Monday 13 August 2012

My comment on the Guardian Gove/Maths thread

One of the great advantages in having Gove as Sec of Ed is that every time he opens his mouth, it makes us ask questions about what education is actually for. The problem with him being Sec of Ed is that our response is nearly always to play 'substitution' with him ie he says 'you should teach x' and we reply, 'no we should teach y'.

I think this misunderstands how education works. As others have said, it's not for the Sec of Ed to be talking about the exact maths, English, science etc that should be going on. Of course, he can express ideas coming from the fact that his particular party have been elected and he should say that, but pretending that he is a professional expert is silly and wrong.

The debate taking place on this thread would and should be a wonderful debate for teachers, researchers, mathematicians to be having up and down the country. There should be workshops, conferences, seminars going on where these matters are worked on so that classroom teachers are part of the process of determining what can or can't be taught, should or should not be taught. At the same time, this shouldn't go on in a vacuum. There are important points of principle here, that have been raised above: what is maths? what kinds of maths does society want and need? are they the same kinds of maths as people need in their everyday life? what are the differences? How should education respond to these differences? Is maths a tool for others to 'use' (eg chemistry, physics) or is it an end itself - a 'skill'? does everyone have to have a minimum? what does it mean if some don't have that minimum?

These questions can't just be slapped down into some kind of silly government diktat cooked up by the Sec of state and hired Oxbridge trusties. (see 'In the Thick of It - an understatement of the situation, in my experience). It has to be a detailed set of proposals which have flexibility. And the process itself of talking about this stuff has to be built into what teaching actually is.

Secretaries of Education have been almost universally afraid of this way of proceeding. It scares them stiff to think of classroom teachers talking to eg real mathematicians about what might be taught. The point is that Gove's job is to get himself and his party re-elected. These terms of reference have nothing to do with education. So what he says are what he thinks will make him electable: 'times tables' he soundbites. Why? Because most of us did them, we're told (lies) that children don't. = comforting 'narrative of decline' = let's tie children to their chairs so that society won't fall apart = anxiety about the future projected on to those too young to have caused the problems = blaming schooling for the disasters brought about by very clever corrupt people in charge of the economy.