GK Chesterton said ‘Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.’
That is not my favorite Chesterton quote. He also said ‘A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.’
Both are apposite when thinking about contemporary government-run education.
Last year my wife completed a post graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Education.
The theme of every unit in this diploma was that the little blighters educate themselves. All you need to do, as an educational facilitator, is to provide them with a rich learning environment.
In particular, you shouldn’t think of teaching them anything, or of directing their learning in any way. This may harm their self-esteem, curiosity and creativity. Children will absorb the numeracy and literacy skills they need as they need them. Their learning should be self-directed.
Apart from being complete and utter bollocks, what struck me most about this course was how carefully structured it was.
By the time you get to post-graduate level, you have a pretty good idea of how to study, and of the gaps in your knowledge. Of course, as Donald Rumsfeld remarked, there are also unknown unknowns – things you don’t know you don’t know, and this is where a good teacher comes in handy.
But in this course, every student had to read the same articles in the same order, and was expected to come to the same conclusion. Namely, that education works best when it is unstructured.
The lecturer, being a humourless left wing git, saw no irony in this at all.
Post-graduates can be expected to take most of the responsibility for their learning. Kindergarten and primary children cannot. The whole world is unknown unknowns to them. They have no way of knowing what they need to learn, or how to go about learning it.
Sadly, most primary teachers in Australian state schools, never having been educated themselves, cling to the romantic ideal of student directed learning.
The one area where this does not seem to apply is political/environmental issues.
At government schools around the country, students are regularly subjected to emotionally laden, reason-free, questioning forbidden, programmes of indoctrination on matters environmental.
One recent example is is the ghastly consequences of palm oil farming. Single-minded and empty headed guest speakers are inflicted on the students, who are also obliged to watch heart-rending videos of forest clearing followed by pictures of sad looking orang utans and little elephants.
They are then encouraged to act globally by telling other people what to do.
For example, students may wish to write to Australian companies which use palm oil, threatening not use their products unless they cease to do so. Or they may write to the Indonesian ambassador expressing their dismay at Indonesia’s apparent disregard for the welfare of its endangered species.
The arrogance is astonishing. As is the complete lack of concern for the families whose livelihoods such actions will destroy.
Students then file home in a bored but confidently self-righteous fashion, leaving a trail of litter, and perhaps bashing a few penguins to death along the way.
Believe me, it happens.
The end result is listless and resentful students, whose self-esteem really is damaged because they know very well that they are not achieving or learning anything worthwhile.
But teachers, in a frenzy of rose tinted delusion, return to the staff room to congratulate themselves on what a wonderful job they are doing, oblivious to the consistently appalling behaviour, and equally appalling academic results.