Freeing the mind of anecdote
1 November 2012
It is one of the great misfortunes for the development of education systems that almost all politicians, political commentators and for that matter, men and women in the street, went to school.
The problem is that our memories of school are so vivid – they colour everything that happens thereafter. Some politicians are so overwhelmingly anxious to recreate their own experience for the rest of us, that they don’t consider it objectively, or in the light of proper evidence. Now, in the spirit of not throwing stones in glasshouses, I’d better examine my own experience. I know that I can make a shrewd guess that any woman who, like me, achieved a first degree in physics, will also, like me, have attended an all-girls selective school. Incidentally, I don’t recommend that strategy for turning out female physicists. I also know that my (apparently ill-founded) personal terror of the 11-plus made me vehemently opposed to high stakes external testing at the end of Key Stage 2.
Having been in many educational establishments as a teacher, lecturer, visitor and governor, my own experiences, and perhaps also those of people entrenched in such professions, have been diluted with alternative realities. So, I know never to claim that all of my stories will add up to evidence. That won’t stop me telling them, but I promise not to change the education system of the UK based on them.
I’m quite fond of the film genre (could it be called Amnesiac?) in which one of the protagonists, for some flimsy medical reason, happens to forget some or all of the essential information about themselves. This leads to all sorts of fun, such as not recognising loved ones, starting new lives and behaving oddly. Wouldn’t it be good if those who seek to change educational systems could be freed from their own memories of school? Would their spotless minds bring us eternal sunshine?
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