Thursday, January 20, 2011

Layer 425 . . . Education, Facts, Knowledge, Feelings, Gove, Gradgrind, Idiocy, Pedagogy, Ritalin, Curriculum, Intelligences, Zen and Lifelong Learning.

"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"

Thomas Gradgrind-Gove - Hard Times


Prescriptions of Ritalin as a controlling drug for UK children are currently running at 600,000 per year. A pundit on the Today (R4) programme thought that there's no problem with this -  if the end result is that there's an "increase in educational performance". No need to discuss what we mean by "educational performance" of course - we all know and agree that it simply means improved test and exam results in pursuit of arbitrary targets and league table scores.

So there we have it - there's no need to concern ourselves with moral, ethical, social and psychological issues - just focus on the child's ability and willingness to "settle down", become more passive, submit to traditional schooling and cramming for tests, and just say alleluyah for hitting the test and exam targets.

The presenters on our flagship news programmes allow their pet pundits to get away with this stuff. No wonder we're such a fucking dumb nation.


Confirmation, finally - as if it were needed - that Michael Gove is completely and utterly stupid. He's also an elitist and an evil bastard. He's demanding that the National Curriculum be reduced to a focus on "facts and knowledge".

This man presumably has access to the huge body of work which tells us that Gradgrindism ("Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts") is not only futile, not only alienating, not only pointless, not only ridiculous - it's also counterproductive in the 21st Century in a huge number of ways. He's either not read about, or doesn't understand, the need for a New Learning Revolution.

The sole point of Gradgrindism is to sort out the academic goats from the non-academic sheep, and determine which of our children will go to university (if indeed that's what they want to do) and which of them will go to the elite universities. It has no other purpose.

It doesn't serve the needs of commerce and industry, which need individuals with imagination and creativity, and people with their social and emotional intelligences working effectively. 

It doesn't meet the needs of society in general, which also needs all of the above.

It doesn't meet the needs of individuals - to become rounded people who are capable of reaching their full potential, to become lifelong learners who enjoy learning for its own sake, to become active citizens, to become fully evolved human beings, etc.

It's profoundly depressing that an arrogant and ignorant little jerk like Gove is now calling all the shots in English education.


Chapter II — Murdering The Innocents

THOMAS GRADGRIND, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir — peremptorily Thomas — Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all supposititious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind - no, sir!

In such terms Mr Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance, or to the public in general. In such terms, no doubt, substituting the words ‘boys and girls,’ for ‘sir,’ Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.

Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge. He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.

‘Girl number twenty,’ said Mr Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, ‘I don’t know that girl. Who is that girl?’

‘Sissy Jupe, sir,’ explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.

‘Sissy is not a name,’ said Mr Gradgrind. ‘Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.’


I had an interesting chat with my son. He's very certain that when it comes to decisions and actions we should always trust our instincts. He's very against doing what anyone else suggests or advises.

He thinks we should all be in touch with our instincts, and prioritise them above the demands and wishes of those around us - our families, our society and the prevailing culture.

Leonard Cohen, of course, said, "I don't trust my inner feelings . . . Inner feelings come and go."

To this, my son says - when your feelings change, you should change with them. And deal with the consequences. (I'm sure Len would agree with him about that - his essential point about not trusting inner feelings was to do with the impermanence of the things we associate with 'love'.)

I think I know what my son's getting at. Ultimately we all need to develop a Zen attitude of spontaneity, authenticity, acting-without-acting, living without fear or anxiety, seeing each life experience as a positive from which we can learn something and from which we can continue to develop ourselves. Ultimately we must look within ourselves for our direction and our decisions, and not allow ourselves to be directed by others or by the prevailing culture - as long as our decisions and our actions don't harm others unnecessarily and inappropriately.

Where I disagree with him is in his referring to what I'd call a Zen attitude and a Zen life as simply 'following our feelings' or 'trusting our instincts'. This blog has discussed at length, in previous Layers, the importance of developing a distinctive 'instinctual intelligence', and also the need to become, through meditation, fully aware of our true selves - our personal intelligence. It's also focused on the need to develop other intelligences, which I've referred to as 'spiritual intelligence' (intuition, etc) and 'social intelligence' (empathy, etc.) If all of those intelligences are working well and working collaboratively, together with our intellect, then we can also become 'emotionally intelligent' and become more able to control our destructive emotions.

It's not mere pedantry or a matter of semantics to clarify and separate out these various intelligences, and to see 'instinctual intelligence' as simply a component of our whole psyche, so that someone who acts 'spontaneously' solely on the basis of 'instinct' is seen to be acting without the benefit and input of all of his/her intelligences. In essence our hard-wired instinctual intelligence just prepares us for flight, fight, freeze and sex. (Although various skills, such as driving and playing a musical instrument, can also become more or less 'instinctual'.)

Words matter. Concepts matter. Intelligences matters. Developing (and using) all of our intelligences matters very much indeed. But don't expect Michael Gove and the coalition government to understand any of that.

What a pity that their pal Anthony Seldon can't help them to see the uselessness of an Education Secretary and an education system that value "largely worthless pieces of paper" and very little else.

Charles Dickens satirised the living daylights out of a school system that killed children's curiosity and reduced children to being passive memorisers of so-called facts and knowledge - and that was way back in the 19th Century, before computers and the Internet were even imagined. The ridiculous Gove still doesn't, and won't ever, get it. The man is an absolute joke.

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