You can choose your friends, but sometimes your enemies choose you. In the age of the internet, at least you can find out about them quickly, so googled Michael Gove's academic critics yesterday, and reached personal websites for all but one (Karen Grossman, of the London Institute of Education). Quotes here are from these websites.
The first thing to strike me was that the vast majority are pursuing interests that have no obvious connection with the school curriculum. Apart from eight mathematicians (one of whom shares his attention between maths and sociology) there are no substantial representatives of a subject. Seventy-two of them are sociologists of one sort or another, concerned with structures and management rather than with teaching and learning, and invariably from a Leftist viewpoint.
Near the top of the list is Professor Dave Hill of Anglia Ruskin University, whose pen portrait tells us:
"In his writing Dave Hill writes from a classical Marxist perspective, focusing on issues of social class, the relationship between social class and 'race', neoliberalism and neoconservatism, socialist education, Marxist critiques of New Labour/ social democratic and Conservative/Liberal Democrat policy on schooling and teacher education."
Professor Carrie Pratcher of Goldsmith's College is more avant-garde, almost post-Marxist:
"Carrie’s main research interests focus around gender and identity, especially how children learn gender. She has developed a considerable body of theory around how masculinities and femininities operate as communities of practice. Carrie also works on the relationship between power, knowledge and curriculum, and on how identity is constructed through learning in communities."
While Mr Geoff Bright of Manchester Metropolitan University gets back to his roots with:
"An intergenerational ethnography of the intersection of class, place, education and school resistance as it manifests in some former pit village communities in the Derbyshire coalfield. Education ethnography, critical pedagogy in youth provision, resistance and refusal in schooling."
Professor Jane Martin's current work on a biography of Caroline Benn (late wife of Tony, and a proponent of mixed-ability teaching) is almost Conservative by comparison.
Professors, like the rest of us, have a right to think as they please, though how universities came to think that subsidising Marxism is the right way to spend public funds is a matter for debate. I certainly would not spend money attending their courses, and would not advise anyone else to do so. Occasionally, people are daft enough to try to put the nonsense into practice, as the Centre for Language in Primary Education did in the nineties, when it tried to change the behaviour of boys by dressing them up as girls. I kid you not.
This kind of academic activity uses positions of intellectual authority for purposes which those engaged in it see as perfectly legitimate – they are not in ivory or glazed concrete towers, but making a difference to society, much as Socialist Worker sellers do, or as I do when I put a Conservative leaflet through someone's door.
They also think they are righting wrongs. If literacy and mathematical/scientific skills are at the core of education, and indeed at the core of Dr Anthony Seldon's "eight aptitudes", then those with strengths in these areas will achieve more and benefit most, and others not. The aim of "inclusive" education is to reverse the trend, and the terms "inclusion" and "social justice" are liberally distributed among the 72.
This is not how most people see society and education. "Bad academia" is one way to sum it up, but to me it is worse than that. I've been trying to ensure that everyone has a fair chance in education in the forty years I've been engaged in it, and these people and those who think like them have put invisible ideological barriers in the way at all stages. They have deprived children of the help they have needed in order to succeed, and done real and lasting harm to society. A few of them are just Apparatchiks, but some, notably Professor Richard Pring, are bursting with talent that could have been put to better use.
The most important core of opposition to the government lies in the seven professors or lecturers in "mathematics education", which I put in inverted commas because it has become an activity separated from mathematics, and just two with an interest in neuroscience, of which more later.
The key objection in maths is that advanced mathematics does not make extensive use of base 10 calculation, which is the main application of multiplication tables and remains the main use of maths in everyday life, from dealing with money to statistics. I have crossed swords with maths specialists on this issue, and will continue to do so, as without this aspect of maths people are at a grave disadvantage in managing their lives.
What the mathematics educators have yet to show, however, is that they have a better, or any clear way, of enabling young people to reach higher mathematics. They tend instead to dress up simpler matters in long words that blind teachers with science and don't lead to greater proficiency or understanding for the pupils.
A better way is to be found in W W Sawyer's "What is Calculus About?", which explains the starting point in what is a great mystery to many of us in terms of an ever-reducing difference between two numbers that eventually becomes so small that it can be ignored. I've seen similar approaches work in geometry and algebra. Each step is explained clearly, with no leaps that are logical to those who already understand the subject, but a chasm to those who don't.
Just two signatories have a main interest in neuroscience, the area of investigation which has the most potential for improving teaching and learning. Michael Gove is keenly interested in this too, as he is in the broad sweep of intellectual development that characterises the best of our education system.
I had the pleasure of visiting an inner city primary school that embodies our approach a couple of weeks ago, and was struck by the contrast between the brilliance and beauty of its work, from pupils' impressionistic art and sculpture from their visit to Paris, their debating skills and performance of Shakespeare, to the clarity of its teaching of maths and grammar, and the way our
opponents caricature it. In the end, the reason these academics are so angry with the government is that it might just be dawning on them that they are irrelevant.