Thursday, April 30, 2009

Layer 152 .The Rose Review, The Locus of Educational Authority, and the Active Pursuit of Learning.

Today sees the publication of Sir Jim Rose’s review of the Primary curriculum. Sir Middlof Laroute himself was on Radio 4 this morning talking about the need for children to be much better at communicating - speaking and listening - and he was taking care not to suggest that working class kids speak in ‘restricted codes’ - i.e. with ‘limited’ vocabulary, and using grammatical structures that are not the approved Standard English, such as local ‘dialects’.

We fought that battle back in the Sixties, and the good guys won. Yes folks - it is actually possible for working class kids, using whatever vocabulary they have at their disposal, to convey complex meanings using rich and descriptive language. It’s not just Standard English with Received Pronunciation that permits and facilitates good expression and communication.

Clearly, then, if some children find it difficult to express themselves clearly and fluently, it must be due to lack of opportunity to practice using language for self-expression. Which brings us back to one of my favourite subjects - kids sitting for the most part silently and having ‘education’ done to them.

Encouragement for discussion and dialogue within every learning context is essential, both for the formation of knowledge and understanding, and for developing confidence in speaking in various situations - pairs, small groups and in front of larger audiences.

Didactic teaching prevents these things happening. So why is there still so much didactic teaching, and why are young teachers only trained in ‘delivering’ (yuk!) the ‘curriculum’ using teacher- and curriculum-centred didactic methods?


Please read the following extracts from Prof. Horio’s book, Educational Thought and Ideology, against the background of what’s happened to the British education system these past 20 - 30 years. Because what’s been happening in Japan is exactly what’s been happening in Britain and the USA, and elsewhere. Prof Horio just spells it out more clearly than most of us ever could.

Chapter 1. The Crisis in Japanese Education Today.

In recent years education has increasingly come to be thought of as one of our most basic human rights, indeed the right by virtue of which all other modern rights ultimately derive their substance and meaning.

Education plays a pivotal role in the process by means of which children mature as reasoning beings and develop into responsible members of society.

This enlightened approach . . . is clearly visible in Japan’s postwar Constitution as well as its Fundamental Law of Education, adopted in 1947.

Not withstanding the fact that our school system is legally rooted in these ideals, however, the reality of present-day Japanese education is such that these values have been subverted.

As freedom of our schools is continuously eroded by the ever-increasing interference of the State’s administrative machinery, as educational values fall under the domination of an ideology dominated by the one-dimensional glorification of academic competence, and as schools come to be seen merely as arenas for the most vicious forms of competition related to social selection and advancement, it is becoming ever more impossible to take seriously the idea that education is the sine quo non of human rights.

In present-day Japan the verb “to learn” is generally understood only in relation to the passive reproduction of knowledge or techniques already established by others.

While the educational process is generally thought of in Japan as something individuals must negotiate BY themselves, it is rarely thought of as something they must do FOR themselves, except in the limited sense of its relation to their personal social advancement and future economic well-being.

The importance of the idea of an ACTIVE pursuit of knowledge can only become personally meaningful after one recognises that forfeiting this right is tantamount to forfeiting the right to make the kinds of free choices which are required of all the citizens in a democratically organised country.

Unfortunately, however, in contemporary Japanese society education is organised so as to make sure that the overwhelming majority of students never grow up to become the kind of citizens who will demand much of anything, least of all their political and intellectual rights.

The notion that education is an irreplaceable human right is a recent arrival on the stage of man’s intellectual history. These rights have come to be viewed as an essential part of the modern child’s inherent right to grow up and develop into a fully formed human being.

It was this kind of thinking that lay at the root of the attempt to remake Japanese education in the years following the end of the Pacific War. But it has not been easy for us to implant these ideas within Japanese society. As many of the totalitarian aspects of prewar educational thought were revived and reworked within the context of the modern welfare state, the prospects for a genuine educational renaissance in Japan have been gradually eroded, and the proud hopes of those who wanted to transform Japan into a democratic society have been confounded again and again.

[cf Britain’s return to pre-World War 1 thinking about education.]

In order to understand the depth of the crisis enveloping schooling in Japan today, it is necessary for us to re-examine the democratisation of postwar education in the light of both
the spiritual revolutions which transformed modern Europe [pre-20thC], and
the educational system established in prewar Japan to produce subjects loyal to the Emperor-State.

The first part of this book analyses the Imperial educational system and the postwar reforms designed to liberate the Japanese spirit from its subjugation to the values of ultra-nationalism and militarism.

The Locus of Educational Authority.

The deep crises enveloping education in Japan today can be traced back to the deep antagonisms between those who insist that educational authority must reside in the hands of the State and those who want to affirm the autonomy of the People’s educational rights.

There is still no basis upon which any form of compromise or even common understanding can be achieved regarding the proper locus of educational authority.

Since [Conservatives and the political Right] can no longer openly declare the State to be the one and only legitimate source of all educational rights and duties (for they could only do so by repudiating the principle of popular sovereignty at the heart of our postwar Constitution), they have chosen rather to reinterpret the essential meaning of this principle so as to eliminate the possibility of any substantive form of direct popular control.

The problem of educational authority is related to the issue of to whom educational rights and competencies properly belong - parents, teachers, or the State.

[We need to consider] the way the boundaries between the responsible parties should be drawn and defended.]

[Political and educational] rights must be guaranteed to all the people throughout the entire course of their lives, regardless of age, sex or occupation. The People’s rights to freely enquire and pursue truth must never again be allowed to fall under the bureaucratic domination of the State.

There is a great deal of discussion these days in Japan about the need to drastically reform our educational system from top to bottom, from the university right down to the nursery school. Any proposal for reform is ultimately doomed to failure unless it is based on respect for each and every citizen’s right to learn.

I want to argue that any educational transformation which is going to impart real substance to our constitutionally guaranteed right to learn must conceive this not merely as a PASSIVE right to receive an education but as an ACTIVE right to learn.

In other words, our current efforts to reform education in Japan must be tied to a view of “democratisation” which does not construe it as something the People passively receive from the State, but rather sees it as something they actively demand and achieve through their own unwavering efforts.

To complete the reorganisation of Japanese social life that began after the war when the people were finally recognised as masters of their government, their work, their ideas, and their own destinies, it is absolutely necessary to expand our thinking about educational rights and relate it to contemporary thinking about the broader problems of human rights in general.

The history of the conflict between the two radically opposed approaches I have described to the organisation of educational authority in modern Japanese society stretches back to the early Meiji-era struggles over the meaning of “civilisation and enlightenment”.

These arguments also overlie another agenda: one directed at making sure that the Japanese people never become the masters of their own educational system and the free-thinking beings this would inevitably lead to.

The argument that individualism violates the values of Japanese communalism and its inherent orientation towards group harmony is merely a ploy intended to retard the growth of political consciousness - the Japanese people’s understanding that in postwar Japan sovereignty resides with them and not the State.


Thinking about these issues in terms of what’s happened in Britain is really quite simple. We need to understand that:

1) The debate about competing and contradictory approaches to teaching and learning, and about ‘standards’, properly belongs with educational professionals, who can at least be assumed to know what they’re talking about.

2) It also belongs with parents, who can be assumed to know what’s best for their children, especially if they have opportunities to learn more about the key issues through dialogue with good schools and good teachers.

3) Thirdly, it belongs with the governing bodies of individual schools, including their parent representatives, who are charged with the responsibility of setting the educational aims and objectives of their schools.

4) Fourthly, we should involve in our policy-making, and listen to the opinions of, the learners themselves.

However, in Britain, as in Japan, these conditions do not apply. In these countries, as in the USA and elsewhere, the right to make decisions about educational philosophy and practice has been usurped by an all-powerful State, on the basis that ultimately the power to determine educational practices should reside in the so-called ‘elected representatives’ of our communities in central government.

Unfortunately for Britain its Members of Parliament are, for the most part, elitist morons who know jack shit about education (or indeed about the Middle East, economics, spiritual intelligence, emotional intelligence, psycholinguistics, brain science, etc.) apart from the fact that they did rather well out of going to elitist institutions like Oxford and Cambridge and therefore believe that their own educational history and ‘success’ should be a template for everyone.

Complete cretins like Blair and Blunkett took control of educational policy after New Labour came to power in 1997 and continued the work started by their Conservative predecessors, using right-wing elitist operatives and advisors, and fellow Oxbridge graduates, like Woodhead, Barber and Adonis, as henchmen to ensure their policies were driven through an all-powerful central bureaucracy.

How do we know these people are cretins? Take a look at Iraq. Blair was by no means the only one of his gang who thought that it was his duty to stand up and fight for what was Right alongside God and America, and therefore send in our boys to help kick the shit out of innocent people who consequently died in their thousands.

Take a look at the economy. Blair and Brown were by no means the only ones who went along uncritically with the Project for the New American Century (proprietors: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al) whose aim was to turn the whole world into a servile
cash cow for right-wing fat cats and ‘global’ corporations, as well as impose American right-wing ideology on the rest of the world.

Take a look at the real state of boredom and unhappiness amongst children, and stress levels amongst teachers and school managers, whose lives are driven by tests, data, and fear of the mighty Ofsted.

From my vantage point I can see no possibility for change in the way we run education in our country unless people stand up and demand change, since it’s inconceivable that our political classes will suddenly acquire wisdom and insight, agree to adopt the reforms of the Alexander enquiry or the Rose review, and start to understand that the New Learning Revolution must take place throughout education in the UK, as elsewhere.


I’m not holding my breath. Surely the way that once-mighty empires and countries decline and fall is through their own inertia and their own inability to recognise that the formulas and nostrums that were once successful cannot be applied forever. Downfall comes about because dominant ideologies and approaches to government that have become rigid simply do not permit flexible thinking any more, and therefore progress is impossible.

Sooner or later, though, the penny will drop and we’ll see clearly as a society what we did to ourselves when we were brainwashed into accepting the ideas that currently dominate our politics, our economics, our philosophy and our education.

It’s not too late to seek enlightenment on an individual basis, but it’s probably too soon to expect our society to find enlightenment for itself.


Final Thoughts on the Rose Report.

Sir Jim Rose is now saying, at least on the Today programme, and we’ll find out later today what’s actually in his report, that the curriculum we currently have in Primary schools is too burdensome and too prescriptive. He calls it “too fat”!

He’s saying that teachers and children require more flexibility - which is surely a code expression for the right to do things together that are more likely to inspire interest and enthusiasm for learning.

He’s saying that children need more opportunities to be creative. Well hoo bloody ray. But who are the bastards who’ve been depriving them of those opportunities and of the right to learn about creativity and the right to learn to be creative?

Sir James says we need to make sure that what’s taught is really worth while. So who hasn’t been paying attention to this little issue? Isn’t it kind of important? Who’s been saying we should teach things that just aren’t important? ‘Cos I want to write to them and tell them they’re a disgrace to the profession and they should piss off and do something different.

Sir Jammy says we need a much better deal for learners. They need to be able to follow their most appropriate individual paths through learning - to go on their own preferred learning journeys, as we might say. So why, after 11 years of New Labour and 20 years of the National Curriculum, haven’t kids been getting a good deal?

See all of the above.

And why has Sir Sunny Jim not been saying these things before now? Why has he been keeping schtum? Surely as a former head of Ofsted people would have taken notice of him if he’d already said these things, which are so bleeding obvious to anyone with half a brain and a bit of insight into kids' needs that it’s just not true?

Personally, I don’t find this kind of stuff amusing any more.

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