Sixties were heady, not barmy

16th February 1996 at 00:00
A rallying cry to revive the intellectual excitement and innovative spirit of the 1960s and 1970s went out to teacher educators this week.

Professor David Bridges, of the University of East Anglia, told a Cambridge audience on Monday: "We have to oppose and subvert the enervating control and censorship which Government agencies are exercising over the curriculum for schools and the curriculum for teacher education and indeed over the publication of educational research."

He argued that the cumulative effect of Government policies was to stifle original thought and discourage the free and open dialogue which leads to new ideas and challenges received wisdom.

These policies included the "takeover" of the school curriculum by the Government and its role in determining not just what will be included "but what will be left out". Professor Bridges also criticised the shrinking of Her Majesty's Inspectorate and local advisory services as well as teacher education institutions - "all of the main agencies which might offer informed and authoritative dissent to the Government's educational policies".

The infrastructure provided by teachers' centres and advisers to support independent curriculum innovation had been removed, and teacher training had been systematically distanced from the broader intellectual currents of the rest of higher education, he said. Other causes for concern were "the deliberate discrediting and then suppression of 'barmy' theory and its near-exclusion from initial teacher training" and the increasingly close definition of what was to be learned by would-be teachers.

But perhaps more invidious was the application of quasi-market principles to education. It sets sections of the education community against each other "not on the basis of stimulating ideological conflict but in the pursuit of profit", and also "promotes the production of knowledge as a commodity to be privately owned rather than its widest dissemination as a resource with that magical property that it can be shared infinitely without loss to any individual".

There was now a risk of a professional climate "in which the serious questioning of educational policy and practice is atrophied by a combination of centralised control and local apathy or self-censorship".

In his talk, the Cambridge Journal of Education's 25th anniversary lecture, Professor Bridges reminded his audience, many of whose members had come to prominence in teacher training in the 1960s, of the "intellectual delight" of that era, of visits to primary schools to stage a "happening", of how "debates in schools about integrated curriculum, mixed-ability teaching and creative this, that and the other mingled with college debates between philosophers and sociologists about knowledge and control".

Looking back had reminded him "of the extent to which the teacher education community in 1971 was curious about a wide range of new intellectual currents, open to radical ideas and quite unselfconscious and uninhibited in their pursuit. It also saw engagement with these ideas as an essential foundation for participation in teacher education."

His agenda for recreating this atmosphere included reconfirming relations of trust and confidence within the education community, protecting the quality and "intellectual capital" of education studies in higher education and seeking out "powerful ideas from the world community, which extend, enrich and disturb".

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