education and in 10 years we have gone from teachers teaching and instead their role has become that of tutors/coaches for dumbed down exams with the sole job of improving Labour's headline statistics.

Benedict White said...

ChrisD, many thanks for that! She also shut down more Grammar schools than anyone else as well.

I think we could run into huge problems with education. The fact is that our pupils just do not have the same breadth or depth of knowledge that the Chinese do and that will become very important.