Gill Moore reviews a new booklet that gives a witty riposte to some of the lunacies of the FE world
It is not often that I choose to read an education book over breakfast. But this one kept me up late and then had me spluttering over cereal.
It all started when my partner handed me a slim volume called Just Supposing Teaching and Learning Became the First Priority, a title to put a small gleam into my jaded eye.
"Just read the preface," he said. In it, a professor tells a taxi driver that he has spent 30 years in educational research. "And what have you found out?" asks the taxi driver, a question so incisive that the professor flees, mumbling about missing his train.
As so often, we can't think of a smart answer to a smart question until after the event. This book, by Frank Coffield, emeritus professor of education at London's Institute of Education, is the reply the taxi passenger would like to have given.
But it was what my partner said next that really hooked me: "You might enjoy Appendix 2 as well."
Appendix 2: Coffield's Learning or Teaching Styles (Clots) questionnaire is such a wonderfully funny attack on the idiocy of so much that we have had to endure in further education that I was laughing out loud.
Perversely starting at the back, my attention was caught by the chapter entitled "The music in the word `education'", in which Coffield sets out what education means to him and what it should mean to society, and reiterates convictions about social justice which brought many of us into teaching.
Engaged by a writer of wit and elegance, authority and conviction, I was ready to follow him into the more serious heart of the book. But not even Professor Coffield could not keep me awake after midnight, which is why I had the book open at breakfast.
This is an attack on what is foolish in both policy and practice. "Socrates taught me that knowledge would set me free," writes Professor Coffield. "Peter Mandelson tells me that its modern function is to make employers rich."
It is not just the politicians who have sold us short on the definition of education, but also educators who have allowed theories, such as visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles, to become received wisdom on little evidence, he says.
College principals come in for criticism if they choose to go with the politically expedient and do not take the lead in articulating what education is for.
And could you fail to warm to an author who uses the heading "LSC in Wonderland" and proceeds to debunk the crazy world the Learning and Skills Council inhabits?
But this book, published by the Learning and Skills Network, is not a polemic.
It attempts to set out what Professor Coffield sees as necessary to make the proposition of the title a reality. It is also a plea to practitioners (and directly FE managers and teacher trainers) to engage thoughtfully with what they do.
After a lifetime in teaching, in teacher education and research, the professor has no simple answers, but the taxi driver's question is one we need to keep asking.
Gill Moore is a tutor in adult basic literacy at Tamworth and Lichfield College, Staffordshire.