It stands to reason

25th October 1996 at 01:00
The title of Melanie Phillips's article - "Goodbye debate, hello malice" (TES, October 4) - implies that she's the debate and I'm the malice. I am "in flight from reason", and the voice of reason sounds like this: "deranged and offensive fantasy ... unsavoury ... diabolical ... irrational reaction ... working out some grudge." If that's Ms Phillips in rational mode, I'd hate to meet her when she's mad.

It's an ironic charge, because it was concern for debate which was my motivation for writing in the first place. My objection to the prominence accorded Phillips and Woodhead is that they simplify issues, fail to engage with other views, and don't assist progress towards realistic solutions.

Ms Phillips is upset about the reception of her book. It may be a tragedy for education that the response wasn't more enthusiastic, but if so, that view will surely be expressed - by someone else. That's the point about debate: you trust the other people, so you don't have to do it all yourself.

I suggested that the evidence was selective and her solutions inadequate. The same point is made in reviews by (at least) John Gray, Michael Barber and Terry Eagleton. The Modern Languages Extra(TES, October 11) offers detailed evidence of misrepresentation.

Ms Phillips objects to my bracketing her with Chris Woodhead. The connection, she insists, is casual, saying that her crime was "ever to have written anything complimentary about the chief inspector". Well, not quite.

Her crime is to have exaggerated the significance of Chris Woodhead, and to have devalued the work of other people working in education. She says I care nothing for evidence, and that my irrational reaction "demands an explanation". Here it is.

In a long article about education in the Observer (April 14) Melanie Phillips used medical imagery. Those working in the field are generalised as destructive and incompetent: "The physicians decided that none should be cured of their diseases. Everyone should be equally ill."

But amid this faceless gloom, a hero stands out: "The Chief Inspector called for 15,000 physicians to be sacked." (Recognise anyone?) "The Chief Inspector took care to remain in perfect condition, being one of the few left who understood the difference between health and disease."

The messianic tone is apt, since the article ends with the ritual slaughter of our hero, killed by the envy of less talented drones.

I think Ms Phillips is suggesting that most people in education are stupid and obstructive. I think she also suggests that Chris Woodhead has unique insights into educational failure.

I don't think either of those views contribute constructively to the process of educational debate.

PAUL FRANCIS 7 Swan Meadow Much Wenlock Shropshire

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