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Tuesday, January 18, 2005
The price of PC and egalitarianism in education

What a gift for understatement Jerry Scharf has:

Sixth grade math test scores in Newton, MA. have plummeted in the last three years. The school board can't think of any reason why. Tom Mountain suggests that it might have something to do with the curriculum change made in 2001 which made 'Respect for Human Differences' the top priority in teaching math.

And before anyone assumes it could never happen here:

Over the years, subjects such as maths, history or geography have been progressively emptied of content. The result is that more and more pupils - especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds who most rely on school - know little, are unable to think for themselves and cannot distinguish between truth and lies.

Knowledge about the physical landscape in geography, or what actually happened in history, has been replaced by environmental propaganda and the doctrine that there are no historical truths, only opinions. The government is even backing an initiative - following 'Black History Month' - for 'Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month', which will concentrate history teaching on the (allegedly) gay and lesbian lives of people such as Shakespeare or Florence Nightingale.

As Melanie Phillips notes, the obsession with making school always 'relevant' means the utility of lessons must always be measured by the standards of ignorance any pupil starts with before being taught about a subject. Instead of filling gaps in knowledge, such lessons become ideological posturing of no benefit to pupils - or indeed to anyone else besides the militants who campaign for such a curriculum.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has ordained that the GCSE science curriculum from 14-16 will teach 'science lite'. Instead of learning the principles of physics or chemistry, pupils will be taught about the application of science to lifestyles - as well as being fed straight propaganda about its impact on society.

The justification is to make science 'relevant to the 21st century'. This is in accordance with the government's doctrine of 'personalised learning', which means that everything that is taught must be 'relevant' to the individual child.

This philosophy, of course, destroys the very basis of education which is all about exposing a child to what he or she does not already know. 'Personalised' or 'relevant' education, by contrast, implicitly means that the child does not progress from the level at which he or she starts.

The normal reaction to such ideologues is amused contempt - perhaps most of all pity. It's difficult for educated people not to feel sorry for philistines so blind to the wonders of learning that, to use a phrase of Jackie D's, they can see schoolchildren only as gullible vessels to be filled with propaganda.

But what they are doing to our schools is also incredibly dangerous for anyone who plans to live long enough that he will one day depend upon the education and knowledge of today's schoolchildren. Who would feel secure going to a hospital run by medical staff whose science lessons consisted more of lectures against corporate pollution than the details of the human body? Who wants their financial transactions in every area of life dealt with by people who in school were never expected to know their multiplication tables? What sort of cultural dark age would society face in a world where English, history and geography were about politically correct propaganda, not the works of great authors, amazing events in the story of man and understanding the rest of the world?

There are intelligent people in any generation, but with the current education system, there will not be nearly enough people leaving school with a decent education that any one of us will be able to avoid dealing with and relying on the rest.

Next time you see a newspaper survey about how a quarter of schoolchildren are more or less illiterate, half have never heard of Churchill, most cannot multiply seven by four and only a few per cent can find China on a map, ask yourself who in a few decades will be your nurses, your kids' teachers, your bank clerks and those whose abilities you rely on every day for gas, electricity, a telephone line, an internet connection, any technical repairs, and running water.

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