Reeling, Writhing and Fainting in Coils
It was finding out about Cambridge research on the benefits of oracy education that got me thinking. The oral language assessment has been removed from the GCSE curriculum, yet it’s differences in articulacy that are responsible for maintaining (and probably increasing, as interpersonal skills grow in importance in the workplace) the social divide. As Professor Neil Mercer notes, “British public schools, which educated many members of the present Westminster government, of course place great emphasis on developing confident and effective use of spoken language.”
So what else should we be introducing to the curriculum to equip children for modern life? Well, I think the list below would be a good start.
Let’s not succumb to the tide of post-truth thinking. We’ve seen where that gets us on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s manifested itself in people accepting the term ‘Crooked Hillary’ without following through to accepting that a millionaire who fails to pay taxes (which could alleviate some of the suffering of rust-belt JAMs) must also be crooked. I’m not normally given to Biblical quotations, but it really is a case of “the truth will set you free.”
Surely it is the most fundamental need for a species to be able to rear its young successfully? I don’t agree with the notion that this comes naturally; we need guidance. Now that we know so much more about how the infant brain develops, we should be harnessing that knowledge to turn out competent and contented individuals. A specific subject based on Sue Gerhardt’s Why Love Matters, tailored in an age-appropriate way for classes from Year 1 to Year 12, would be a good start, and it makes no odds that you personally may never be a parent, as children are the responsibility of us all, and we need to have the skills and confidence to interact with them effectively.
If there was to be only one subject on the curriculum it would have to be this one. I’d argue that the ability to get inside another’s reality and understand what they are experiencing is our chief hope for the future. We need more of these immersive installations that, for example, enable you to feel what it is like to be to be fleeing a hellish past, waiting in the cold with all your possessions in a bag to be able to cross a border into an uncertain future. Or perhaps Sony could be persuaded to build it into their next generation of virtual reality headsets.
Again, I suspect you have already guessed what’s behind the appearance of planning on my list. But history both ancient and recent is littered with woeful examples to draw on. World coffee prices, for example, collapsed in 2000, because of overproduction, leading to abandonment of farms and loss of jobs across Africa and South America. Wouldn’t you think that is something governments and NGOs could have foreseen, and applied a bit of planning to diversify crops and ensure sustained incomes for some of the world’s poorest people?
And as for our own predicament, I am convinced that Brexit is in effect the result of a failure in planning in the run-up to opening our borders with Eastern Europe. Had the Blair Government done some research as to possible numbers, and ensured that councils had the capacity (who knows, helped perhaps by a bit of an EU rebate?) to expand schools, hospitals and housing to accommodate a more regulated intake of people, we would not be where we are now.
A cohort of young adults trained to look beyond short-term goals, to explore unintended consequences, to be aware of wider context and influences could be genuinely transformative.
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None of these ‘subjects’ need cause much disruption to the current curriculum as for the most part they lend themselves to an interdisciplinary approach. Come on, Justine – what are you waiting for?