Joe Baron is a teacher.
As academics and union leaders berate the government over its
proposed changes to the National Curriculum – which place much greater
emphasis on the accumulation of knowledge and the mastery of spelling,
punctuation and grammar – I cannot help but conclude that I, and the rest of the
teaching profession, have been guilty of charlatanism and by extension a
gross dereliction of duty for many years.
"What do you mean by charlatanism?" I hear you say. "You're a teacher, aren't
Well, you could say that, at least in the titular sense. But 'teachers', at least in the state sector, have been discouraged from 'teaching' for twenty-odd years. Left-wing politicians have conspired with Marxist educationalists
and union barons to repudiate the
impartation-of-knowledge-by-expert-practitioners model, a model tried and
successfully tested for centuries, in favour of a revolutionary new paradigm
that impels teachers to act as dispassionate 'facilitators', strictly prohibited
from lecturing, and fanatical exponents of an educational theory that
encourages the development of thinking skills rather than the acquisition of
knowledge (and here you may begin to get confused, especially if you consider,
quite rightly, knowledge and thinking to be inextricably linked).
It doesn't take the deductive ability of Sherlock Holmes to realize that, as a
consequence, teachers are no longer expected to be purveyors of knowledge;
after all, according to the left – the real power brokers in today's education
system – knowledge is intrinsically discriminatory and thus dangerous. Who gets to
decide what the 'right' knowledge is? Hitherto, they would argue, it's been an
egregiously one-sided, occidental approach that neglects the wider world and, among
other things, inaccurately depicts Britain as a beacon of reason and justice.
In this new milieu, knowledge is frowned upon; it has no place in education. In
fact, for all intents and purposes, it runs counter to the expressed objectives
of the powers that be. Children must be taught how to think, rather than what to
There are two problems with this approach. Firstly, as alluded to earlier, one
cannot think without first acquiring knowledge. These processes are not
mutually exclusive. As the acquisition of knowledge is neglected, pupils lose
the ability to reason. So the process of thinking is retarded rather than
enhanced. Moreover, an over-emphasis on 'thinking skills' and relentless
reference to them in the classroom through the use of fashionable tools – such
as 'thinking hats' – ignores the fact that they're natural processes. If we
have the information, we are genetically programmed to question, evaluate and
criticize it. I'm sure you'd also agree that the more information we have, the more
sophisticated our responses become.
Secondly, the proscription of knowledge-based learning leads to ignorance and
what E.D. Hirsch referred to as 'cultural illiteracy'. Teenagers are leaving
school without the tools to become fully engaged in national life. They have no
common terms of reference, especially when communicating with the wealthy. As a consequence the corridors of power remain controlled by the privileged
few, who send their children to schools wedded to traditionalism, and remain remote
and inaccessible to others.
So why, when one considers these irrefutable truisms, are so
many academics and union leaders critical of the government's reforms?
Alas, I don't know. But if we want our children to recognize the importance of
William of Normandy to the development of our nation, then we must support the
government's reforms and allow me – at last – to be a 'real' teacher.