You know the power of words. We pass through periods dominated by this or that word — it may be development, or it may be competition, or education, or purity or efficiency or even sanctity. It is the word of the time.
— Joseph Conrad, Chance
A change is stealing over the educational world. I feel it in my water. The time of rigour, standards and excellence is past. The time of creativity, personalised curricula and and exam-factory approaches.
In other words, Sir Ken Robinson’s star is in the ascendant. Or so it would seem, at least from Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt’s review of Sir Ken’s book.
He quotes Sir Ken:
Our school systems are now a matrix of organisational rituals and intellectual habits that do not adequately reflect the great variety of talents of the students who attend them. Because they conflict with these systems, too many students think that they are the problem; that they are not intelligent, or must have difficulties in learning.
H’mm. Based on this extract, this is vintage Sir Ken — and also a textbook case of the informal logical fallacy known as prejudicial language: emotive terms are used to link value and moral goodness to an acceptance of the proposition. It might even be true in certain instances — but as general description of our current schools system . . . in my experience, nah.
Rather worryingly (for me), Tristram Hunt finds this thesis “compelling”. We are, apparently,
currently operating a Fordist model of mass education that is failing to prepare young people for the dramatic socioeconomic demands of the digital age.
‘Fordist’, no less. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Mass production bad, bespoke craftsmanship good followed by the reassuringly familiar Shift Happens! trope.
To me, this is not redolent of a rabble of rowdy revolutionaries so much as a middle class stitch up. It’s as if the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace in order to get hold of the fish knives and forks. Or, possibly, they stormed IKEA instead. And when I say ‘stormed’ I mean ‘strolled purposefully towards the organic juicer section’.
I suspect that Sir Ken is a Roussean Romantic at heart: his ideal world would be a misty moorland populated by heroic Heathcliff-clones stomping, shouting and being Creative with a capital ‘C’; a world where no-one has to empty the bins, or build or maintain the ‘Fordist’ industrial infrastructure upon which so much romantic posturing depends.