Friday, 30 September 2011

Gove on education: stop me if you've heard this one before

The debate around state education, more than most debates, seems to be trapped forever in some kind of Groundhog Day. Whether it's the Blue Party or the Red in government, they will never grasp the central problem is the government, and its futile and destructive attempt to model a one-size-fits-all system. So, for the umpteenth time, we have an Education Minister declaring that all children from the youngest age will study a foreign language.
"One of the problems we have had in education, and as a country, is that we have been too insular for too long."
Insular for too long? Since the last Ice Age, in fact. I'm guessing geography isn't Michael's favourite subject. Now, I happen to like foreign languages, but that doesn't mean I want them imposed on everyone. Besides, I don't actually think learning a language in a classroom achieves much. Ten years of school lessons is nothing compared to a few months in the country.

Also, he's calling for longer school hours, and "tougher, less means-tested, fines for parents of persistent school truants so that parental income needed "for satellite TVs, cigarette consumption or alcohol" is no longer taken into account in setting the fine." Sanctimonious prick.

So, in summary, more government interference, more futile attempts to impose one version of education on everyone, more authoritarian bollocks. Same old shit.


Woodsy42 said...

He's sort of right. English is a foreign language in many schools and everyone in the country should learn it. Probably not what he was thinking.

Anonymous said...

Woodys42: not really. English may be a foreign language to the parents of most schoolchildren but kids pick up languages very quickly. Unless you go to a school where everyone, including the teachers, is from the same cultural background. Muslims or Indians may all look the same to you, but their languages are as different as French from German. Anyway, children tend to adopt English as their main language even if their parents do not speak it at all.

Your tirade is not hopeless though. Like myself, your "foreigners" are already bilingual. But they can just fake ignorance of their parents' language and claim a desire to "reconnect with their cultural roots". An easy A follows. On the other hand, white kids will actually need to do some work. That's what I did, anyway.

I don't see the problem anyway. Dutch kids usually speak 4 languages by the age of 12.

Trooper Thompson said...


"children tend to adopt English as their main language even if their parents do not speak it at all"

That is true, although where there have been large influxes of foreign children in a short space of time, it has created problems for the schools, and it has disadvantaged the English kids, who will not learn much while the foreign kids are catching up.

"I don't see the problem anyway. Dutch kids usually speak 4 languages by the age of 12"

The Dutch are certainly very good at foreign languages, but that doesn't mean Gove's top-down command economy approach is likely to work. The reality is that English people are in the unique position of speaking the language of commerce. If everyone across the globe spoke Dutch, the Dutch may be more lazy.

As I've said, I like foreign languages, but I don't believe in imposing my likes on everyone else, for practical and philosophical reasons. Schools should be autonomous, likewise for practical and philosophical reasons. This would allow competition between different methods and approaches to teaching, which would help us to see what works and what doesn't. This would be especially useful with regard to foreign languange teaching. I am quite an admirer of Michel Thomas, who is dead now, but who pioneered a particular approach to teaching, which I believe is light years ahead of the standard approach. He was a strange bird, and kept his methods bound up in secrecy, which is a terrible shame, but he was certainly on to something.

As for the comment on bi-lingual kids 'faking ignorance' and getting high grades, I don't think this is really the case, or where it is, it's not a problem. Although such kids may speak their mother-tongue, they are not necessarily proficient in writing it, so can still benefit from studying it in an academic way.