Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone!

As technology gets smarter, humans get dumber; at least they seem to. Education used to be about preparing young people to go out into the world capable of surviving, ideally without a step-by step instruction manual. Last weekend, admittedly showing off, I got out my 1970s slide rule (mandatory for A-Level Maths) and out-performed my class in a number of calculations which, while rudimentary to a child of the sixties, were as rocket science to generations who have learned to rely on machines. I was denounced as a wizard and sentenced to be burned at the stake.

The thing is, my generation is as capable of using the machines as are the youngsters of today, when useful outcomes are required; we just don’t trust them because experience has taught us that you don’t always have a calculator when you need to compute. Likewise, through normal interaction with others we learned friendship and compromise and when to stand our ground and who to respect. We just didn’t have social media to tell us what to think, we just had to do that for ourselves. For the same reason, although I have a smartphone (and very handy it can be) it’s usually the last port of call when I’m searching for a solution, not the first.

Of course younger people are going to be slicker and some are going to make real money on the back of technologically enabled connections we greybeards will simply not comprehend but guess what, those kids are the ones who would succeed anyway. They could get rich, hit it big, bestride the world in any time period you cared to drop them into. Leonardo today might out-Apple Apple. Michelangelo might out-Pixar Disney. But edu-tech as engagement for disenfranchised pupils who can barely string a sentence together or look another human in the eye is the equivalent of sweeping the dirt under the carpet. And even the OECD are now saying so.

The lazy adherence to the educationalists’ experiments in the dumbed-down, conveyor-belt, certificate production line that much education has become focuses on ‘achievement’ as a euphemism, rather than actual, you know, achievement. The learning of principles comes secondary to following a recipe for success and the sound of boxes being ticked overwhelms and drowns out those lightbulb moments when real learning takes place. This has genuine consequences, not least the several generations now with progressively poorer critical thought processes.

One of the reasons Labour fell from grace in the seventies was the direct experience of its disastrous outcomes on people who cared about this country and its place in the world. Now, however, with all that as ancient history, the glorious stories of revolutions that were never won are being dusted off, rewritten and presented as fact to new voters who will happily accept without cynicism, the lies that sound the nicest. Anti-competition, anti-adversarial combat, anti-non-conformity, anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-anti-anti... if you, with a good career are for it, they are against it.

But I need Bluetooth!

I can’t wait to see how Jeremy Corbyn’s new model army of bright young drones will fare when their costly demands meet the empty coffers of state. Or when we hoary old geezers with free minds and a healthy disdain for technology fail to fall in line with the barrage of new conformity laws they would usher in. (Pretty soon I’m expecting even being born white to be deemed racist; it’s certainly headed that way.) But worry not, there is a solution and a rather neat and apposite one at that. Once the energy fails and the power cuts become the norm and the great silence falls on the land,  the batteries powering their iPhones will run out and then none of them will know what to think at all.


  1. Excellent as always, Batters. Thank you once again for your marvellous blog.

  2. Personally,I weep for the loss of the Grammar School.There were untold bright kids from working-class backgrounds that achieved remarkable things that would've otherwise been unachievable had they not been able to avail themselves of the high level of academia personified by the Grammar system.