Yesterday, I ran a test of ten questions which “It is fair to assume that any end of Year 10 child, of average ability and average standard, could have answered ... correctly" but immediately, I could attack myself on the very question in the heading - how well educated are you?
The assumption that not to know the answers to those questions indicates lack of education or the assumption that one should know the answers is by no means established as valid. One commenter wrote:
Just so you know, there is an enthusiastic reader of your blog who scored 3.5, although I will not reveal who that is. There is the alternate theory that if a little learning is a dangerous thing, a lot of learning is extemely dangerous.
I would agree and go further.
Whether anyone got 3.5, 9 or zero, it's only partly a reflection on that person. Every teacher knows of the kid who will always score low, whether by lack of interest or by a learning impairment [sometimes both] and that's one thing.
Then there is the sheer change in society, rendering learning in a classroom setting largely superfluous and with a new type of teacher today, frightened not to appear a 'good guy' in the kids' eyes, frightened to insist firmly, a victim herself/himself of the 'let it go' society, of the 'we don't need no edukashun'syndrome, where it is a badge of honour not to wish to learn.
Then there is the person who does want to learn but one or more of the above have prevented an education in these particular subjects.
We're not all on the same playing field here.
The clerk or executive in his/her office has more than enough knowledge, tech savvy and peripheral thinking to do well in his job. He comes home and watches tele, takes the family on holiday - what's the point of knowing the irrelevant stuff in those ten questions? He could equally drop ten questions on me and I'd score zero.
So, what is the point of this test?
It presupposes, in the way that a radio talkback programme quiz does, that there is a general base of knowledge we can reasonably expect to have been imparted by the child's age 16 - not only imparted but cut, sliced, diced and reinforced in such a way that it is largely retained by the vast majority of students.
A core knowledge, if you like.
It would vary from nation to nation but it's reasonable to suppose that there is an Anglo-Saxon core knowledge - such as to know how to do long division, to know basic trigonometry, to have a rough idea of the rivers in one's own country, to know most of the key kings and queens or presidents or for 1066 or 1776 to be a year you'd normally have heard about - that sort of thing.
Let's say you're an employer, looking for an IT project manager. You're not going to be demanding a 'rounded education' in the classics. You don't give a damn about that. So this 'rounded education' then becomes a measure of personal self-worth in yourself, of being able to hold one's head up.
Is that a valid reason to have that knowledge or conversely, is one justified in feeling sheepish and inadequate if one doesn't have it?
In the context of one's day to day life - there's no justification for feeling bad because the type of knowledge one possesses does not accord with a 'central data bank' of core knowledge. On the other hand, if most ejukated peepul seem to have such knowledge and it appears to be a benchmark, then it also appears desirable to aspire for.
Those without this core knowledge are more likely to argue for having a core knowledge base and those who know they've done poorly on the test might have quite persuasive alternative theories on education
The age you are is the education you received
The over 60s had a proscriptive education up to age 16 which was fairly universal in Britannia and its colonies.
For people 50ish and over, the chances were that the K to Year 10 were pretty similar worldwide, days when in primary, one still recited tables and did a set number of spellings each day but new educational theories were making their presence felt.
Those who are currently 40 something, you're into the generation changeover - Gen X - when the baby was thrown out with the bathwater and the cognitive was subordinated to process. These were the days of Graves and open plan etc. This is where the first serious gaps occurred and you can see that in Oxford and Longman texts today like the First Certificate material - such glaring errors riddle these texts that any older person would pick up.
Thirty-somethings. They've really been deprived of a core knowledge and any ability to do the ten questions is despite the system, not as a result of it. Or maybe they had an anachronistic private education or a good grant-maintained school. Their lack of solid grounding is seen in certain bloggers, even on my rolls, who are erudite on a subject but the overall grounding really shows its absence.
Twenty somethings - G-d help them.
The law of diminishing returns
The whole woeful situation began back with what are now retired curriculum developers and higher education specialists who deliberately and fashionably abandoned the cognitive and rote, the delights in knowledge for knowledge's sake and began the craze for specialization too early.
They trained teachers who then trained teachers who then trained teachers and each successive intake was a further cranking down of education, a dumbing down, supplemented by leftist ‘feelgood’ core material. An example was when it became unfashionable to chant tables and learn word lists, despite their known efficacy.
The benefits of these methods for self-discipline alone argue for their retention.
Any teacher training texts supporting the rigorous methodologies were discarded and new texts like 'Let Them Run a Little [Weigall] came in to vogue, promoting learning of spelling and grammar through reading, by no means sound methodology, in isolation, within a school setting. ‘Learner centred’ education became the catchcry with a jaundiced eye cast on alternative methods.
It was neither more nor less than experimentation with kids.
The crime these ‘educators’ are charged with is that, having been given a solid grounding themselves and being well-educated, they failed to pass it on to the children in their care in the 70s through to the 90s, on the grounds of the fashionable new methods and the perceived ‘brutality’ of the old.
Now it's coming full circle and they can look back on their handiwork and blame it on the parents, themselves victims of the dumbing down of everything from knowledge to the cessation of the unfashionable imposition of our historic moral code.
I’m also dumbed down
I came in on the tail end of the teaching of Latin and did two years before it was dropped. We began to study the classics [and many of us went on, in university, to approach them anew] but in terms of the system, they were dropped in my final school years.
Why? Why were they dropped? Why didn't my parents cry out about this?
Part of the answer is that parents tended to bow to the professional knowledge of the educator who had, unbeknowns to them, now embarked on this highly unsubstantiated new educational psychology, such as Piaget's early learning theories, to the exclusion of established research.
That's just an example. By virtue of my age, I'm less of a victim than someone 30ish today but the bottom line is that we have all suffered, to a greater or lesser extent, from our system. I would have liked to have had the full version of what could reasonably be presented to a 16 year old, instead of the curtailed version my educators decided was fashionable to give.
This fear that the the child can't bear up under the strain of the rigorous pursuit of knowledge does not stand up. In Russia, I saw a degree of knowledge transfer which was mindboggling and the kids did not seem the worse for wear [although they moaned at the time]. I've already blogged on the two Russians who came over to our school in 1996 and swept the board of all the prizes. Their level of self-discipline and the sheer volume of what they could retain was testimony to a system which has now gone the way of the west in 2009.
There IS a core knowledge. It varies, of course, according to era but a great deal of what constituted the finished person in late mediaeval times would still constitute part of the core in modern times if we could return to our end of war situation and reintroduce those texts, e.g. MacIver's First Aid in English adjunct. Though he was not without controversy himself, the overall effect, nonetheless, I would argue, would be to transform the individual to a point where one of the things he would not put up with is the appalling state of our governance and the idealistic nobbling of our current society.
The previous post to this, again, is here.
By the way, in the cartoon at the top of this post, can anyone see what is very, very wrong in the classroom arrangement?