Education is one subject that sets the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate off readily on one of its why-oh-why riffs with next to no prompting. This may not be unconnected to many hacks and pundits having never been near a state school, though it doesn’t stop them from giving the clear impression that they know such schools are A Very Bad Thing, it was All Labour’s Fault, and they know Something Must Be Done.
Recite something? Just you stop me!
Into this fertile breeding ground for good old fashioned ideas has stumbled Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove, who has been rapturously received by the assembled hacks because he’s going to reintroduce traditional teaching methods. As any fule kno, in the Good Old Days children all did far, far better (did they? Ah, but you’re not meant to ask) and so it’s back to rote learning.
What that? Well, this is mainly about being able to recite things – possibly poetry, maybe kings and queens, and definitely times tables – that have been learned by heart. Those under A Certain Age may not have experienced this, and my own view is that they are bloody lucky not to have done. Because being able to recite something does not mean you have the first idea what it’s about.
I can remember a primary school classroom – and in my case that means it was A Long Time Ago – where pupils recited their times tables together. Particular pride of place was given to going through the twelve times table – “Twelve twelves are a hundred and forty-four!” – because, well, these were much bigger numbers than the weedy little two times table. So there.
Don’t get me wrong here: it wasn’t me who had a problem understanding what it all meant. I’ve never had a problem with “doing my sums”, and that extends to Good Old Pounds Shillings And Pence (unlike Simon Heffer), and equally Good Old Weights And Measures (including gills, quarts, quarters, furlongs, chains, and the rest). My point is that not all the other pupils got it.
That would be why many of the children in that classroom failed their eleven plus (told you it was a long time ago) and spent the remainder of their school years at a Secondary Modern, instead of going to the town’s Grammar school. Reciting times tables does not teach an understanding, a facility, for number. And the idea of memorising lists of kings and queens is yet more pointless.
The first Elizabeth reigned from 1558 to 1603. Well done! But, so what? What was life in England like then? How did it get better or worse during the next Century? So pupils can recite poetry. What is the poem in question about? Were poets and writers representative of ordinary people at the time? How the hell does that fit pupils for the future? Does everyone now understand what I’m driving at here?
Gove may have honourable intentions. But this will not improve matters. At all.