I’ve noticed over many years in the classroom that when students enter the physics or chemistry lab, they expect to be taught facts, and the teachers duly oblige by providing copious evidence from textbooks. But when those same students come to me to consider matters of theology, politics and philosophy, they generally take the view that they can choose what they like best, because just about everything that Hilton goes on about is mere opinion or speculation, if not total fabrication. If it feels good and brings serenity, it must be good and serene. Whatever they choose to believe is true, and truth is consecrated in the mind, just above freedom. Continue reading →
The 1970s were a dispirited, discordant and fractious decade of industrial unrest, strikes, blackouts, three-day-weeks, piles of unburied corpses, and kerbsides strewn with mountains of uncollected rubbish. I didn’t care: I wasn’t even really aware. I used to love power cuts because they meant darkness and adventure. I was far too young to worry about wages, fuel shortages, Commie unions and inflation. I didn’t know that the country was on its knees, but I loved the warming glow of candles, and the wonder of carrying one “up the rocket” to bed. Continue reading →
The world has lost one of the greatest musical virtuosos of our time. The renowned and charismatic conductor Claudio Abbado died on Monday. You only have to contemplate his Mahler 9, Bruckner 9 or his Brahms 3 to appreciate the breadth of his interpretative capacity and the profound grasp he had of musical form. Listen intently to the pulse of his sound: the silences have a cavernous depth; crescendos soar in emotional ecstasy; and his adagios creep toward heaven almost in communion with the divine. He was as serene on the podium as he was silent in life: music was his worship, and that was the gateway to freedom – spiritual and political. For him, no movement should distract and no words deflect from the sanctity of sublime orchestral harmony. Continue reading →
Matthew Arnold – poet, essayist and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools – famously wrote that culture is concerned with knowing “the best that has been said and thought in the world”. This has become the leitmotif of Michael Gove’s educational revolution: if children are not exposed to the classics of literature, music, theatre, dance, film, painting, sculpture – what we terms the “fine arts” – then society is impoverished, civilisation declines and future generations are inculcated with nothing but the banal, mediocre and vulgar.
Out go TS Eliot, Wordsworth, Elgar, Monet and Mozart; in come Carol Ann Duffy, Damien Hirst, Russell Brand and Madonna. Critical thought is abandoned for formulaic answers – who needs epistemology when you’ve got a WH Smith’s revision guide? And academic rigour is replaced with emotional intelligence – what’s the point of straight-A*s if the child has low self-esteem? Continue reading →
The name of Adonis will go down in the history of education in England as one of the most reforming and far-reaching ever – right up there with Forster, Balfour, Butler and Boyle; names which have become synonymous over the years with their respective legislative acts. This achievement is all the more astonishing since Andrew Adonis was only an advisor, then head of policy, and then a minister: he was never Secretary of State, and yet his name eclipses dozens of those who have carried that brief.
While Tony Blair and Gordon Brown steadily gnawed their way through six education secretaries who issued 14 separate acts of parliament, along with a seemingly endless stream of white papers, green papers and flowery reports, Adonis was quietly beavering away in the background to forge the academies programme – a new breed of quasi-independent state schools, designed to replace the failing, mediocre, inadequate ‘bog standard’ comprehensives, with the sole objective of raising student attainment in areas of high social deprivation. Continue reading →
According to the latest national statistics on School Workforce produced by the Department for Education, a third of teachers of Physics, Geography and German have no qualification higher than an A-level in those subjects. Over the past year, the number of teachers with a relevant post A-level qualification has declined across the board, reaching 55.3 per cent of teachers of Religious Education; 53.1 per cent of teachers of Spanish; and 27.1 per cent of Maths teachers. Around 25 percent of teachers of Chemistry, History and French have no degrees in those subjects, while for English and PE it is around 20 per cent.
Such statistics invariably elicit concerns that our children are not being properly taught, or, at least manifestly not being taught be subject specialists. This leads to the tediously predictable headlines that our teachers are, at best, under-qualified or, at worst, incompetent. And, at a time of recruitment impossibilities in some subjects, there have been calls to restrict schools’ use of non-specialist teachers, with allegations of parents being ‘hoodwinked’ into believing their children’s teachers are experts in their subjects, while all along they know no more than they read in the pages of The Guardian. Continue reading →
The very mention of the name of Enoch Powell still divides the firmaments. There is no nuanced via media of opinion on the man: either you love him as the rightest of minds, or loathe him as a deranged bigot. Either he was a prophet of God and enlightened philosopher, or the spawn of Satan and reactionary extremist. For many – if not most – his premature demise was the salvation of the Queen’s multicultural peace. For others – the undoubted minority – it was the greatest philosophical injustice since the execution of Socrates.
John Enoch Powell was born 100 years ago this year, and this collection of commemorative essays, speeches (in their entirety) and poems (some quite touching) is edited by Lord Howard of Rising with a Foreword by Iain Duncan Smith. It is published by Biteback and will set you back £25. Continue reading →
Rationing Mammon emaciates the Muses. Plato knew it, and so does Polly Toynbee: it’s just simple cause and effect. And government cuts tend to be cyclical: seven fat years of abundance are invariably followed by lean years of famine. Unlike health and overseas development, the arts seem to have no divine right of exemption from the fiscal straitjacket presently being strapped around other departments of state: it is undeniably politically easier to cut Northern Ballet than hospital beds or malaria nets. But the suggestion that a reduction of £150 million amounts to little more than a slight nip‘n’tuck in a very fleshy sector is a little misleading. Certainly, there are savings to be made in the labyrinthine, pathologically-left-leaning quangocracy which generously bestows public money more in proportion to political correctness than artistic merit. But, my goodness, we need to be a little careful before we equate the RSC with a bloated BBC; the LSO with the inefficiencies of the NHS; our museums and galleries with otiose Harrier jump-jets; or the local school film club or drama group with rubbish collection and pot-hole filling. Continue reading →