The Politicising and Degeneration of
our Education System
by Freya Laidlow-Petersen
There is a movement which has been picking up pace in these last few months, which calls for “decolonising the curriculum”. But we must not be fooled into thinking that this movement is simply a spontaneous off-shoot of this year’s events. In actuality, the politicisation of our schools and the degeneration of our education system as a whole, has been taking place for quite some time.
“Global Education for All” is one of the United Nations’ agendas to be fulfilled by 2030. It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, a closer look at what this agenda actually entails, reveals less of a movement to truly educate and inspire children around the world, and more of a push to standardise children with the same worldview and the same limited knowledge and capacity for independent thought.
The first phase of the “global education” programme began in the 1960s and 1970s, as “an undertaking to restructure education and society”. The UN has outlined eight “key concepts”, which it claims provides a “framework” for schools, and which can be used as “lenses to look at issues in a range of ways”. These eight concepts are: “global citizenship, interdependence, conflict resolution, social justice, diversity, sustainable development, human rights, and values and perceptions”. It is deeply intellectually dishonest to impose lenses and filters on any aspect of education, let alone on every subject including science and mathematics, in every year of a child’s schooling, as is the aim of this movement.
But the education policy makers seem set on this course of action. Douglas Bourn, the Director of the University College London Development Education Research Centre, released a document entitled “Teachers as agents of social change”. Bourn considers politicisation to be an essential aspect of the schooling system he and other education leaders envisage – he says that “whilst there have been debates about the need for teachers not to be political, this is an impossible demand because refraining from taking a political stance is itself a political act”. He mentions the Global Teachers Award which includes activities for teachers to “measure changes in attitudes of their pupils”. It is too simplistic therefore to put the decline of our schools solely down to the notion of most teachers being left-wing. We have had “Conservative” ministers of education for the past decade, with the so-called “global dimension” being incorporated into the national curriculum from September 2013, under the former Conservative education minister, Michael Gove. To give you an example of how the curriculum can play out, one of the A-Level subjects I initially chose two years ago was English Literature. It was common among the A-Level English Literature students to not read any of the course materials, but to simply memorise the basic plots, some “key quotes”, “key terminology”, and pre-prepared opinions and interpretations. By this I mean that we learnt in very oversimplified terms about post-colonialism, postmodernism, feminism, gender and sexuality, Freudian psychoanalysis and Marxism. And by oversimplified terms, I mean that we received an A-4 piece of paper on each of those theories, giving any negative realities a wide berth. These theories then became the template for every piece of literature we came into contact with, and formed the basis of most of our essays, with such questions as: “was Shakespeare a misogynist?” This meant no development of literary appreciation, and little to no development of individual analysis. The only critical thinking here was critical theory thinking.
The example I have just given demonstrates two things. One is of course the pernicious politicisation, which is the inevitable result of the gradual centralisation and standardisation of the system over the years. The other issue is the steep decline of intellectual aspiration in many schools. This decline is partly due to the limiting curricula, and partly due to certain teaching methods which have taken hold in the classroom. So often over my years at school, the subject matter would be diluted to the point of having no intellectual value left. Most of my schooldays were spent imbibing the watered down portions of information fed to us in order to tick the boxes and move on. Often, the dilution of intellectual content was carried out in the name of being more “accessible” – but in my experience, the more “accessible” they tried to make our lessons, the more inaccessible true education became.
Earlier this year during my last year of school, I began writing a book about our schooling system. I cover my experiences at eight different types of school in Britain and Denmark, and the research I have done on the development and realities of the current system. If it materialises, I hope it will help to provide some insight into our schooling system, as I have only scratched the surface in this video.
Our mainstream schools do not effectively nurture education, but often tend to stunt children in their cognitive ability, give them a disjointed view of the world, and withhold the joy and wonder of real learning.