The British government’s latest crack at reforming schools is yet another step towards contentless learning
“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.” How horrible for the pupils at Professor Gradgrind’s school; Charles Dickens pulled out all the grim stops in describing it. No one today really thinks that school, especially in the early years, should consist of nothing but dreary rote learning.
But children do love learning real things–why trees have leaves, how two minuses make a plus, the number of wives’ heads Henry VIII removed. Only if they begin to build up a core of knowledge can they develop the habits of mental discipline that must last them a lifetime. You cannot look up on Google something you do not know exists; and the ability to hold facts in your head is a prerequisite for many careers–the law, say, or engineering. It is not enough in primary school to learn about learning; children need to learn actual stuff.
So it is a particular disappointment that the interim version of the biggest review of British primary schooling in decades nudges the country a little further down its path toward factfree education (see article). The existing curriculum is not without its faults: repeatedly re-engineered since it was set in place 20 years ago, it is now cluttered and prescriptive. And Sir Jim Rose, once Britain’s chief inspector of primary schools, was dealt some marked cards for his review: computer skills had to be ranked alongside literacy and numeracy (though employers complain not that young job-seekers are clueless online but that they are illiterate); room had to be made to teach a modern foreign language (thank heavens); and a gaggle of personal-development goals (learning not to set fire to your friends or trash the classroom) were to be emphasised.