Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Asking ‘Where are the Great Minds?’ makes us all emotional, argues Mark Taylor

It might be expected that, given the state of educational policies today, one would jump at the chance to join in further criticism of the ‘factory system’ that is so regularly complained about. When Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, asked ‘Where are the great minds that have influenced the test-ridden system that passes for education today?’ * it seemed like just such an opportunity.

Seldon thinks that there are new ‘great minds’ with ‘great ideas’ that should be given more attention than the ‘arcane discourses’ of educational philosophers and dull exam-focused bureaucrats. They are: David Hargreaves (‘personalised learning’), David Hopkins (‘system leadership’); Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam (‘assessment for learning’); Ken Robinson (‘creativity’); Tony Buzan (‘spiritual intelligence’ and ‘mind maps’); Martin Seligman (‘well-being’, ‘resilience’); Arthur Costa (‘habits of mind’); and Howard Gardner (‘multiple intelligences’ and ‘five minds’).

Despite Seldon’s assertion, one would have to be in a very isolated school today not to have heard of the ideas of personalised learning, emotional intelligence, multiple intelligences or assessment for learning. They are very much in the educational mainstream. It is such ‘great minds’ that have actually created the current confusion and anti-intellectual atmosphere in schools.

All the ideas of these ‘great minds’ can all be summarised in two sentences. First, they are against the idea of the collective transmission of accumulated human knowledge to individuals in the form of subjects. Second, they are for the redefinition of ‘intelligence’ in the form of personal feelings and experiences. The unhappy consequence is a refusal to teach children in a systematic and disciplined manner.

In supporting these ‘great minds’ in their promotion of psychological and other processes, dispositions and states of being, instead of an education through subjects, Seldon performs an educational disservice to pupils who are desperate to get the high quality knowledge of the world on offer in many of Britain’s private schools like Wellington.

Seldon complains of pygmies getting in the way of the giants he wants to see dominating schools. No comment.

*Anthony Seldon ‘Influence of the giants simply isn't big enough’, TES, 2 May 2008