“The ability to engage with intelligent debate is an outcome much neglected in schools today, which tend to be more concerned with a pupil’s “workplace skills”, “creativity”, “critical thinking” or “self esteem”. However, engagement with the world around you is vital for leading a fulfilled life. Knowledge should be seen as a good in itself, and scho0ls should foster a spirit of disinterested curiosity in the world, irrespective of any material benefits or practical outcomes.”(my italics).
The above quotation comes from Robert Peal’s book, “Progressively Worse.” I opened it today after becoming irritated by an article in The Times, which seemed to imply that having children of your own automatically leads to wholesale acceptance of a child centred curriculum, where children seemingly would not be required to learn anything they did not find immediately appealing, but simply develop their problem solving skills and creativity. Quite by chance I opened the book, “Progressively Worse” on the page which had the above quotation.
Recently, I found myself taking a taxi driven by a former refugee from Iran. I know very little Iranian history, but at least I had heard of Pasargadae and Persepolis and could discuss a recent TV programme documenting the experiences of a group of western travellers to the country. To be honest, I felt ashamed I didn’t know more. Nevertheless, I think the taxi driver was pleased to have someone in the cab who knew enough to start a conversation about his former country, in the course of which I learnt some more (the Matthew effect in action!)
Of course, had I never heard of Iran, I might nevertheless have had an education which encouraged me to be a “lifelong learner”. I could have bombarded the taxi driver with questions: “So where is Iran then? What’s it like? How big is it? What is there to see?” Maybe the questions would have been answered. But I doubt very much whether I would have had an interesting conversation – most people don’t like a conversation which is all one sided.
The more knowledge you have, the easier it is to relate to people of different backgrounds, to strike up a rapport, to collaborate and empathise (all those things that the progressives claim to want). Wouldn’t it be nice to see more schools promoting the idea that knowledge is a good in itself, rather than just something needed to pass exams? On its own, knowledge is not enough, certainly. As an end product, we do need learners who are resilient, independent, creative and the rest. We also need people who have developed a wide range of interests. I look back on my schooldays and regret not taking up some of the co -curricular opportunities offered. Yet being well informed is a prerequisite to becoming a citizen of the world. Knowledge is not just some tiresome thing only needed for exams, but worthwhile in its own right. Educationists of all stripes often complain about government interference in the curriculum and the examination system. I am certain that, if more schools explicitly championed the idea of knowledge as a good thing in its own right, the government would interfere far less than they currently do.