It's a big subject so we will be focusing down on some specific topics – unless, when you attend, you feel really passionatly about a specific educational topic which you feel you MUST discuss – in which case I'm sure that we can accommodate you.
The first issue is what are the general functions of education? Possibly the failure to agree on what education is FOR is a major reason it's such a contentious topic at present. I suggest there are four main functions:
We want our children to have the basic knowledge and skills they need to be good citizens. This involves indoctrination into certain basic values – like being law-abiding, not being violent, honesty, valuing learning, cooperation with and respect for other people, etc.
Well – is it just indoctrination and if it is does that matter?
(2) Vocational training
A 2002 focus group study in Scotland showed that most people tend to think of education in largely practical terms. They want the skills and knowledge to get jobs. There has been a lot of money put into UK Further Education in recent years but a report has suggested that most kids coming out of colleges with paper qualifications are not employable. Have we lost something valuable in the decline of the old apprenticeship system? was it a better system of educating young people for work in industry?
And why is it that academic study is treated as of higher status in our culture? Why should working with ideas be more important than working with things? It certainly attracts higher remuneration.
(3) Initiation into the culture
Subjects like History, RE, Literature, Latin, Music, Art and some aspects of Maths have little practical use. So are they simply a luxury that a country that is trying to be competitive can do without? I'd argue that these are the very subjects that make for the "Good Life" in a society and that everyone should participate in to some extent.
However, how do we justify spending taxpayer's money on funding undergraduates who study the Humanities, the Arts and Media studies? Probably the most questionable is Drama studies where the employment level is incredibly low following graduation. If some people can go on to higher ed and study things that have no practical but solely intrinsic value - why not everyone?
(4) Moral education
There is a common belief that you have to teach religion in schools so that children pick up moral values in their lives. I don't believe this myself. I think that morality and religion are quite separate domains and can be studied independently. So why should religion be taught? Daniel Dennett has a very interesting recommendation for a policy on teaching religion where he wants all religions to be taught as purely factual - so children are informed about the variety of beliefs. Parents will obviously teach them their own beliefs as true but this is fine just as long as they are exposed to the facts about different cultures and beliefs.
Other topics we might cover include:
- Why do we teach in traditional subject divisions? This implies project work that cuts across various disciplines and this has received bad press in recent years. Some critics see it as leading to dumbing down.
- Are there such things as dead subjects? I have never met anyone who has studied Latin and was not an enthusiast for the subject. They tell you that it teaches grammar. But wouldn't studying any language do that? And anyway - why not just teach grammar if that's the aim?
- Is the gradual extension of education to 18 and beyond really in the interests of the student or is it just a way of keeping young people off the dole so they don't appear on government statistics (cynical - me?). Tony Blair has stated that he wants 50% of all young people to stay on for Higher Ed but he also says that education is to allow young people to meet their potential. Isn't there a contradiction here?
- Finally - to what extent should government be involved in education? The recent announcement that all primary children will learn a foreign language is probably a good move. But to what extent should parents and children themselves be allowed to make decisions about what they learn and for how long?
- Claire Elise Katz – Teaching Our Children Well – Philosophy and religion in schools
- Daniel Dennett – Teach Our Children Well – A liberal policy for religious education on schools
- Natalia Ginzburg – The Little Virtues
- And Then To The University
- Better Behaved
- What Is Education For?
- Education – The story so far
- Inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish Education
- Intellectual or Academic
- Opening up Elite Education
- Should citizenship be taught in British schools
- The Meaning of Education
- Thinking for Schools
- To Provide for the Nation
- Too many students
- Training Illusion
- What is academia for?
- Word Mountain
- The Purpose of Education by Martin Luther King