Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

November 10, 2009

Why has education become so adversarial?

I am diverting  in this post from language per se to express my great concerns for some aspects of education today and how I worry that in some respects we have lost our way.

I have come across the word ‘banned’,  ‘not allowed ‘ ‘must not’ and ‘compulsory’ more and more of late in school newsletters,  teachers comments on school policies on using the internet and education news items in general.

Parents in the UK are cheating to get their children into the best schools. Should we even have best schools?  Are parents ‘cheating’ if they decide to buy or rent a house in a particular school catchment area? Why do they feel the need to do this? And, how has the government got the brass neck to call them cheats and criminals? The cheats and criminals are surely those who allow a situation like this to develop where each and every child does not have the same access to the best education!!

Parents who cheat to get school places will be prosecuted

Schools can fine parents if they take their children out of school for a day. I had to do this recently due to work. My daughter was studying the Egyptians so I arranged for a friend to take her to the British Museum while I conducted my work nearby. I consider the day to have been of great benefit to my daughter and I wasn’t fined because the school disagrees with the scheme – but who came up with this idea? What does this do to the parent/school relationship?

Schools reluctant to fine parents who take children out of class

So much for the parents. How about the teachers? With the current explosion in social media, internet resources and access to information  they should be in seventh heaven!  But no, with blanket bans in many schools, colleges and even universities on sites like YouTube, Facebook  and even email, censorship is alive and well. So is, as a result, not being in touch with where many children, teenagers and young adults spend their time.

YouTube banned in schools

This article tackles a very serious issue and one that schools and teachers have to take very seriously. I think it would be unlikely that  teachers would be using such material in their lessons and students would be more likely to access  material out of school so how does a ban help? Also, surely banning simply makes it more attractive. Shouldn’t we trust teachers to select and use material sensibly and appropriately as they are trained do. The rule nowadays seems to be to punish the masses for the behaviour of the minority.

So, finally, where are the children and students? Emphasis on target setting, league tables of school performance, endless testing (is there, in fact, time to actually teach?) and total central control over the classroom has created an environment where some children/students are stressed, some bewildered, some disillusioned and most on the ‘value-added’ conveyor belt of the educational production line.

In fact the whole concept of ‘value-added’, a manufacturing term, suggests one thing to me;

  • Children and students are having things done to them, they are part of an external process.

So, why have we moved from an arena of collaboration to one of adversary? Isn’t the pursuit of good education by government, parents and teachers a given, like motherhood and apple pie?

My personal feeling is that in the pursuit of so-called excellence we have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Education seems now to be about me, my life, my wants and my desires. It is micro and the focus is narrow. This is ironic at a time when the internet has given us such unfettered access to the world of knowledge.

My definition of education would be – to prepare people to take their place in the world.

Here are the skills they need:

  • A knowledge of who they are, where they are and where they have come from – this is history and geography
  • The ability to communicate well – this is language, mother tongue and other languages
  • Knowledge of  their place in the world and universe – this is science
  • The ability to keep themselves fit and healthy – more science
  • Being able to function economically and practically in society – this is maths,
  • The ability to work with others, to compete where needed, take failure on the chin and celebrate success with decorum – this is sport, playing in the playground and cooperating in the classroom
  • The skill to work in a team to produce successful outcomes – this is sport, music and drama
  • The ability to produce and appreciate beauty – art, music, poetry, creative writing, gardening, cooking…
  • Respect for other people, our environment and other creatures – science, RE (and it’s equivalents)
  • Discipline – the school environment but also sport and music

And read, read, read – this is the key that unlocks everything.

I’m sure there are more. With our crowded curriculum placing emphasis on such things well-being, leadership, and now horror of horrors ‘twitter and facebook’!! ( How do you teach those? They are TOOLS!! Fabulous tools, exciting tools and they bring teaching into the 21st century but they are only tools) we are in danger of losing sight of the fact that we have everything we need and innovation is more about presentation and methods of exploration than revolution!

Exit Winston Churchill, enter Twitter … Yes, it’s the new primary school curriculum

OK, enough ranting, where does this fit in with language training? Simply do what you do but find different ways to do it. The possibilities offered by the internet for language learning are incredible. The ability to engage with teachers and native speakers across the world has never been so easy.

The availability of the internet should democratise learning and teaching for all so lets stop the adversary and embrace our brave new world!!

Here are some other thoughts on Education that are worth a look:

Rolling up the odd sleeves

How schools stifle creativity

The state of Now in Education #140conf

So what exactly is a college for?



  1. Glad you got that out Berni, a sentiment we share in many ways.

    Here is my take on it http://human.edublogs.org/2009/11/07/rolling-up-the-odd-sleeves/ (in series)

    It is not only nice but healthy and sanity-restoring to bump into educators like yourself out there.

    Keep up the great work & best wishes


    Comment by Tomaz Lasic — November 10, 2009 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for your comment Tomaz. I looked at your posting – excellent work! My observation is that what we are producing are future voters. I have, in the last year, heard frightening levels of political propaganda from teachers and head teachers (I think they don’t realise this) and I personally feel that as long as education (and health) are political footballs little will change. What a way of ensuring power! Sounds a bit paranoid perhaps and in the hands of some regimes it could be terrifying, in the hands of ours it is, I feel, a great waste.

      Comment by rliberni — November 10, 2009 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

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