Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Revolution and the cult of youth

Is the Secretary for Education Michael Gove leading a revolution in English education?  I don't live and work there so I can't be sure but from what one can gather, the answer might be yes.  Some acquaintances of mine who I like and respect think this is a good thing.  I'm not so sure and can think of at least two reasons why they might want to be careful of what they wish for:

a) Monotheism has the theodicy problem and in the same way all political dispositions have fundamental questions that they find difficult to answer. I've always thought for conservatism it is this: "What do you do if your enemies come to power?"  In the Occident, the answer seems to have been neo-conservatism.  This is the political stream in which Michael Gove and his ilk stand.  I have to say, I find it extraordinary that anyone can believe that someone who berates the recipients of aid from food banks for their lack of budgetary prudence is motivated in his education reforms by a concern for the poor.  Or maybe he is, but it's a kind of liberalism (because whatever Gove is, he certainly isn't a conservative) that pre-dates the 'New Liberalism' that could be found at the end of the 19th century.  This is another way of saying that revolutions can be from the right as well as the left - and from what one can gather, Gove's tenure as Education Secretary belongs firmly in the former category.

b) Revolutions are about the annihilation of the present order.  There's more than a whiff of this mentality evident in the following extraordinary story.  A young lady, only twenty-seven years old, was appointed as head of a primary school in Pimlico, London.  Free-school guru and professional loud-mouth Toby Young denounced critics of this appointment - in a revealing phrase - as 'dinosaurs'.  Because to expect a headteacher to have either experience or qualifications is so, like, 1970s.  Oh ye unions!  The zeitgeist has dispensed with your services.  Only unions could insist on such antediluvian credentials.  I'd like to think Mr Young would re-think his attitude in light of the news that the headteacher in question has abandoned her post after only a few months into the job.  But of course he won't.  People like that never learn - they 'move on' instead.

I'm left thinking - not for the first time - where are the proper conservatives?  That she didn't have a PGCE is an issue but a bigger one for me is she was only twenty-seven!  Once was a time when no-one would have disagreed that this is far too young.  I envy her in some ways.  I would have never imagined I could have ran anything, never mind a school, when I was that age and I doubt I could even run a department now.  The fault lies not with her but with those who appointed her.  It is characteristic of those who imagine they're in the vanguard of revolutionary change; if you are all about the destruction of the present, it is inevitable that you fetishise youth and the presumption and confidence that (sometimes) goes with it.  The problems only emerge when once you've killed off (figuratively in this case) all the old guard who know how to do stuff, you find you're left only with the zealous.  Then you find zeal is only a small part - and perhaps one that isn't even necessary - of what you need to do any job properly.


@jjash said...

I totally agree with your post and I am witnessing the knowledge drain from our system in Australia. Experienced principals and teachers are taking early retirement as they have had enough of being treated with contempt. Young teachers are lucky to stay for five years. Where will this end up? Will we have graduates running schools? Being a principal requires big picture thinking, loads of empathy and a vision. The young are still getting their heads around which app to use.

Thanks for your post. Great thinking fodder.

Shuggy said...

Thanks. Had read somewhere that Australia has gone for the casualisation of teacher contracts and that, as a consequence, has a staff retention problem. Is this in anyway accurate?

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