Sometimes they are five…

Why do we think the things we think and say the things we say?  What processes are involved when we form an opinion?  Whence do we gain our information?  How is this information synthesised into rational thought?  To what extent are we influenced by rhetoric over substance?  Do we agree with the majority because that is the generally accepted belief, or because we herd with the other sheep?  Is it confidence or dogmatism that causes us to hold the line against the majority opinion?  Do some people revel in being contrarian, argue black is white just for the hell of it, before getting run over the next time they negotiate a zebra crossing (hat-tip Douglas Adams)?

Modern living is busy, so we don’t have time to absorb facts, ideas or News.  Much of what we think is formed from snippets of twitter, comment pieces in newspapers, TED talks, celebrity vlogs and drunken dinner party conversation.

I’ve long believed that political change happens far faster than cultural change, and therefore it is the former that drives the latter, whereas it should really be the other way round.  But the pace of any other change still lags way behind that of education.  Educational bathwater is flung so far and fast that it’s surprising that baby has time to dip his/her toe in before the enamel is whipped from under them.

To have one’s ideas and beliefs challenged by others (and by ourselves) is important, and it’s only when we are asked to justify our statements that we realise whether those statements are etched in stone or traced with a lit sparkler.

I spent the last two days in Sydney, with a nice view of Darling Harbour, at a conference which was ostensibly concerned with the design of learning spaces.  Though this topic was touched on periodically, it also gave the chance for the presenters to espouse their philosophy of education.  This philosophy was remarkably similar, to the extent that some presenters were made to look sheepish as they moved swiftly through the same slides as the previous chap, their shock statistics looking a little less dramatic than they had hoped.

The more presentations I sat through, the more the same mantra was chanted: children in rows is bad; teachers who talk are bad; today’s kids will have 17 jobs in their lifetime (in five separate industries – which seems very specific); we need to teach C21 skills; content  and knowledge no longer need to be prioritised because of Google; Schools kill creativity; Project Based Learning is the future; children need to be engaged and this means teaching them what they want to learn…

This was no Brave New World, but it did remind me of another mid-C20 novel:

“Do you realize that the past, starting from yesterday, has been actually abolished? If it survives anywhere, it’s in a few solid objects with no words attached to them, like that lump of glass there. Already we know almost literally nothing about the Revolution and the years before the Revolution. Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, and every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day-by-day and minute-by-minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

The past has been abolished.  The C21 has changed everything.  Innovative and engaging C21 learning has replaced all we previously thought about how to educate children. Do these people believe the things they say, or have they merely been carried along on a tide of progressive rhetoric?  Some of the comments were so downright bizarre (“no-one ever became an entrepreneur by sitting in a row” was my favourite) that I began to question the basic intelligence of the people making them.

I wondered why these people are so keen to lower the currency of core knowledge and subject specialism; are desperate to tell people that knowing things is overrated and that everything you need to know can be looked up.  My conclusion is that they are defending their own knowledge deficit.  It is because they don’t want to be uncovered as being intellectually bereft themselves.  I heard some pretty empty vessels in Sydney, and they certainly made a lot of noise.

Part of the reason I became a teacher was a fundamental enjoyment of my main subject (Chemistry), but also of wider education: art and literature and music and history.  It is the communication of those fascinating subjects and the links between them that is the joy of becoming an educated person, not the transmission of some nebulous C21 skills to enable people to satisfy ‘what employers want’.  If you prefer The Apprentice to The Ascent of Man, you probably don’t agree with me, but I have difficulty believing that an educated, clever and knowledgeable individual would prefer the latter approach.  From my observations, it seems that the transmission of knowledge is only deemed unimportant by those people who don’t possess a great deal of it themselves.

Let us not allow the intellectually and culturally limited people to take over.  Let us preserve tradition in teaching and the passing on of core knowledge through the generations.  “The human race refreshes itself in complete ignorance” (Joseph O’Neill) and we have a duty to ensure the next generation is educated at the very least to our own standard.  Otherwise…

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”