Wednesday 3 April 2013

Gove, Google and Gradgrind

Michael Gove has had rather a battering over Easter, mainly thanks to the impassioned speeches at the National Union of Teachers conference.  I don't share their rage at his curriculum changes.

Speech after speech by a series of teachers covered most of the news broadcasts - little else was happening except for various Easter messages - and you couldn't fault the logic.  Nobody wants a return to Victorian rote-learning.  Nobody wants a Gradgrindian regress to the idea that "facts alone are wanted".  In fact, it was the prospect of escaping the Gradgrindian direction of New Labour's education that made me quite pleased to get a radical like Gove.

But what is equally impossible is that the fire of education can be lit without content.  That you can teach thinking and arguing without context or facts.  That you can abandon the real world completely, because children can look up what they need on Google.

Just as a dull recitation of facts is soul-destroying, so is schooling with no facts at all - all technique and logic and systems.  It is education without the real world.  It is just as dead as factual recitation.  Deader in fact.

So we might argue about Gove's approach to the chronology of history.  I might choose different dates, but at least he has a chronology.  At least there is a heart to his history curriculum, rather than an endless miserable return to the Second World War.

At least there is a history curriculum.  One of the hallmarks of regressive utilitarianism, and the last government must have been the most utilitarian since they stuffed Jeremy Bentham, is a horror of history.

So I don't agree with everything Michael Gove is doing, but on this I am absolutely on his side.

Sarah told me a fascinating story about the reliance on internet search engines in the classroom from when she was a teaching assistant.

"If God made the world, then who made God?" asked one child.  It is the kind of question that children find endlessly fascinating.

The teacher was flummoxed and apparently unequipped to use this as the basis for the kind of discussion that education ought to be about.

"Good question," she said.  "Why don't you look up the answer on Ask Jeeves."

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