This is not strictly an “education blog”, although there is at least one of those out there, written (rather occasionally) by the estimable Brian Micklethwait, (that is a link to his mainblog only, from which you can find the other one) and there may be many more such: I do not know: I have not time to scratch my bum right now, and this post has to be done in five minutes…
But, at this seasonal time, when all the British State Property known as “the kids”, which is to say nearly all teenagers, face the first real stress offered to them in their lovely easy modern lives full of nearly-worthless Wireless Tele Vision and other nugatory distractions, I want to point out the sheer vastness of the gulf between real “education” and what they are actually receiving.
Time after time, teaching these poor individuals, I get the enquiry: “do I have to know that?” … or … “is that in the syllabus?” … or worse: “is this an C-grade-question?” (that means “hard”, for those who are condemned as being not very smart, and have to do what is erroneously-termed “foundation”.) This is in response to my attempt to tell someone something fairly interesting – and also quite instructive and useful for deducing other facts about anything - about some aspect of how the Cosmos operates. I could be referring of course to cosmology or physics or biology (classical-, paleo- or the biophysics sort) or even some aspect of history, or why humans and their societies behave in the ways that they do, or why the Earth has no settled climate, and why therefore it’s a lie that “The Science is Settled!” Whatever.
Those who are clearly destined for one of the Two Universities (or perhaps the 8 or 9 others) engage with this direction. Some argue. Some are astounded. Others experience fright or sadness at the ways in which truth can be perverted by governments, or, better, at the realisation that they have been robbed of the opportunity to gain proper knowledge earlier “way down the school”. (Most of these are State school pupils.) Some, it is terrible to relate, ask why their school lessons are so boring and inconsequential, and contain material which many of them suspect (at least) is based on spurious or unprovable information.
Those who are not, which is to say they might perhaps go to places like “The University of SouthEast Working-Towards-Shire”, or perhaps not, are scandalised at being told stuff which they learn (from me) is outside the remit of what they are told to be allowed to know.
It is a tragedy that, we had and have a State government whose “dear leader” made his priority (apart from “24 hours to save the NHS”) “education, education, education”. I think he meant it in truth at the time, although if the only tool you have is a hammer, then the only solution to every problem must be a nail. It’s also tragic that the notion of “free” education, provided by the State, is so ingrained. The State therefore treats “the people” as a sort of “Human Resource”, to be force-fed the stuff that will inculcate the right attitudes to the State, and maximise the likely tax-generation powers for the next Five-Year-Plan.
And to end on a sad note:
Today, I tried a multiple choice GCSE question about testing of thalidomide for use in treating AIDS, on an intelligent 11-year-old who is about to move from a “bog-standard” State primary to a middling private secondary. The first question was “the trials will be conducted by……….?” and the choice of words to insert was “pregnant women: or, volunteers: or, research scientists: or, the government”.
The student chose ….. “the government”. Libertarians, we have a long and thankless battle ahead of us, in which we will all have to do our more-than-heroic duty, unsung, all functionally anonymous, and it will have to carry on very very long, long after our own deaths. But there is All the Time in the World.