Saturday, March 1, 2014

We must support Michael Gove's reforms and allow me - at last! - to be a 'real' teacher

As academics and, unsurprisingly, union leaders berate the government over its proposed changes to the National Curriculum - in which it places much greater emphasis on the accumulation of knowledge and the mastery of spelling, punctuation and grammar -, I cannot help but conclude that I, and the rest of the teaching profession, have been guilty of charlatanism and, as a consequence, a gross dereliction of duty for many years.

'What do you mean by charlatanism?' I hear you say. 'You're a teacher, aren't you?' Well, you could say that, at least in the titular sense. But 'teachers' have been discouraged from 'teaching' for twenty-odd years, at least in the state sector. Left-wing politicians have conspired with Marxist educationalists and union barons to repudiate the impartation-of-knowledge-by-expert-practitioners model, a model tried and successfully tested for centuries, in favour of a revolutionary new paradigm that impels teachers to act as dispassionate 'facilitators', strictly prohibited from lecturing, and fanatical exponents of an educational theory that encourages the development of thinking skills rather than the acquisition of knowledge (and here you may begin to get confused, especially if you consider, quite rightly, knowledge and thinking to be inextricably linked).

It doesn't take the deductive ability of Sherlock Holmes to realize that, as a consequence, teachers are no longer expected to be purveyors of knowledge; after all, according to the left - the real power brokers in today's education system - knowledge is intrinsically discriminatory, thus dangerous. Who gets to decide what the 'right' knowledge is? Hitherto, they would argue, it's been an egregiously one-sided, occidental approach that neglects the wider world and, among other things, inaccurately depicts Britain as a beacon of reason and justice. In this new milieu, knowledge is frowned upon; it has no place in education; in fact, for all intents and purposes, it runs counter to the expressed objectives of the powers-that-be. Children must be taught how to think rather than what to think.

There are two problems with this approach. Firstly, as alluded to earlier, one cannot think without first acquiring knowledge. These processes are not mutually exclusive. As the acquisition of knowledge is neglected, pupils lose the ability to reason. So the process of thinking is retarded rather than enhanced. Moreover, an overemphasis on 'thinking skills' and relentless reference to them in the classroom through the use of fashionable tools - such as 'thinking hats' - ignores the fact that they're natural processes. If we have the information, we are genetically programmed to question, evaluate and criticize it; and, I'm sure you'd agree, the more information we have, the more sophisticated our responses become.

Secondly, the proscription of knowledge-based-learning leads to ignorance and what E.D. Hirsch referred to as cultural illiteracy. Teenagers are leaving school without the tools to become fully engaged in national life; they have no common terms of reference, especially when communicating with the wealthy, and, as a consequence, the corridors of power, forever controlled by the privileged few, who send their children to schools wedded to traditionalism, remain remote and inaccessible. So why, when one considers these irrefutable truisms, are so many academics and union leaders critical of the government's reforms?

Alas, I don't know. But if we want our children to recognize the importance of William of Normandy to the development of our nation, then we must support the government's reforms and allow me - at last - to be a 'real' teacher.

Also published on on July 11, 2013

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