Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/929/24107

From The Socialist newspaper, 14 December 2016

What kind of education?

Primary school teacher, photo US Department of Education (Creative Commons)

Primary school teacher, photo US Department of Education (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge)

What kind of education should we be fighting for? Teacher and Socialist Party member James Kerr asks how we might change schooling from a chore to a truly vibrant, nurturing part of life.

Teacher trade unionists have been engaged in a bitter struggle to defend education. The next few years will see further battles over school funding and teacher workload, among other things.

As socialists, though, we don't simply see our role as a defensive one, but to offer a way out of the chaos: a socialist education programme. "Education for the masses," as the popular demonstration slogan goes. This requires examining the current education system under capitalism.

"Why are we doing this?" A familiar question we hear as teachers when students embark on a task in school. Sometimes there is no easy answer, or we know that the reply is probably "because the exam board demands we do."

Teachers use every trick in their repertoire to make the subject matter engaging and meaningful, but the reality is that what is demanded of students can often be viewed as abstract and irrelevant.

Counter-reforms

This has been exacerbated by recent education counter-reforms. For example, under Michael Gove, the teaching of history in primary schools moved to a linear model.

Previously, students had started their learning of history 'closest to them', studying World War Two. This enabled some to discuss with grandparents and other adults who had lived through it, understanding their family history and placing their own lives in the context of world history.

They developed an understanding of the 'concept' of history as well as the content. It wasn't without flaws, but was more meaningful than beginning with the Neolithic period and working forward like they do now.

Is it a surprise that this is one of the characteristics of the school system under capitalism?

Karl Marx explained that workers can experience a feeling of estrangement from their own humanity, 'alienation', as a result of their mechanical role in production. This alienation is of course present within the school system too, as students complete abstract tasks, preparing them for a life in work.

The class system in capitalism is reflected in the education system. The vast majority of judges, politicians, military officers, journalists, executives and so on come from the tiny number of elite private schools and universities.

This suits capitalism well. The bosses benefit from an education system which can produce an able next generation of workers, but also avoids encouraging challenges to the inequality of class-based society.

However, this is a fine balance for them to strike. It prompted Friedrich Engels, Marx's collaborator, to state that "the capitalist class has little to hope, and much to fear, from the education of the working class."

In fighting for socialism we cannot simply see our role as tinkering with the capitalists' system. We should fight to revolutionise the education system, to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Despite many 'innovations' over the years, has the education system really been transformed? The blackboards may be gone, but is the PowerPoint projector not just a jazzed-up version? Opportunities to create more active learning opportunities have often not been developed, and will be further sidelined with the impact of school funding cuts.

We are left in many cases with what pioneering educator Paulo Freire described as 'banking education'. Knowledge from an all-knowing 'expert' is deposited into the student, rather than learning coming from dialogue, debate and criticism.

The freedom for teachers and students to explore their interests and follow tangents is restricted by a rigid curriculum. In some schools now there is an expectation that teachers should be at the same stage of the same lesson simultaneously, regardless of the class in the room or what discussion might throw up.

In 2017 we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Russian revolution, where many of these same questions confronted the Bolsheviks as they fought to build a new society. The old 'book school' of the Tsar was to be replaced; innovation and experimentation was to be encouraged.

Polytechnical

One area where much attention was directed was around the introduction of 'polytechnical education', an approach long-discussed within the Marxist movement. Put simply, polytechnical education foregrounded the importance of human labour and production in the learning process.

Vladimir Lenin, one of the leaders of the Russian revolution, gives the example of the study of electricity involving regular visits and lessons within a power station. This enables students to see electricity not as an abstract concept, but an integral part of the modern society they live in.

There are numerous opportunities in society for learning to be approached in this way and not confined to a set time period within the school building. The school could become the organiser of a student's learning, rather than its only provider.

Finland plans to replace rigidly defined subjects in the next few years with more thematic learning. This will provide interesting opportunities for study and discussion. Finnish students will take courses like 'Working in an English café' in order to learn a range of skills and concepts within a 'real life' situation.

It is important here to not confuse the arguments for a rich and varied learning experience with those for a purely 'vocational education'.

There can be a tendency for often well-meaning arguments to be made for alternative provision for students who are deemed not to be 'academic'. This effectively means preparing young people for a set employment path as a specialist in a particular area.

We should argue for young people to be introduced to a variety of practical skills and to experience real work situations, but not be deprived of learning in other areas. People should have the opportunity to develop as rounded human beings and the education system should support that. This is an important facet of the fight against the Tories' proposed expansion of grammar schools, and also campaigns to defend and extend adult education.

Learning should be open to all, throughout life, and not just as a crash course prior to employment.

Play

These debates rage around the education of some of our youngest students too. Any good early-years teacher will tell you that much of students' early learning comes through play - through playing roles and experimenting with ideas as part of a social interaction with others.

Even in early years, that approach is under threat from standardised testing - a similar theme running through education - but it should form the basis of all learning. Students' creativity and curiosity should be given a forum to be explored throughout life.

Some of these ideas are present within the independent sector, like the Montessori Schools. They should be trialled and introduced within state education, under democratic working class control and management.

For these ideas to bear fruit, a fundamental change in the running of education would be required.

Schools would need greater autonomy to experiment and embed teaching methods which worked, and this would require genuine democracy. The day-to-day running of schools would need the input of elected teachers, students and representatives from the local community to ensure schools served the whole community.

A massive injection of funding would be required to train the number of teachers necessary to bring down class sizes, and allow for the teaching approaches previously discussed. With proper funding, schools could become hubs of their community; open to all, to provide wide-ranging, high-quality education, plus clubs, trips and other community functions.

While fighting to defend past gains, we will continue to look ahead to a future where no one's left counting the days until the school holidays.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 14 December 2016:


Socialist Party news and analysis

NHS crisis: we're fighting back!

End the Tories' war on the working poor

Amazon workers living in tents

Pfizer drug extortion - nationalise big pharma!

Trust in politicians reaches all-time low

No to home seizures for care bills

Them & Us


What we think

Establishment EU crisis deepens - fight for a socialist Brexit


A socialist programme for education

What kind of education?

Education for all - not exam factories


International socialist news and analysis

CWI: opportunities for substantial growth


Workplace news and analysis

Glasgow Labour leaders deluged with protests

Victory for UPS parcel workers

Nationalise Tata Steel to save jobs and pensions

Bin workers strike against draconian management

Derby TAs to strike against pay cut

Southern: back the strike, nationalise the railways!


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Birmingham Labour: Corbyn supporters need not apply

The Socialist Party and fighting women's oppression

Doncaster: cuts give rise to 'tent city'

Scrooge Tory council confronted over treatment of homeless


Comment and review

It's the bumper Socialist 2016 quiz!

2016 sounds for your stocking

The Socialist Inbox


 

Home   |   The Socialist 14 December 2016   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Schools:

triangleOpposition to new academy school being built on Leeds playing fields

triangleTeachers, students and parents demand an end to the schools funding crisis

triangleSchools "can't go any further" - stop the cuts: set deficit budgets now

triangleNasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

triangleOne in four teenage girls depressed - crisis made worse by cuts

Education:

triangleEast London Socialist Party: How can free education be won?

Students:

triangleCardiff Socialist Students: Socialism and the struggle for LGBT rights

triangleMarch for free education! We demand a future!

School:

triangleWe can win the vote at 16!

triangleYoung Socialists launched in Greater Manchester

Teachers:

triangleSchools and teaching: A perfect storm of cuts, underfunding, excessive workloads and low pay

Capitalism:

triangleWhy I joined the Socialist Party: "I started to question whether there was a better way"

Young people:

triangle4,800 young people hurt after officers 'restrain' them

Socialist:

triangleManchester Socialist Party: Solidarity meeting - hear from Manchester strikers

Revolution:

triangleCaerphilly Socialist Party: Women and Revolution

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns

16/11/17

Sheffield

Sheffield Eastern Ave Job Centre strike ends

16/11/17

Virgin

Virgin train workers vote for strike action over pay

15/11/17

Students

March for free education! We demand a future!

15/11/17

Plymouth

Plymouth PCS members fight relocation threat

15/11/17

Virgin

Virgin train workers ballot for strike action

15/11/17

Carlisle

Carlisle socialists campaign against Universal Credit

15/11/17

Haringey

Corbyn must challenge pro-gentrification council leader or others will

15/11/17

Socialist Party

Why I joined the Socialist Party: "I started to question whether there was a better way"

13/11/17

Manchester

Strike wave continues with 49 walkout days by housing workers

10/11/17

RMT

Strikers picket the South Western Railway network

10/11/17

Merseyside

Huge support for strikes of bus drivers and train guards

10/11/17

Socialist Party

Highest ever ticket sales for Socialism event

9/11/17

Pay

Serco - not fit for purpose

9/11/17

Rail

Fight to keep guards on trains continues despite setback Aslef deal

8/11/17

Birmingham

Brum meeting celebrates centenary of 1917

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
photo: GMB

triangle22 Nov Budget: Lying Hammond says no unemployed

triangle21 Nov Zimbabwe: Mugabe gone - but his regime remains in power

triangle15 Nov March for free education! We demand a future!

triangle15 Nov Tories on the brink - kick them out!

Socialism 2017

triangle14 Nov Socialism 2017: Organising to fight back

triangle13 Nov Strike wave continues with 49 walkout days by housing workers

triangle10 Nov US: Historic vote for Ginger Jentzen campaign in Minneapolis

More ...

triangle22 Nov Caerphilly Socialist Party: Women and Revolution

triangle22 Nov Cardiff West Socialist Party: How do Marxists analyse the world?

triangle22 Nov Salford Socialist Party: 70 years since the partition of the Indian subcontinent

triangle22 Nov Tower Hamlets Socialist Party: Organising for socialist change

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2