Mr Gradgrind was not so bad

21st January 2000 at 00:00
IN MY present situation, straining to teach in a boys' school burdened with Newham's inclusive education dogma and the Government's legislation on exclusion, I felt heartened to read Chris Woodhead's clear statements, standing for common-sense education.

As a teaching undergraduate, at Middlesex University, I had to endure the "new approaches to teaching and learning". To be more precise, I had to witness the unrelenting attack, by my lecturers, upon what they called "prescriptive learning". This was alternatively caricatured as "filling empty jugs" and "sending information down tubes". This, we were emotively told, belonged to the bad old days of Mr Gradgrind.

They told us that the modern teacher, on the other hand, aware of cognitive development, uses much more "discussion and group work". In fact, this was how they used up a lot of our lecture time. True to their modern methods they taught us very few, if any, facts at all. Children, they authoritatively told us, benefit more from talking than from listening. What is more, they do not even need to discuss what we have originally taught them, but they should be free to discuss anything that their own fertile imagination produces. But seeing as we have notplanted a seed in the first place, they went on to suggest that they "talk about what they saw on television the night before".

I would like to raise the question as to how these professors, columnists and lecturers achieved their lofty positions as commentators on education? Was it not ability to memorise, to think sequentially and write good prose. In London secondary schools, children are given "teach yourself" methods, such as SMILE maths, and English lessons bereft of any grammar. In London primary schools, children are lucky if they are taught to read at all and if they are, it is by "Look and Say" or, even worse, "Real Books" methods with maybe a bit of phonics stuck on the end for the benefit of inspectors. Is it any wonder that younger generations cannot spell or write properly and dyslexia is suffered by so many?

I realise that, as educationists, we are involved in a battle to keep the minds of the young from descending into philistinism and vacuousness. I am relieved that Chris Woodhead is prepared to stand for "the common-sense truths about the nature of educational enterprise". May he long continue to stand.

Richard Inman

6 Gabriel House

Odessa Street

London SE16


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