Just got back upstairs from Sir Ken Robinson’s lunchtime talk at the RSA based on his new book, The Element. In his talk – among other things – he sought to explain why the educational debate is so cyclical.
Now I’ve heard this argument before, but as usual, Ken Robinson says it very well. People, he said, see education as obvious. Everything about it is obvious – it’s common sense. “I went to school – I know what education’s about”, and “my school was like this, and it never did me any harm” are arguments frequently heard in support of this or that form of education. We should go ‘back to basics’, they tell us, meaning back to what they were told was important when they were at school.
As Sir Ken put it, because education seems obvious, people tend not to question the core assumptions from which they derive their common sense judgements, and their ideas about what the ‘basics’ are. It’s almost like assumptions about education are so deep seated, drilled into us from and throughout childhood, that they are a fundamental part of how we understand ourselves, our own lives, and the lives we want our children to lead.
Add to this the fact that everyone has an opinion because everyone went to school (or didn’t – in which case they’re even more likely to have an opinion on it) and you have the makings of an ideologically entrenched debate. Add further that everyone has a very personal view of education based on that of themselves or perhaps their children and you have the makings of an emotional debate.
Perhaps this explains the special inertia of the educational debate, and its vitriol. Because no one is an outsider.
How do we take the fact that education is something that includes everyone, and make that a democratic, citizen-centric, force for good, rather than fodder for a reactionary, populist, vitriolic debate?
PS The audio of Ken’s talk will be on the RSA site before long – check back here in a couple of days