Thursday, July 02, 2009

[how well educated are you] conclusions

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?


Lord T said...

I've always had difficulty with this. You see I think that there is a certain core education that should be given. Sums, Reading and Riting, First aid, balancing some books, basic science, etc.

Knowing who was in power back in1770 is of less import, same as the seven wonders of the world. Sure we get taught them but almost immediately we forget them because they are of no relevance to real life nor are they of interest to most of us.

A classic education is just used as another tick in the box to seperate the chavs from the snobs.

Now, do you think Gordo, Blears, Blair etc. would know all these answers? What about Alan Sugar, Richard Branson? All *cough* successes in their life.

Education is in dire need of being sorted out. I don't agree that teaching Latin, for example, is sorting it out. IMO we should teach basic stuff and have significantly more elective choices and Latin should be a elective choice.

Now in saying that I agree stuff like that should be taught. It's at that stage in life that people get an interest in things and the more they are exposed to, (insert pervy joke here), the better. Let them choose their interests though. Sort out the teaching so that the basics are done and they get several starter lessons of the other stuff, Latin, History, Physics, Chemistry, etc. Then if they choose to take them further fine. Time has moved on we have different requirements now.

It's obvious what is wrong with the picture. It's the pencils. Sharp objects are too dangerous for anyone under 21. When will these schools learn?

James Higham said...

Sort out the teaching so that the basics are done and they get several starter lessons of the other stuff.


Did you mean 'separate', Lord T?

Anonymous said...

Only starter lessons for physics, chemistry !!!

You got rocks in your head. That's a main area of failure right now.

Industry has to import enough material, let alone now looking for qualified labour.

Look at the graduates being turned out in SE Asia.

They know!

And don't tell me they come here to learn. The stats have reversed recently.


Lord T said...

LOL. Bugger. You can tell I rely too much on spell checkers nowadays.

That is one of my common mis-spellings.

Lord T said...


When I mention in my core basic science it means a bit of physics, chemistry and biology. Basic stuff and stuff to make you think and get you interested. Then when you hit your choices you can go for the more advanced stuff in your favourite area.

I agree that we need more scientists but few of us choose them and I suspect it is because of the way we are taught nowadays. In my day we got to play with sharp knives, burn things with bunsen burners and got to think about how things work and then test the theory ourselves and not reading from a book because some chemicals are dangerous.

xlbrl said...

You must not become apologetic for presenting a test that may reveal vast differences in types of knowledge, or even intelligence. That is a driving force in the dumbing down of education in the first place. The general tone and humility of your writing always speaks for itself for all who are not already deafened.

Blake believed it was pointless to speak the truth to those who did not know it and possibly did not wish to know it; he spoke truth to those who could understand it.

I am of the opinion that this, the final result of universal education, is exactly what should be expected, not something that went awry; that we are playing into their game by "improving" it instead of ending their link to the control of society. This is a game we will always lose; the evidence is overwhelming.

Is it true what I have read, that Belgium has a universal voucher system, and that people are very happy with it? We should not dwell on what should be taught or how, but simply that there is great choice available and with it the evolution this invariably brings.

Anonymous said...

I am of the opinion that this, the final result of universal education, is exactly what should be expected, not something that went awry; that we are playing into their game by "improving" it instead of ending their link to the control of society. This is a game we will always lose; the evidence is overwhelming.


Do you have any concrete proposals for ending their control of education and society, recognising that a voucher system still subjects the pupil to state approved "education", and that their influence on society is largely predicated on their control of the education system, (being one of their early and primary targets) and therefor hardly likely to be given up easily??

We should not dwell on what should be taught or how, but simply that there is great choice available and with it the evolution this invariably brings.

Sorry to disagree on this point.
Choice is available. It is largely imaginary, and "they" are involved in its dissemination/content, through various funding activities.

We must therefor dwell strongly on the details of what is taught and how it is taught, when assessing standards (declining deplorably)

You are correct in desiring "their" removal from all influence, but how?

Anonymous said...

Apples break a lot of asinine laws these days.

James Higham said...

We can't fight everything that They do, on all fronts. However, education is an area I'm on fairly strong ground in and I'm read in it.

I think if quite a few educators of the old school were to make enough noise, we could at least dent the status quo to the extent that schools were set up or perhaps already existing schools who follow this line of thinking could be coordinated to make a noise on the net where it is relatively inexpensive to do so.

Hopefully some journals like Time might eventually be pushed into considering this.

Rivalries would come in, of course.

Perhaps the way is for these bodies to coordinate research which has not found socialist approval - there is a hell of a lot of it out there and this might be gathered in a journal which would do a similar job to the Lancet.

Ideas just now but serious about their implementation and my RL would allow me to begin on this.

xlbrl said...

I have many proposals for educational change, but they all involve liberty, and so are probably not appropriate for England. I have no idea what you should do. How did Belgium pull it off? Not that Belgium is an end-all, but choice forces accountability and change.

Lord Acton wrote that a government entirely dependent on public opinion looks for some security in what that opinion should be, will strive for control of the forces that shape it, and is fearful of suffering the people to be educated in sentiments hostile to its institutions. That is why Mr Higham's knowledge, experience, and talent could never become institutionalized--if such a thing were ever possible--because it is against the interest of the state. Only a system without controls, but with complete liberty of choice, can advantage itself of evolution. People do not like to be left behind. Currently, no one advances so that no one may be left behind.

I cannot do better in so short a space. Probably it is very unrealistic to think anything ever will be done, and your questions are limited to bettering education for some selected few. Which is very worthy.

Francis Turner said...


I'd like to post your test elsewhere and see if I can get some data to back up your hypothesis regarding age and knowledge.

Do you mind?

James Higham said...

Please do - I'd be quite interested.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Xlbrl.

I had more or less come to that conclusion.

I intend to comment further in due course.

Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. Lord Acton, Lecture, February 26, 1877.

CherryPie said...

I found that during my education the pupils were used as guinea pigs for new ways of teaching. Not all of it worked.

The blackboard is in the wrong place!

xlbrl said...

I am very sorry that cherri pie has turned logic on its head, but as Hayek warned of the socialist mind, they not only come to different conclusions, they see the facts differently.
The fact that I see is that students are at this very moment held hostage to a political theory that is single-mided and ruthless. In my proposal of complete liberty, your favored theory will no doubt still be availabe to you, but you will be able to force no one into it.
Liberty does not prevent failure, it guarantees it. That is the engine of evolution and success,and is what is and will always be missing from universal education. It is not truth you seek, but certainty. That is our socialist instinct.

CherryPie said...

@xlbrl I think you have read something into my comment that wasn't there...

xlbrl said...

If I misunderstood it will not e for the last time.
I took your comment that unsuccessful experiments were conducted in your classes to mean we therefore must not allow voluntary associations of people to conduct their own experiments. Government schools are not voluntary associations, and cannot conduct experiments, but only impose them.

CherryPie said...

I was actually commenting on this part of the post:

The age you are is the education you received

I was in the cross over age.

So I didn't receive any schooling on 1-5, I did on 6-10 and although I passed maths it doesn't come naturally to me.

Outside of schooling I read up on things I thought I should know.

My comment was just meant to mean my schooling didn't give me the knowledge to answer half of those questions.

There was no strange socialist thinking going on at all, merely stating what had happened to me...

James Higham said...

OK, I see where both of you are coming from here and Cherie - you were being cautious in your statements, which is fine.

Xlbri, I can open up on this far more with you. There is a sustained agenda in the curriculum research and development sections of the Anglo-Saxon countries, which stemmed from the Lincoln schools in that cauldron - turn of the century [as distinct from millennium] affairs.

It was influential way beyond its initial numbers and spread like wildfire because of its buzz words and feelgood concepts.

This is its wickedness. The average teacher has feelings of compassion for kids and is 'that type', especially when young.

So any suggestion that 'rigid' 'moralistic', 'dull', 'repetitive', 'didactic' education is outdated and outmoded and the opposite - kids running free, learning only because they want to, learning by doing and the concept of happy kids, free of all constraints - is a powerfully seductive one.

No one disagrees that kids learn by doing - old curriculum science teachers therefore had experiments, good history teachers made history more immediate and re-enacted it and so on.

The concept of the old curriculum being oppressive was bollocks. The new ideas took tried and trusted methods, e.g. learning by doing and wove around them completely false and untested concepts - the whole presented as a package.

Every year or so, 'new revelations' or discoveries were made which went straight to the fornt page of professional journals and any other revisiting of tried and tested methods suppressed from those hournals which were under the control of the leftists.

The average teacher had no idea this was going on and wouldn't believe it until you offered the excluded research to compare the guff to.

This Lincoln school push was corrosive in the extreme and has had education in its grip for a very long time.