Face facts: this values fixation has gone too far

29th June 2007 at 01:00
Stuart Waiton is director of GenerationYouthIssues.org

The curriculum is something I often have discussions about with both teachers and parents. One teacher gets particularly irate as he describes the way subject-led teaching is being lost to new approaches.

He will no doubt be relieved to see the publication this month of The Corruption of the Curriculum, a book that comprehensively explores the development of schools away from education and towards what is perhaps best described as "values".

As one of the authors notes: "Over two decades, the school curriculum in Britain has become estranged from the challenge of educating children.

Pedagogic problems, of course, still influence official deliberations on the national curriculum. But, increasingly, educational matters are being subordinated to the imperative of social engineering and political expediency."

This edited collection examines the vast array of non-curriculum issues that have influenced schools and, indeed, the curriculum itself. Schools, it notes, are now required to tackle gender inequality, teach children how to be parents, show them how to eat healthily, help them in their relationships, teach other people's relationships and history and, of course, "learn" how to be an active citizen which necessitates awareness of the environment.

Many of these issues may be ones you would support, but the main concern raised in the book is that, helped by a variety of external agendas, subjects are becoming less about imparting academic knowledge than about "values", "behaviour" and "relevance".

Through this process, the status of knowledge is itself downgraded and history loses a sense of narrative or chronology, geography moves away from studying the physical features of the earth towards studying moral behaviour of individuals towards the earth, and science students increasingly learn less about physics, biology and chemistry in favour of "scientific literacy" and an "awareness" of genetically modified crops, global warming and the media.

Attitudes, awareness and ethics are all well and good, but if this is at the expense of facts, knowledge and understanding, education itself is undermined. Similarly, attempts to be relevant, to "include" children and enhance their self-esteem through these new curriculum changes look destined to failure, as the introduction to The Corruption of the Curriculum notes: "Perversely, the more we try to make children feel good about themselves, the more we distract them from engaging in experiences that have the potential for giving them a sense of achievement."

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