Our children and other animals

5th January 2007 at 00:00
If you have any Christmas money left to spend and want a refreshing book to start the new term, you could do worse than to get a copy of Debating Humanism, a little book with a big agenda.

One of the contributors presents the case for "Re-humanising Education".

Written by Dennis Hayes, head of the centre for professional learning at Canterbury Christ Church University, it argues that we have lost the intellectual culture which is the essence of what it is to be human, and that the battle needed within education is not over the particular visions of education, but with the very idea of education and our understanding of the children we teach.

Humanity and its "achievements" are understood today to be at best problematic, at worst destructive. And it is this problematisation of humanity that has undermined education, Hayes argues. In essence, he suggests there is an abandonment of the belief that we can truly educate children, because we view them as "barely human".

This sounds somewhat extreme, especially in our "child-centred" times when, at least on the surface, it seems that teachers are more humane than ever before. But, Hayes believes, this "child-centredness" is actually part of the problem. For example, the idea of "personalised learning", he says, is anti-humanist - the more learning is personalised, the less it is education, he states.

He goes on to criticise the idea of learning styles. Hayes gives, for me, the horrific example of going round a school where different children had their learning types - kinaesthetic learner, active experimenter and so on - on their desk.

Finally, Hayes attacks the worryingly popular idea of emotional intelligence, pointing out that this theory has little scientific validity, but appears to relate more to certain prejudices and concerns about managing young people who are understood to be emotionally illiterate, even damaged.

For me, one of the elements within these new learning ideas which suggest that Hayes has a point, is that all, despite their rhetoric, appear to be generated by a sense that young people have a problem - that they are damaged, excluded, ignored or misunderstood. They are not understood in terms of their potential, but more in terms of their weaknesses. Education is not seen as a universal body of knowledge that young people must be educated towards.

Stuart Waiton is director of GenerationYouthIssues.org

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