07 September 2006

Children, today we're going to teach you happiness



Anthony Seldon, the head of Wellington College, complains in The Times about how poor pupils are overburdened with exams, and how education has been excessively focused on helping them to pass them - rather than focusing on broader aims, e.g. cultural, moral, social.

"We need to assert the broader vision of education, that schools are there to discover, nurture and develop all aspects of a child’s faculties, recognising that what is not awakened at school may not be later in life. By the time pupils leave school, they should be equipped with a clear idea of who they are and what they want to do with their lives. They should possess rounded personalities capable of working in, and contributing to, society and enjoying its opportunities to the full."
You might think that was a trifle over-ambitious for a bog standard public school (or any school), and not really teachers' business. But, Dr Seldon tells us, Wellington will be trying to pursue these elevated goals.
"We are adapting our curriculum and extracurricular life to the development of the seven faculties or intelligences which each human being possesses: logical, linguistic, aesthetic, sporting, emotional, social and spiritual/moral. Achievements in all these seven areas will be recognised in a final graduation diploma when pupils leave. We are also beginning wellbeing classes, which will challenge pupils to explore themselves and their talents, learn in a practical way how to look better after their bodies, minds and emotions, enhance their relationships with others, with technology and the environment, and help them to learn how to make themselves the masters of their lives."
Phew! And this is supposed to help pupils with their workload, rather than adding to it?

Sad to see Dr Seldon reproduce the standard left wing rhetoric about "broader education" and teaching "happiness". Schools should restrict themselves to teaching facts and techniques, and leave broader aims to the individual and/or his or her family.

The aim of "education" is gradually being changed from that of teaching and assessing basic useful skills in accordance with the wishes of parents, to imparting nebulous social skills - which in practice often means tendentious ideology. A symptom of a society moving towards mediocracy.

The fact that the exam system has been messed up by decades of tinkering is an argument against tinkering, not an argument against exams. When even public school heads want to throw in the towel, perhaps the tinkering has finally had its desired effect - that of surreptitiously destroying opportunities for the able, while pretending to want to improve them.