No wisdom has been applied in this decision

21st May 2010 at 01:00

Like heart-stopping moments in movies, the prospect of even more vicious budget cuts plays havoc with our feelings. We're being compelled to examine our beliefs about what matters in education and how we prioritise competing demands. The general election and the inevitable fall-out throw up dark spectres of crippling debt.

Schools will have to drill more holes in their ever-tightening belts to satisfy the demand for public-sector parsimony. Inevitably, decisions will be made on economic rather than educational grounds. Courses will disappear, as bureaucratic jackals circle and claim the spoils. Dreams and aspirations will be crushed as money dictates what is offered in the curriculum. Inspiring teachers will be voices crying in the wilderness.

The front page story in The TESS on May 7 reported on sweeping changes to subject choices and timetabling in West Lothian. The plan is to locate minority subjects in one school and bus pupils there. In theory, this is a good idea. In practice, it will be interesting to see how and if it works. In rural areas such as mine, it would be a struggle to synchronise timetables and transport to enable the establishment of a central venue for subjects with a low uptake. Some subjects will fade away, as Latin was lost to the state sector.

This bleak landscape also extends to the universities. At the time of writing, students at Middlesex University in north London are protesting against plans to phase out philosophy teaching at their campus. In a recent letter to the Times Higher Education, 30 leading academics say the "abrupt closure" of Middlesex's programmes is of "national and international concern". Sources apparently told the newspaper it was feared philosophy was axed to promote the more lucrative subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This is an act of folly, and surely Scottish universities will never contemplate the absurd notion of removing philosophy from their prospectuses. A subject which focuses on the nature of thinking itself is essential in all higher education institutions.

Closer to home, the Scottish Qualifications Authority would do well to consider establishing a humanities baccalaureate which might encompass subjects such as ancient and modern languages, literature, history, philosophy, psychology and religion. These disciplines offer our pupils avenues to understand society and culture and, above all, to reflect on what it means to be human.

Take Higher philosophy, for instance. The exam was sat by 906 candidates in 2009. They were fortunate, for they had the opportunity to engage with a subject which is seldom available at school level. How do we nurture such fledgling subjects so they survive the cuts? Scottish schools and Middlesex University have more in common than we realise, as we engage in the battle to prevent short-term views hijacking the needs of future students.

Everything points to a depressing finale. That's why we should care deeply about philosophy being kicked out of Middlesex. As Donne said: "No man is an island."

Marj Adams, teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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