Happiness drives education from the classroom

The Corruption of the Curriculum
September 14, 2007

This book from the think-tank Civitas will probably be ignored or dismissed by all those who should read it: politicians, policymakers, schoolteachers, teacher trainers, educationists and, most worryingly, by academics from various disciplines who are readers of The Times Higher .

To judge by what has appeared in these pages, not many academics take an interest in what is happening in schools or in the world of teacher training. They should, because innovators in the world of education have come up with a great wheeze - let's put an end to education! These fashionable innovators believe that education is an elitist project based on the old-fashioned idea of subject-teaching. Supported by postmodern whimsy, facile relativism or the ranting of "pop" management consultants about "the ever-changing nature of knowledge", they have decided that subjects should be replaced by "relevant" things such as helping children to lead fulfilled personal and social lives, to be happy and to be good global eco-citizens.

At the core of this book are six chapters on the key intellectual disciplines that appear in the secondary-school subject curriculum, and they all draw the same conclusion: subjects are being undermined. If this is true, future students will have either a poor foundation for academic study, or none at all.

Michele Ledda shows, by reference to the literature from examination boards, that both the canon of English literature and the idea of "Standard English", which is now treated as just another dialect, have been taken out of the English curriculum. Alex Standish details how geography is used as a vehicle for environmentalist propaganda and global citizenship training. Chris McGovern tracks the impact of the "new history" from 1972 to reveal how it brought about a rejection of history as a body of knowledge, particularly its chronological nature, and led to political selection of topics and the fragmentation of understanding. Shirley Lawes criticises the dull, instrumental approach that puts pupils off foreign languages and argues that unless they are defended as giving access to high culture their decline will continue. Simon Patterson looks at the repetitious and incoherent subject that mathematics has become in the national curriculum, the structure of which precludes pupils gaining any understanding and puts them off maths. Finally, David Perks pulls to pieces the new science GCSE and argues that, by approaching science through the contemporary academic prism of relativism, it makes science seem uncertain rather than objectively true.

In the introduction, Frank Furedi sets the attack on school subjects in the context of the contemporary crisis in education, which he claims is unique because of the extent to which education has become politicised. There are three destructive tendencies in this politicisation, he says: the loss of faith in knowledge; a philistine pedagogy that rejects standards of excellence in education as "elite"; and the infantilisation of young people brought about by seeing them as vulnerable and, therefore, in need of therapeutic or emotional "education".

The trouble with the book is that it does not fully recognise how institutionalised the attack on the subject is. Its publication was preceded by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' Subject to Change: New Thinking on the Curriculum , which suggested that a rag-bag of skills ought to replace outdated subjects. It was followed by the Brown Government's removal of any reference to "education" in departmental titles, and the contradictory announcement from Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Familes, that he was saving "the classic elements of the curriculum" but revitalising them and making them lively and relevant, while giving new emphasis to the personal skills that pupils will need to be global citizens.

Even if the "subject" labels remain, they will be no more than vehicles for government propaganda and whatever fads their policy wonks dream up. It will ensure that future university students will be more interested in themselves than the wider world and will have no inclination to study academic subjects they were told were irrelevant in school. Academics have a choice. They can take an interest and oppose the ending of education in schools or start the process of revalidation and get that foundation degree in the history, science, philosophy or sociology of happiness on the books before the new navel-gazing students arrive.

Dennis Hayes is head of the Centre for Professional Learning, Canterbury Christ Church University. The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education by Dennis Hayes and Kathryn Ecclestone will be published next March by Routledge.

The Corruption of the Curriculum

Editor - Robert Whelan
Publisher - Civitas
Pages - 156
Price - £9.50
ISBN - 9781903386590

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