The situation might be amusing if it wasn’t so ridiculous and tragic.
First we had the Blair government making it possible for separatist groups to set up more and more “faith” schools with their own particular ‘take’ on life, the universe and everything. Then we had Michael Gove and his coalition partners positively encouraging the setting up of free schools which can offer whatever curriculum content their founders please.
And now? We have a Goveless Department of Education and a Prime Minister insisting that all schools must not just “teach” “British values” – they must “actively promote” them, even though we don’t know what these specifically British values truly are. (See previous post)
Seen from other countries, British values frequently appear to be the values of the Little Englander – a weird mixture of assumptions about British or English superiority and separateness, our right to run an economy based on over-mighty, too-big-to-fail banks and financial institutions, an increasingly rigid class system that thrives on large numbers of elite and/or exclusive schools, paranoia about immigrants and becoming “swamped”, schmoozing oligarchs whilst granting billionaires the right to live here as virtual tax exiles, enthusiasm for offshore tax havens, enthusiasm for random wars and armed conflicts based on misleading, false or faked information, and increasing levels of poverty, social inequality and social injustice.
You may, dear reader, disagree with all of the above, but be assured there are plenty who hold these views, both within this country and elsewhere. And no matter how many times teachers teach and politicians preach that this just isn’t so – they are NOT about to be believed by the vast numbers of people of all ages who see things differently, thanks to the realities of their own lives plus what they see, hear and read via TV and the Internet.
So what to do about it, if you’re a Cameron or an Osborne or some other right-thinking conservative? Insist that children stand up and salute the flag every morning? Recite a pledge of allegiance? Sit passively in citizenship “lessons” whilst teachers who may or may not agree with their political masters pour out Imperial gallons of State “truths” about the superiority of so-called British values?
This is no way to proceed. The next government will have to do some serious rethinking, especially about the values that underpin a society and a state education system that operates within a liberal democracy.
A 3D Eye-run education system would be based on our contention that we have six different types of intelligence, and that in addition to intellect we rely on social/emotional intelligence, instincts, physical/sensory information, self-knowledge and “insight”, plus another key driver (unless you’re a psychopath) which is sometimes called spiritual or metaphysical intelligence – our individual notions of what’s right and wrong, the fundamental values and virtues that we ‘instinctually’ hold dear. These are not “British” values – whatever they may be. These are values found within all societies and all mainstream religions right around the world.
Our ideal way of educating young people is to recognise that whether we know it or not we can either help or hinder the development of these six intelligences, and it’s better for everyone if we consciously recognise what we’re doing and deliberately set out to enable our young people to have a balanced development of these interconnecting and mutually-supporting intelligences.
This is not a system based on the memorisation of “facts” and on the examination of whether such memorisation has taken place at a given moment in time. Ours would be a system based on children having (from birth) an insatiable thirst for knowledge of various kinds, a need to know how to build their knowledge base most efficiently and effectively (learning how to become independent learners), a need to understand themselves as well as other people, and a need for an emotional literacy that is gained from the operation of all the intelligences working simultaneously, so as to enable positive relationships, to enable non-aggressive and non-violent ways of living, and enable the development of high levels of mental and physical health, self-confidence and self-esteem.
None of this should be new or startling, since our very best schools already operate in this way. As it happens, these sorts of understanding have been around for a very long time in various places. What’s new is a 3D understanding of multiple intelligences that is based on the six intelligences. (We are indebted to Howard Gardner for his notion of multiple intelligences but disagree with his categories) Good teachers throughout the world know they need to teach ‘holistically’ – for the development of the whole child, and not just for academic success or for individual intellectual achievement.
Belatedly our government is starting to see beyond an obsession with “facts” and with exam success, and is starting to wake up to the need to enable young people to think critically about “values”. There’s no virtue in turning out generations of children with A grades if those same children are lacking in basic ideas about virtuous ways of living and working. This is how Britain and other countries found their way to economic meltdown and a near collapse of our financial system. “Deliberately selling sub-prime mortgages? Mis-selling bogus mortgage protection? Setting up Ponzi schemes? Manipulating Libor rates? Hacking telephones and emails? Fiddling expenses and ‘flipping’ mortgages? Who – us?” One thing we can’t accuse them of is lacking “creativity”. Higher levels of competitiveness, selfishness, greed and aggression have been creeping into our social fabric for quite some time, but we don’t have to continue down this road.
The ancient philosophers such as Socrates understood this well enough – the need to learn through the exchange and the testing out of ideas and philosophies, through dialogue and discussion, not didacticism. Socrates knew that young and old alike need to develop the capacity to frame and to communicate ideas, to ask questions, and to think critically – and not simply to become passive recipients of other people’s “facts”. Every parent of a young child knows that this is how children learn – and especially how to learn about values and virtues – through conversation, discussion, dialogue and setting an example. It would be a scandal if every parent simply told their children to sit down, shut up, listen carefully and remember what they’re told – to be seen and not heard, as the Victorians used to say. How do we really expect young people to cope with those who would pressurise them, abuse them, radicalise and brainwash them if not through an ability to counter-argue and an ability to express their own clearly understood thoughts and feelings about their rights, wishes and values?
Our own government, with its Oxford graduates and their first class degrees in politics and philosophy, may be coming round to understanding these things – given a little more time, help and encouragement. The next government will need to do much better.