Thursday, 6 September 2012

We all benefit from education

Maybe this should become a regular blog.  What do you think?  Bettina doesn't like blogs, but i don't know why.

Back in the mid-'80s, there was an education bill called GERBILL - the Great Education Reform Bill.  It introduced the National Curriculum, Key Stages, abolished academic tenure, started City Technology Colleges (and in fact my old secondary school became one) and various other things which at the time i thought were bad, and in fact i still maintain that they were quite negative and should be revoked.  At the time, I was involved in a campaign against it and was carting a petition around to be signed.  A major issue at the time was the possibility of the replacement of student grants with loans, which was phased in from 1990 though through different legislation.  Also at the time, i was of dramatically different opinions regarding what i would at the time have called home education - I felt that traditional nuclear families were automatically bad and had too much power, and would tend to screw children up for life.

While getting signatures for the petition, i was confronted by a Tory law student who said to me that he thought it was only fair that the beneficiaries of higher education should pay for it.  I replied that since the whole of society benefitted from higher education, i agreed completely and therefore felt reassured that he did in fact believe that it should be paid via grants rather than loans.  He had no answer for that.

Unsurprisingly, my opinions have changed to the extent that i am not now convinced that any kind of university education is appropriate in its current form, judging by the apparent tendency of higher education to reduce the quality of teaching and resources and the assumption that so-called "higher" education is the best possible education compared to others, among other things.  Nevertheless, I would still say that the whole of society benefits from higher education and in fact from education at a "lower" level and younger ages.

Let's go back to GERBILL for a moment.  Two of the measures it introduced were the National Curriculum and Key Stages.  A few years later, i would be writing lesson plans based on these (long story), and was disappointed by the low level of achievement they expected and the low level of involvement they seemed likely to engender.  These changes seem to mark the beginning of the sharp decline in the quality of school education which continues today, and were the first of many reasons which ultimately led to my conversion to the idea of home education, or rather, my resolve to make the children aware of their choice to attend school or not so that they could take that decision themselves.  One of the reasons for this was that the changes in education meant that, imperfect though it was, the net benefit to society from schooling was considerably reduced.

Therefore, it now makes sense more than ever to say that education otherwise than at school is of greater benefit to society than at least state schools, per child at least.  For instance, a society in which language does not exist might be pre-Palaeolithic in nature.  Learning would be minimally passed down from parents to children or through tribes and most would be lost.  Signed and spoken language more than anything else is what makes us human and is substantially the domain of "home" education - a child which fails to learn to use language before a certain age will apparently become incapable of doing so later, or at least find it much harder to acquire grammar.  The same applies to various other things children learn to do before reaching the age of compulsory education, and in fact, though to me it sounds unquantifiable, they are said to learn more than half of what they will ever learn by the age of two.  In that sense if no other, "home education" makes the biggest contribution of all to the common good.

However, we all know that when people use the term "home education", they usually mean the education of children of compulsory education age without any attendance at school for lessons.  This also contributes to the common good to a greater extent than schooling because children in those circumstances learn the kind of things as is exemplified by the "Three R's" and the explicit content of curricula more quickly and thoroughly than their peers at school, though not necessarily earlier or in the same order,because they are motivated when they learn, can do so at their own pace and level and the like.  They also miss out on much of the harmful learning which occurs in schools and which has increased in recent years, that learning is boring, irrelevant, difficult and so forth, and they also miss out on learning how total institutions work and various other things.  These are the kinds of things which are not in the common good.  They lead to students who plagiarise because they are not enthusiastic about their learning and fail to make a connection between it and their lives.  This is harmful to them and harmful to us all.  It can be largely avoided simply by not going to school, and results in adults more likely to have qualities such as self-motivation, independence, resourcefulness, creativity, imagination and vision to a greater degree.  Such people are better for the common good.

Why am i saying this now?  Well, first of all of course, the offspring are now both at college, which makes me feel that i am to some extent now an interloper in home ed, though that's a topic for another post.  However, just as back in Thatcher's day it was argued that the students were mere consumers of an education that benefitted only them rather than society, it is clear to me now that education which omits schooling is of greater benefit to us all than education which is considered to consist only of schooling, particularly when that schooling is of the kind which impairs truly inspiring and charismatic teachers and destroys the enthusiasm and interest of students because they bear the brunt of policy decisions made from on high.  This brings me to the other point:  just as Ed Balls had it in for us a couple of years ago, so today the Welsh Government is trying to do the same.  This from a nation on which the Welsh Knot was imposed.  There's a reason why Welsh English lacks a postvocalic R - it was imposed by Anglophone school authorities.  Welsh children, having acquired their native language through home education, then had it beaten out of them by the teachers.  The Welsh Government is now trying to do the same by insisting on the same irrational, fallaciously-based regime of monitoring education out of existence just as the British government destroyed the Welsh language two centuries previously.  I wonder what the Welsh for hypocrisy is.