Dumbing down of state education has made Britain more unequal than 25 years ago; In the name of equality, anti-elitist teachers are betraying the hopes of the young.

Toby Young:

A controversy broke out on Twitter earlier this week about an article in the Times Educational Supplement in which a teacher called Jonny Griffiths describes a conversation with a bright sixth-former who’s worried about his exam results. “Apart from you, Michael, who cares what you get in your A-levels?” he says. “What is better: to go to Cambridge with three As and hate it or go to Bangor with three Cs and love it?”
The controversy was not about whether the teacher was right to discourage his student to apply to Cambridge – no one thought that, obviously – but whether the article was genuine. Was Jonny Griffiths a real teacher or the fictional creation of a brilliant Tory satirist? Most people found it hard to believe that a teacher who didn’t want his pupils to do well could be in gainful employment.
Alas, Mr Griffiths is all too real. Since 2009, when I first mooted the idea of setting up a free school devoted to academic excellence, I’ve come across dozens of examples of the same attitude, all equally jaw-dropping.

We’ve certainly seen such initiatives locally. They include English 10, Connected Math and the ongoing use of Reading Recovery.
Perhaps Wisconsin’s Read to Lead initiative offers some hope with its proposal to tie teacher licensing to teacher content knowledge.
Related: Examinations for teachers, past and present.
There are certainly many parents who make sure that their children learn what is necessary through tutors, third parties, personal involement, camps, or online services. However, what about the children who don’t have such family resources and/or awareness?

2 thoughts on “Dumbing down of state education has made Britain more unequal than 25 years ago; In the name of equality, anti-elitist teachers are betraying the hopes of the young.”

  1. I agree with you, Jim. The problem is pervasive here. It is a subtle form of racism by people who think they are being politically correct or helpful.
    This dumbing down form of racism is what Kaleem Caire has been trying to address with the Madison Prep initiative.

  2. This is a solid article that sounds eerily familiar. If you can understand that the private schools in England are perhaps even more selective than the private schools here, that “grammar schools” are more like charter schools than their “comprehensive schools” (more like a standard district public school), then the parallels are truly thorough. Making school “culturally relevant” by allowing students to study and analyze (as much as it can be done) TV shows like Britain’s Got Talent and blogs like “Heat” seems to only be lowering the standards. Doing away with true Shakespeare by substituting The Simpsons’ treatments of Shakespeare is definitely more likely to lower standards (and to tell kids, “Who cares if you get C’s and go to MATC instead of striving for A’s and U-W Madison? As long as your happy at MATC, that’s what matters”).
    Studying Shakespeare in original form, even if not his whole body of work, and supplementing that with comparisons between the original and satirical episodes of the Simpsons, is far more likely to demand more thought, expose a greater number of citizens to literature in its original form, and encourage a lifelong understanding of where the satires come from. If The Simpsons’s creators did not understand original Shakespeare or Dickens, how would they make snide and satirical references to them? And the same goes for requiring definitive literature from a variety of authors from a variety of backgrounds. Just making kids read James Baldwin or Maya Angelou to force them to slog through it is not helping. Having students read it and following it up with real discussion and individual consideration of the meaning of what they have read in modern contexts, and possibly even further, exposing them to alternative versions (whether satire, texts derived from the original, etc.), is far more likely to help them understand what the author intended, and why this or that work is part of the cultural body of knowledge we are expected to share.
    Subtle racism of lowered expectations does not help, as Nihil points out above. Perhaps allowing teachers more latitude to cover fewer texts (but from a variety of backgrounds) but in more depth with several formats could be helpful. Exposing kids to both original versions and simplified versions also helps make them more aware of when they are being talked down to, and when a bill of goods is being sold, rather than the materials of construction themselves. Showings kids the classics in a variety of literary forms, from a variety of authors, is great: but not if you only do it with “Classic Illustrated Comics”-type material. Reading excerpts from A Boy’s Life is not the same as reading A Boy’s Life, nor is watching the movie To Kill A Mockingbird the same as reading the book. The detail, the breadth, and the stylistics of solid writing will soak in much more and become a part of the student’s own core, if he or she reads the full work. They will not read the whole book with the same attention to every detail in every part, but at least they are choosing for themselves – consciously or not – which details, scenes, phrases, or literary/writing strategies stick with them. If they are never exposed to the full version, the selections of “what’s important” have been made for them.

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