BAD EDUCATION: Festival of Dangerous Ideas

The final session I’ll be liveblogging at #FODI is the talk from AC Grayling on Bad Education.  We’re getting started soon.  Keep reloading this page for updates.

The tagline for this session is – will it take a revolution to enable us to really educate?  The Concert Hall is packed for this session so the subject clearly resonates.  Julia Baird is our Chair for this session. She introduces him with the quotation from Grayling – to read is to fly.

Grayling begins by asking the question what is education for? He says that education should be about equipping the population to operate in society. If you thik about the fact that there are several places in the world where women are excluded from education. Yet even basic primary education provided enormous power to these women.  When he wanted to set up a school for girls in Africa, Grayling was advised that it was a school just for girls because men in communities where girls were educated would be attacked. He also noted that the basics of education for girls would have to include simple but important features – like a bathroom with a door.

Grayling tells stories of scientific education philosophers – if we care about the future of the world we should care about education. Who should be educated, how should we assess, what should we teach – there is a chaos of debate that comes up against a chaos of government policy on education.

Grayling notes that most will answer that we have to educate people so they are successful contributors to society – to become good, noble footsoldiers of the economy. Education is considered as an investment and policy makers want a return on that investment. but this argument, Grayling says, is not only the least important but it is also so misinterpreted as to be the wrong answer. Education, he says, is for flourishing, achieving personal lives – only part of this will be about jobs and contribution to society.

Provided with an opportunity to be enriched and enlarged is the key to discovering how to flourish. Education is not about the ages of 5-21 years – education is ongoing. To be an intelligent contributor to society, we need to grow constantly and to be always alert.

We need to think a bit differently about education. We should see some education as different from training. Training may involve a technique to develop competency in certain disciplines – from multiplication tables to sophisticated chemistry formulae.

But education is different. He notes that teasing or leading out knowledge is something that is central to education; it is learning facilitation, involving people in thought and insight.

In our contemporary world, this is so important. In our connected world, you can get answers to questions easily. Now we need to teach people to be good critical assessors. Wikipedia pages are constantly on the attack because users want to spread disinformation.

Grayling illustrates a story of quoting fictional sources as an example of why we need to be able to research. He says that the STEM subjects are of the first importance. Our economies do need the people who have these skills. We must encourage people to be scientifically literate –  not just to become a scientists but to have an understanding about these subjects and to contribute to policy around these areas.

But he argues that there has been a devaluation of humanities.  And this is problematic because the central point of the humanities is to explore what kind of life we wish to live, what sort of relationships to develop, and what experiences can teach us about the future. We create the future moment by moment, and the only way we can shape it is with intelligence from the past. A society that knows noting about history is in an impoverished state.

Literature, too, is a way of learning about relationships and experiences. It’s a highlyy sophisticated form of gossip. It helps us be tolerant and to empathise. Literature helps get in to the blood and sweat of society.

Philosophy teaches us to challenge important questions about life and existence.  If you have a society without philosophy you can reach understanding.

He uses a story about Isaac Newton and the assumption of general and special relativity as beiing consistent throughout the universe. But as quantum physics instructs, this isn’t always true. Philosophy allows these assumptions to be tested.

When you tackle ideas that are hard you learn more about the world and how to imagine more.  Education thus must be for life – to learn how to be part of a society.

Grayling concludes with an anecdote from Hirodotis and happiness – you should educate yourself about happiness because you have limited time. If you are reflective, and you do engage with the humanities, you turn your 300 months of life to 3000. Time is elastic around experiences, it is hugely expanded in time. He concludes his talk – you need to immerse yourself in experience to be fulfilled.

Baird asks Grayling what the characteristics of a good teacher. Grayling says the sign of a great teacher is inspiring a desire to learn. He says teachers create possibilities in life.

[JJ: Having always considered myself an educator rather than a marketer, this is of course, most welcome.]

A question from the floor asks about trainee teachers who are institutionalised.  Grayling notes that some students can go straight in to teaching because they are inspired. But others probably should go out for a few years. He also notes that teaching to assessment is pointless. It’s not education.

Another question focuses on religion versus Darwinian theory. The point is raised that religion is taught from a young age while science is not taught until high school. Grayling says that all religious traditions should be taught in context of all ideas from the beginning. He also notes that moral views can be part of ethics but ethics education is much broader – reflecting on life.

Another question focuses on cognitive training and brain plasticity. Grayling notes that critical thinking and the ability to reflect is crucial in our world today.  Cognitive training is central to that.

Final question from the floor is on classics education. Grayling notes that until recently, people who were taught classics were sent out to run a colony of the empire. If you think about it, it makes sense as curriculum. But now the rules still apply in business and communities. He feels classics education should endure throughout life.

The session closes with a note that traditions of thought should be always taught in the context of others.  The session concludes to tremendous applause.





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