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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)
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Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Why you should never, ever have a national curriculum. I was directed to this story from Scotland by Freedom and Whisky.
A radical review of the curriculum could see history disappear as a separate subject to avoid "overloading" pupils in the early secondary years.The value that he gives history can be assessed by the fact that sees no irony in making the study of the past a part of "modern studies." No piece of information must be allowed to reach the pupil without being filtered through the prism of modernity - which means, in practice, the prism of the views of the current Scottish educational establishment, a fairly narrow sect even within the Left. The article also says:
But it is believed that history would be taught "in passing" when elements of other subjects touched upon issues of historical interest."In passing", as one would speak of something embarrassing. History is like uranium to "progressive" educators: the last thing they want is for people to bring the separate pieces together. So long as the proles have no opportunity to perceive either that people of other times had quite different assumptions than those of today (a perception that inevitably suggests that current obsessions may be wrong or unimportant), or that they could be the equals or the superiors of moderns when it came to intelligence and virtue, so long as both these dangerous extremes are avoided a peppering of isolated historical grotesqueries serves the progressives very well. Little in-passing anecdotes about slavery and witch-burning briefly thrill the child while confirming the idea that nothing could possibly be learnt from people who said "thee" and "thou". It takes a deeper study to say anything coherent about, say, the role of Protestant or Enlightenment values in Scottish history, and that is why the Peacocks of this world would prefer no such study be made.
I blame Margaret Thatcher. She was enraged by excessively trendy schools churning out PC semi-literates who knew about whale song but not Waterloo. "I'm not having this," she said to her officials, "Get out there and make me a national curriculum." She imagined it as being written on one side of a piece of paper: reading, writing, 'rithmetic. A key point was always to include major kings-n-battles. Stories of spectacular historical ignorance on the part of schoolchildren were a major factor motivating supporters of the national curriculum.
Inevitably, this mildly repressive tool turned in her hand. Sure as eggs is eggs the national curriculum was taken over by the educational establishment, made monstrously detailed, and suffused with its values. Thatcher herself later admitted that the nationalisation of the curriculum was one of her biggest mistakes.
Time went on. Maggie went, the Conservatives went, Scotland was devolved. The idea of a national curriculum stayed.
And because of that if this proposal comes to pass it won't just affect a few of the most faddish Scottish schools. History will be shunted to the sidelines in schools all over Scotland.
UPDATE: Stop the presses! Mrs Thatcher not to blame after all! Andy of Don't Hold Your Breath writes:
I was interested to read your comments on teaching history in Scotland on your blog.It is. But I take it there is some sort of Scottish national curriculum, or else how come the views of the Education Minister of the Scottish Executive carry any weight? The news story I quoted did not gave me the impression that Mr Peacock's "radical review of the curriculum" was purely advisory.
Sticking with the subject of education, having taken a look at his blog I am happy to say that Andy's views on truancy are sound:
In my experience (and I did go to school, so this is not some airy-fairy theoretical analysis based on consumer utility functions and labour supply curves), the pupils most likely to play truant were the same pupils who, when present, would be most likely to knife the teacher. A class full of truants is, when the truants are doing their truanting, a peaceful class. When the truants weren't there, we would discover that the teacher would often have interesting things to say. I am firmly in favour of truancy. It is a much under-rated educational innovation.