Richard Pierce

Richard Pierce – author, poet, painter

Education, Politics

What value education?

I am going through a severe identity crisis. Part of me feels that I am, at the age of 56, becoming the sort of man I never wanted to be – old-fashioned, too rigid in my approach and attitudes, too dogmatic in the way I see the world, especially education. The other part of me thinks I’m still young, still making my own agenda, just letting my children get on with their lives as they best see fit. Both parts of me think I’m a dreadful and weak parent.

And this is the dilemma I face every day that makes me feel so divided. When I was in the Sixth Form, I had a full timetable, lessons planned for each and every day, and no nonsensical two-week scheduling where lessons varied from one week to the next. Ok, I might have had the odd free period, but not gaping huge gaps in the timetable that leaves children of this modern age with often only one or no lessons on some days. When I speak to schools about this, I’m told it’s because of lack of resource, and I am partly sympathetic to that. However, surely it cannot be beyond schools to pool classes or resources so that pupils at least have a solid framework in which to work, where they can do their own research but be supervised, where they can use books instead of being guided down the false paths of fake facts and news. I simply don’t understand it. Schools are supposed to be places of learning, not places of leisure and the occasional hour of teaching.

The other side of that same coin is the attitude of pupils. And I’m not sure this attitude is endowed them by their peers and social media, or by their parents, or simply by the way the world is going to hell in a handcart. If I had the choice between being at home (admittedly a home which has thousands of books, in our case) and being at school (or any educational establishment), no matter how bad I perceived that place to be, I’d still rather be at school, where I could either sit in a library or a study room when I had no lessons, where I could feel surrounded by at least my attempts at learning. I don’t understand the attraction of being at home. I don’t understand why anyone would choose to stay in bed and their pyjamas all day rather than getting up and out there and having some real physical social interaction as well. Perhaps I am old-fashioned.

And here’s the last thing – what happened to compulsory PE in the Sixth Form? There’s an obesity crisis worldwide and yet the English schools I know don’t put one afternoon a week aside on which Sixth Formers have to do sport. Why? Everything I know about people, about managing people, about interacting with people, comes from having played team sports, from those Thursday afternoons slogging through the mud of Doncaster Playing Fields with a hockey ball at the end of my stick, or a football at the end of my leg, or a curse hanging on my lips when I was having to run cross country, which I hated, but still did. Wouldn’t the reintroduction of compulsory PE help fill up those skeletal timetables deprived of lessons? Deep down, I think the world is going to hell because playing sport has become an irrelevance in an age when people are encouraged to watch and bet rather than play and sweat. The same goes for education in general, actually, where children are no longer encouraged to learn how to acquire knowledge, and taught instead how to pass exams.

This is a time of despair, where no value is ascribed to anything any more. A time when governments care nothing for the future of the countries they are supposed to be leading, where conflict is created for the sake of keeping social mobility to a minimum, where people are encouraged to remain uneducated and therefore less of a threat to the ruling classes. And only very few voices stand up to be counted. But then, with so few lessons on the weekly plan, it’s easier to stay at home and use a computer to interact with the world, real or imagined.

Perhaps I really am just an uneducated Luddite as well as a bad parent.

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