The Education Paradox: Conditioning Minds

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?

Images from The Akanksha Foundation Blog and The Telegraph.


Rothna Begum

very interesting article, love the history example.

13 June 2011 delete
Abdul Kadir

I suppose with issues such as climate change, there are degrees of subjectivity applied. The topic itself is disputed amongst scientists themselves, depending on which side of the camp you sit on.

With science intended to be a subject of objectivity/facts, perhaps there is some justification in limiting the inclusion that climate change enjoys under the current curriculum since it is not without controversy. Let us not forget that climate change has not only been manipulated by politicians, but also by those scientists who believe that it is a reality and have abused their position to further their own "cause". For instance:

By way of analogy, you touched upon your experiences of studying history and the lack of objective discourse surrounding the native vs. the white settler. History by nature as with all of the Humanities is utterly subjective. Such disciplines insist on subjective thought and I completely agree that the study of history and religion must include contributions and thoughts from wider sources in order to enrich the learning experience. I dont believe this is the case with climate change since there are signicantly varying contributions surrounding climate change with each side yet to be proven beyond doubt. It is probably for similar reasons that medical ethics and scientific philosophy is omitted from school curriculum (despite its relevance in modern day science) since it is not absolutely objective and without controversy. Similar arguments are put forth, perhaps to a lesser degree, to exclude Creationist views on science, despite the overwhelmingly interesting debates it would induce in a classroom environment!

However I do agree that "it would be naive to suggest that a move like this has no underlying meaning". It may be true that the Government does indeed have its own agenda at stake and is probably aligning education towards its own political positions. However the mere correlation here does not necesssarily prove nor disprove whether or not climate change should be included within the education system. This is a separate conversation which should be decided upon the merits of such an exclusion/inclusion, rather than to dwell on conjecture and possible conspiracy theories.

As explained above, I'm not sure if the topic of climate change and the proposed policy surrounding it is analagous to the examples you've cited in your own educational experiences when studying History. However I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment and core argument put forth in this article. The Humanities are not only a study into our own beliefs and views of the world, but also a moment of reflection into our own actions of the past, and how the ripples of our past endeavours continue to shape our society today. It is through such subjects that our youth will learn to become far more critical of the environment we live in in order to lift the veil that we are forever kept shrouded in.

"those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it"

15 June 2011 delete