Tim Oates, advising the government on the reform of the school national curriculum, today asserted that climate change should be omitted from the school syllabus.
It would be easy to overlook this as yet another proposed overhaul of yet another system by the current coalition government. But we must ask ourselves what this actually means.
Oates called for the national curriculum "to get back to the science in science". "We have believed that we need to keep the national curriculum up to date with topical issues, but oxidation and gravity don't date," he said. "We are not taking it back 100 years; we are taking it back to the core stuff. The curriculum has become narrowly instrumentalist."
Although Tim Oates’, suggestion about removing climate change from the syllabus, in isolation may not seem too much of a big deal, I would argue that there is another agenda and a wider context to be considered. In the same vein as this, Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics says:
"An emphasis on climate change in the curriculum connects the core scientific concepts to topical issues," he said. "Certain politicians feel that they don't like the concept of climate change. I hope this isn't a sign of a political agenda being exercised."
It seems ironic that there are calls to bring ‘science back to science’ which allows deviation away from topical issues, conveniently issues which are dominating the political agenda and raising questions which remain unanswered by politicians; including climate change. In my view, it would be naive to suggest that a move like this has no underlying meaning. At this stage, the discussion is upon removing climate change from the syllabus in replacement of a more hard line approach, but will it stop here? Will there be suggestions to remove topics concerning citizenship, religion or ethics in fear of them being irrelevant? How many other areas of study which allow our youth to engage with current and relevant issues meaningful to every day life will come under scrutiny?
Would I be too much of a conspirer to suggest that the substance of our school curriculum has been designed to be tightly controlled and limited in the education it provides our youth? Take history for example. The focus in history when I studied it was on the Holocaust and the American West. The former focused on the plight of the Jewish community post WW2 whilst the latter explored the life of the Native Americans. Never were we taught about things like The Crusades or the Middle East. I only understand now looking back, how conditioned the process was. It wasn’t true academic objective learning but rather a spoon fed discipline, telling me how I should think and what I should believe. I only understand now, that my study of the American West then, ironically made us view the native as the savage. The native as ‘the other’ with barbaric customs. Never were we made to question the white settler. I had never then, heard of the words colonialism or imperialism; concepts I had to stumble across, understand and explore though personal intellectual enquiry years later.
I would submit that areas of the curriculum are already deliberately constrained and subjectivist providing little capacity to stimulate creative and critical thinking in our young people. It is this selective attitude which accounts for the ignorance and lack of engagement in many issues of current affairs, social justice and anything of any genuine meaning to everyday life. Even some of the most educated in society in terms of qualifications and status know little about the realities of our communities, societies and wider world. If even our educated people are ignorant of issues demanding attention in society, what hope does this leave for those who fall out of this remit? Ignorance is the breeding ground for inactivity, indifference, and disengagement with the world. With people. People and their suffering and their injustices. If people have no knowledge of what is happening, what change can be made?
Education is the tool to combat issues of injustice. But for this to be truly effective, this demands an education which provides a forum for independent enquiry, critical thinking and individual understanding. Not one, dictated by the terms of others.
This article may have started by discussing arguably a small issue about the removal of climate change from school teaching, but what this has sought to have done is to underline the wider implications and suggest motivations behind these calls for change. Perhaps nurturing generations upon generations of young minds conditioned according to the interests of the status quo?
Today’s youth are tomorrow’s decision makers. What sense does it make to disengage them from relevant global discourse upon which they will be making decisions about?
We say education is a human right, but how can it be a human right for those who do not know it is a human right?