Monday, October 18, 2010

Educational Totalitarians

Having followed the case of Katherine Birbalsingh, the teacher forced from her job for criticising the education system at the Tory conference, I can't help comparing today's comprehensive system to my schooldays in the 1970s. When I do it makes me feel angry at what the state has done.

I was fortunate to pass the 11+ and go to Xaverian College, a school that was 'direct grant', meaning free from the mithering interference of the state, largely meaning Manchester City Council and Labour governments. Furthermore it was a Roman Catholic school run by the Congregation of St Francis Xavier. I'd love a quid for every time somebody has said "oh dear, that must have been bad" when they find out. Actually, I loved school and count myself very fortunate. And no, I never witnessed, or heard of, homosexual activity in the school.

Most of our teachers were Brothers, but we did have lay teachers too. The school encouraged freedom of thought and encouraged us to question. I questioned religion, and the existence of God, to such a degree that I didn't take religion 'O' Level. The first pupil in the history of the school not to do so I was told at the time. Even so I was allowed to continue in classes and to argue my point, as long as it was done properly.

It was the same with politics. We studied politics and history and no argument, put reasonably, was beyond the pale. We were encouraged to defeat those with outlandish views by reason and force of argument, no matter how outrageous the views expressed. The teachers practised what they preached, and treated us like reasonable human beings, most of the time!

Likewise with sex education. Yes, monks in an all boys grammar school did teach sex education, and they were very good at enlightening us about it too. But there was a strong moral element to it, not just teaching about procreation and what to do if you got a girl pregnant.  We were also taught, at the same time, responsibility and respect, not just from a catholic perspective, but towards ourselves, others and our families as human beings.

There are times I look back and think things were better a few years ago, and I wonder if I'm getting old. Then I read about Katharine Birbalsingh and think no, actually it isn't me. Education was, and should still be about, questioning, debating, criticising and developing. But it seems to me that this case shows that totalitarians, who can't bare any criticism or opposition, have taken control of education and are only interested in social engineering rather than developing young minds.

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