The End of Education?

I noticed that my old employer, Brighton College, was mentioned in the editorial piece in this week’s New Statesman. It was in relation to a speech Michael Gove, then the education secretary, gave at the college in 2012. The editorial lamented the disparity of educational and employment prospects that exists between kids born into wealthier (and therefore, presumably, better educated) families in London, and those from Yorkshire and Humber.

I found it fascinating that the big problem (if you believe the editorial) seems to be that some poor souls will never earn in excess of £40,000 per annum, and the answer to this “problem” is to send the best young teachers to the worst schools, to teach young children “life-skills” as well as the “three R’s” in order to make sure that everyone (in principle) will land the big-money jobs. Apparently all we really need to teach kids is how to be assertive, talkative and enthusiastic in order for them to get by in life (in my three years teaching electric guitar at Brighton College, I taught plenty of “assertive, talkative and enthusiastic” pupils, and my impression was that these bright young things largely came to me for some relief from the relentless pressure to perform, to live up to expectations of- presumably- wealthy families and to be model pupils in general).

I agree that the ‘poorest children cannot continue to be let down’ and the ‘correlation between poverty, geography and educational underachievement’ really does diminish us all, but I have a hunch that the bigger issue has to do with what we all believe the telos of education is. The editorial does say that there is no panacea for fixing education in the UK, but when the goal of education is married to the modernist agenda of unbridled economic development, it might be missing the point. If human flourishing is as simple to attain as good GCSE’s, A-Levels and degrees, leading to salaries in excess of (the magic?) £40k mark, then all well and good. But if education is going to produce human flourishing that goes all the way down, then a look at education’s telos is probably in order.

What made this all the more interesting is that on very same page, David Bowie (who sadly passed away on January 10th) was extolled- and rightly so- as a creative free spirit, inspiring ‘a generation that yearned for a less conventional, more tolerant and unpredictable life.’ The irony is that our current education system appears to have little room for Bowie-esque unpredictability, which is perhaps why creative and free-spirited thinkers do not do well in the system.

I wish I had the answers. I think I might get closer to the £40k nirvana if I did. What do you think?

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