11 June 2007

Corruption of the Curriculum

The school curriculum has been corrupted by political interference, traditional subject areas have been hijacked to promote fashionable causes such as gender awareness, the environment and anti-racism, and teachers are now expected to help to achieve the government's social goals instead of imparting a body of academic knowledge to their students.

Coming just a day after the General Teaching Council called for all national curriculum tests to be scrapped, these latest claims condemning the Government's approach to education are made by the independent think-tank Civitas in a new publication, The Corruption of the Curriculum. Examples they cite include:

  • The whole tradition of English poetry from its origins to 1914 is represented by just sixteen poems while modern poetry has three times as many...A British pupil can go through the school system and get the top marks in English and English Literature without knowing that Spenser, Milton or Pope ever existed.
  • "New History" lacks any sense of narrative or chronology and is taught through a filter of politically correct perspectives
  • Geography has become a vehicle for teaching global citizenship, with environmentalism as its central theme
  • The government's new science curriculum conflates the three disciplines of chemistry, physics and biology into "scientific literacy," which has more to do with media studies than hard science as students are asked to discuss issues such as global warming and GM crops, based on media coverage, and to consider whether or not scientists can be trusted.
The report also claims that by encouraging students to "Think global, act local" the national sphere of political action to solve problems is missed, misleading young people because "there is no world government, nor global body for citizens to hold to account."

Warning that an educational apartheid is opening up between the experience of pupils in the state sector and those at independent schools, which have generally held on to traditional approaches to teaching, the authors claim we need to:
  1. Depoliticise education: "Politicians need to be discouraged from regarding the curriculum as their platform for making statements"
  2. Challenge the tendency to downsize the status of knowledge and expose the destructive consequences of "anti-elitist education"
  3. Take seriously the ability of children to engage with knowledge and provide them with a challenging educational environment.
What do you think? Do your experiences (or those of your children) shed any light on this issue?


Layreader said...

"Depoliticise education" - Why stop at education? What about also depoliticising the health service? The police? The armed forces? Etc.

TomTom said...

Read the letter it today's Times or Telegraph from the Australian exchange teacher in Abingdon...and then the other two female writers - supporting the debased curriculum

John, The Difference said...

TomTom, I found the Telegraph letters you recommend. As someone who has been privileged to live abroad and become immersed in foreign cultures, I am delighted that the studying of poems and short stories from around the world has helped people such as Catherine Pulman to have a broader knowledge and understanding of apartheid and poverty in Africa, racial discrimination in America, views on marriage in India, farming in Ireland; nationalism in Wales, and the mafia in Italy.

Nevertheless, recognising that a rounded understanding of history and a curriculum that is relevant are essential if we are to deal with today's global challenges and conflicts, one is still left wondering why school teachers and university tutors complain they have to spend time rehearsing material that was once considered elementary, why independent reviews of the new science curriculum all say it undermines students' trust in scientists and puts them off studying science at A-level, and why our new global citizens are no longer encouraged to broaden their minds through the study of foreign languages — a challenge that, in the words of the Civitas report, is more than just a functional skill, can provide "a window on the world by enriching people's lives and opening them up to other cultures and literatures," and enables learners to "move beyond their parochial, subjective experiences, to appreciate cultural achievements that have spread beyond national boundaries and are part of universal human culture."

Alex said...

I went through secondary school in the 1980s. I don't remember any of the poets mentioned above being covered... in fact the only poetry I can remember was by Chaucer (which, at the time, I found irrelevant and boring).

What's the point of teaching things which the teacher can't be enthusiastic about?

John, The Difference said...

Alex, precisely the point made by Wellington Grey, who complains in his open letter to AQA and the Department for Education, "I want to teach my subject, to pass on my love of physics to those few who would appreciate it. But I can’t. There is nothing to love in the new course. I see no reason that anyone taking this new GCSE would want to pursue the subject. This is the death of physics."