Is embracing 'academic' subjects impractical or an inspiration?

19th February 2010 at 00:00

John White has ideas about subjects which, although immediately plausible, do not stand up to scrutiny ("Turning the clock back to subject slavery", February 5).

His oft-repeated claim that the national curriculum in 1988 was a virtual copy of the 1904 secondary regulations fails to notice that subjects evolve. Geography in 1988 was very different both at school and university level to that of 1904, so were other subjects.

His dismissal of "academic" subjects like geography and history as the creation of a "horse-drawn, narrowly franchised, imperial age" indicates a failure to appreciate a lineage far longer than that and a global reach which suggests that subject disciplines are used widely to make sense of societies, economies and the natural world.

And what of the claim that subjects are "elitist"? This is unhelpful and tiresome. Of course, they can be used in this way - especially if subject knowledge is denied certain kinds of pupils in certain settings.

All youngsters should be exposed to knowledge that takes them beyond their everyday experiences and enables them to begin to comprehend the great achievements of civilisations and what the future might hold in the context of those achievements.

Mr White argues for schools to substitute knowledge "about relationships, about how to manage money and about how to look after one's health", which he claims is often best available from sources other than schools, not least parents. Many parents will reject schools with such an inward and limited ambition.

Professor David Lambert, Chief executive, Geographical Association, and Martin Roberts Former deputy president, Historical Association.

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