Thursday, 25 November 2010

Meanwhile, back in the classroom...

Whilst students and school pupils were out on the streets, Education Secretary Michael Gove was unveiling a white paper promising fundamental changes in the classroom.Unfortunately, all those changes do is underline the fact that there is nothing libertarian in the government's education policy.

The key point is that Gove has promised to restore "traditional educational values." This means giving teachers new powers to "discipline" children, including using "reasonable force." It means empowering heads to "maintain discipline beyond the school gates." It means increasing the age of compulsory education to 18. And it means increasing the autonomy of schools to control their pupils, a point I have dissected previously.

This isn't to say that there aren't positive measures in the white paper, of course. Improving how vocational education can progress to higher education and making behavious, safety, and bullying key areas of Ofsted inspections are just two examples.
But the problem is that in too many instances, some even where the right problem has been identified, the solution on offer is an authoritarian one. The paper comes from the perspective that children need to be controlled and directed, rather than educated, in order to turn out right. Hence why schools will be backed in introducing blazer and tie uniforms, and traditional prefect and house systems, but educational democracy and free thinking is off the menu.

The unions have attacked Gove's proposals, saying that the plans were a "vicious assault," and would create a two-tier education system. But even they come from the perspective that defending the present system is an end in itself rather than just a means to one.

As I said when the "free schools" idea kicked off;
The Summerhill model, - direct democracy, accountability, and community discipline, in which the children engage as much as the teachers - works. Hence why the case for the notice of complaint issued by authoritarian then-Home Secretary David Blunkett collapsed, and the subsequent Ofsted report (PDF) noted that "pupils’ personal development, including their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, is outstanding and behaviour is good, mainly as a result of the good quality care, support and guidance they receive."

The liberal end of the spectrum only touches upon this. The ability of teachers and schools to set their own path is examined in-depth, but never that of the children to do the same. The fact that league tables pit schools against one another is criticised endlessly, and the fact that children are forced into the same competition is barely even mentioned. Questions of education being cooperative rather than competitive, or children being given scope to make decisions doesn't even come up.


There is too much invested in the idea that children need "discipline" and "control." They are "hoodies" and "feral youth," forming mobs and committing attrocities. Either we haven't beat the shit out of them enough, or we beat them too much rather than "moulding" them through less coercive methods. The point is the same - they're not doing what we want, therefore our preferred method of control isn't being enacted properly.

... The framework of debate is much narrower, and the liberty of children doesn't come into it. It should. Now is the time for the advocates of libertarian education and child-rearing to come out of the woodwork and to make themselves heard.
As the government pushes ahead with its "reforms" to education, that sentiment only becomes more urgent.