Friday, 21 January 2011

"Libertarians" continue to get the wrong end of the stick on education

Both Tim Worstall and the Devil's Kitchen have picked up on this phrase in a Telegraph article on education reform;
Unions said a proposed review of primary and secondary school subjects would render the curriculum unfit for the needs of a modern education system.

They insisted that a renewed focus on detailed subject knowledge was “elitist” and would alienate thousands of children, particularly those from the poorest backgrounds.
This, naturally, leaves them flabbergasted. Worstall asks, "it’s elitist to know things now, is it?" Whilst  DK postulates a belief that "poor people cannot possibly be interested in learning because, presumably, they want to ensure that they and their children remain poor for ever" as the reason teaching unions "have got to go."

However, looking deeper into the article itself, we find what Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, actually said;
Teachers want another curriculum review like a hole in the head.

This is a pointless review when ministers have already determined that children should have a 1950s-style curriculum.

Last week the Coalition Government dismissed a whole raft of current core subjects as unimportant. A review is unlikely to change this prejudiced and elitist view.
Which, actually, doesn't take the view that "knowing about stuff in anything greater than the most cursory detail is "elitist"." Imagine that.

Not that we should be surprised that the smugly anti-union demagogues of the libertarian right have taken to quote mining. Or that they deliberately conflate the Telegraph's fallacious interpretation of opposition to the present reforms with the real views espoused by the NASUWT and others. It fits in perfectly with the false binary that they have created between "statists" and "libertarians."

It is that false binary which blinds them to the real problems with the debate on education. In particular, the misleading use of the word "freedom" by right-wingers when pushing something which merely shifts authoritarianism and domination into a different form.

Take this quote from John Dunford, formerly of the Association of School and College Leaders;
The Government must stick to its promise to give schools and colleges more freedom to plan what is appropriate for their students.

The review should recognise that while employers are seeking young people with the essential skills of literacy and numeracy, they are also looking for increasingly essential skills such as team-working and communication.

Similarly, while they are looking for young people with good academic and vocational qualifications, they are also looking for young people who are successful independent learners who display qualities such as creativity and resilience.

The review’s recommendations should encourage schools and colleges to develop in young people, in a planned way, a range of skills and qualities that prepare them for both life and work.
As I've noted before, "freedom" is a quality only deemed suitable for those in charge.

The private interests which would own schools under the government's plans would be "free" to mould students as they see fit. They would be "free" to shape young people according to the needs of the bosses. (Who, incidentally, are being granted the same "freedom" in how they treat workers according to government plans.) At no point are the freedoms, the wishes, or the needs of the students themselves ever discussed.

The present education system is far from perfect. But what the government is offering, and the libertarian right seems to be throwing itself behind, only serves to make things worse.

Giving children over from a system with some transparency and oversight to unaccountable private tyrannies  is not "libertarian." It only serves to reduce their freedoms. Such a move needs to be fought, not just to preserve the existing system, but in favour of a genuinely libertarian alternative.