The “Ability to Think”
I am writing to warn of the dangers posed by semi-literate academics writing letters to national newspapers warning of the dangers posed by Michael Gove’s not being as left-wing and right-on as they are. This is the third sentence of their letter:
This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.
The syntax is hideous but, worse, it betrays an inability to think clearly. What does “critical understanding” mean? Why is “creativity” “included” in either “thinking” or the “ability to think”? It is garbage and, worse than that, it is wrong. The letter can be boiled down to one banal statement: that Gove is putting too much emphasis on children learning “endless lists of spellings, facts and rules” and not enough on the “ability to think”. It is a false and patronising contrast.
The one thing in the letter with which I have sympathy is that the national curriculum “demands too much too young”, although without a comma that sounds like the Specials song from 1979 (“when you could be having fun with me”). However, that has been a deep problem of British primary schools since 1870.
Gove’s curriculum changes, they say, “will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding”. It then proceeds to use the jargon of modern education, as if learned by rote: “inappropriate”; “the learner”; “young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity”; “parents, teachers and other stakeholders”.
The letter misuses “amount” for “number” (the curriculum, “in its amount of detailed instructions”), and accuses Gove of having “repeatedly ignored expert advice”. If that advice is as poorly thought-out and presented as this, that is entirely to the Education Secretary’s credit.
Update: Toby Young completes the job of textual criticism here.Tagged in: michael gove, public service reform, schools
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