'Hothousing is replacing education that is respectful of children: just ask Charles Dickens'

27th July 2016 at 12:44
charles-dickens-dombey-and-son
One former primary teacher offers a cautionary tale for schools minister Nick Gibb from the novel Dombey and Son

Nick Gibb has been confirmed in his ministerial post. His personal crusade to raise what he calls standards in primary schools continues. The excessively detailed, prescriptive and unrealistic curriculum in maths and English that he sponsored remains in place.  He fails to see how educationally counterproductive such inflated demands are, how "hothousing" is replacing education that is respectful of children in compliant schools and how children’s individual development is being put at risk in pursuit of what for many are impossible goals.

In the absence of focused professional evaluation of his scholastic fetishes from an indifferent Ofsted, we and he need an independent perspective that challenges his views and questions their consequences. Charles Dickens, himself a victim of indifferent, indiscriminate schooling, should give us and Mr Gibb pause.

'Nature was of no consequence'

In this passage from Dombey and Son, read "Nick Gibb" for "Doctor Blimber",  "primary-age children" for "boys" and "young gentlemen", and "Chinese and Singaporean" for "Greek and Latin".

"Doctor Blimber’s establishment was a great hot-house, in which there was a forcing apparatus incessantly at work. All the boys blew before their time. Mental green peas were produced at Christmas, and intellectual asparagus all the year round. Mathematical gooseberries (very sour ones too) were common at untimely seasons, and from mere sprouts of bushes, under Doctor Blimber’s cultivation. Every description of Greek and Latin vegetable was got off the driest twigs of boys, under the frostiest circumstances. Nature was of no consequence at all. No matter what a young gentleman was intended to bear, Doctor Blimber made him beat to pattern, somehow or other. 

"This was all very pleasant and ingenious, but the system of forcing was attended with its usual disadvantages. There was not the right taste about the premature productions, and they did not keep well."

Time, of course, will tell.

Colin Richards is a former primary school teacher, university professor and HMI. He tweets as @colinsparkbridg

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