I was going to have a crack about the merits of “Great Man” history and the danger of leaving it out of teaching history but recently I have been participating in some discussions on the Guardian site on the recent decisions by Michael Gove the UK Minister for Education. What struck me is that, taking aside that the people who post on these discussions might not be in any way serious in the comments, the discussions very quickly became about people’s political views and not about education or, and this is really shocking, the children. This isn’t about Mr Gove’s decisions but it is about politics and its relationship with education.
Education for All has been intricately tied to the state and politics since its inception in 1870. Not surprising when you consider the circumstances of its birth, the move to support it via local taxation and how, born of the ideals of the liberal movement closely guarded by the conservative establishment and used as cornerstone of the rising labour ideology, education has been at the forefront of political fighting. As such education has defintely suffered from the political swings in the UK, let alone from the various states of the economy over the past 130 years. This has meant that over a century down the line we have a lot of stakeholders all who think they are right, and the one stakeholder that has little impact of control of education is the very people it is designed to benefit – the pupils.
Now many will immediately come back with the argument that because the state funds and supports education in this country and society funds and supports the state and that we make up the society, its important that education reflects what we say it should, and as such it should support the current society and help it evolve into a future, better one. In short the link between society and education is inexticably linked. Hmmm, really?
First we don’t live in a true democracy. We live in a democracy of negative freedoms. We elect people to make decisions on our behalf, but not exclusively for us as many a political scandal has shown. In addition we didn’t get to choose the people who were up for election; we don’t get a choice over what laws and statutes need to be examined, revised or introduced; we don’t even get the choice of chucking a government out when we have had enough, we have to wait for the political process to give us that priviledge. We only get to choose the whats, whens, hows etc when the political system allows us to; and who manages the political system? Not us. So at the basic level, we do not have democratic control over our state, and this is a state controlling our education.
Now the link between society and education sounds very magmanimous, philanthropic and utopian. Until you read work by Paolo Friere and Ivan Illich. You can’t help but feel nagging doubts of familiarity in the words and analysis. When you add in experience, the basic reporting through media, a little bit of reading around and having your own child in the system, you begin to realise that society exerts a control over education that forces the children within it to mould themselves to one of several situations; either they are shoe horned into a system that does not necessarily suit them in every way; they are shaped and moulded by a teachers personal preferences and bias; or they are forced to rebel because the system just does not provide them with the enjoyment and motivation they are looking for. Now most pupils will fit into the first category and will generally do well or ok; question is could they do better in a system truly designed for their needs and development?
We have already mentioned the teachers impacts on a child’s education and how that isn’t just a positive one. In some research for a recent paper the is definite evidence to suggest that as a whole teachers are not a positive, success driven culture ready to embrace change and are as much political ideaologues as the politicians. As such this creates friction, a friction that makes the job harder for the teacher and this will get transmitted to the pupil either through fustration, or through a open or hidden rebellion against the system. Do we really want these pressures on the people who arguably spend as much time with our kids as we do?
And what about us? The Parents? Thanks to the Conservatives and New Labour we are now an additional pressure on the system. The idea is sound, parental input and choice should force schools to improve as customer choice and input does to business, especially as each individual child now has a cash worth. Parents as a whole have always had an active interest in their children’s education. Yet that has also created a tension because not only are parents demanding, myopic and uneducated in the pressures and workings of the education system, but they have also got their own expectations of how the education system should work based on the promises of the government. Parents are also individuals who have their own expectations and demands for their children.
870 words in and nothing about the children’s part in this. Their input, their needs and where they hope to be at the end of their education. 130 years of education and we still haven’t addressed this yet. 50 years of sociology and 100 years of child psychology to draw from and we still haven’t worked out how to link the child to the education, so that the child is the centre of it all and they drive it from the bottom to the top. Why? Is it because children are legal minors? Is it because we do not accept that children are individuals with their own preferences? Is it because we cannot appreciate that children love to learn? Or is it because at every stage of state education, children are the only one without a vote?
Lets get the politics out of education and lets get education to finally be about the child.