Wednesday, 8 October 2008
Is School Anti Extremism Kit A Flawed Idea?
The proposal by UK Education Secretary Ed Balls to introduce an Anti Extremism Kit into UK Schools might be generously described as 'quaint' if it wasn't so superficial and unsophisticated. A managerial gimmick introduced by a managerial mind.
This 21st century equivalent of the Road Safety kit actually models the very complaint I have with the quality of his thinking. Changing simple behaviours such as crossing the road safely might be amenable to catch phrases like 'stop look listen' but Ed Ball's 'learning together to be safe' is evidence of staggering naivete in respect of the social influence of the dogmatic philosophies that drive extremism.
In other words its the Ideas that drive the Actions. Ed's weak idea has driven a weak action in the same way that extremist thinking drives extreme action.
The other problem that Ed's idea has is that it focuses attention on symptoms rather than causes by misplacing emphasis on the wrong thing entirely. In promoting the ideas of 'learning to be safe' he recommends paying attention to the 'things' people do rather than recognising underlying philosophies that inform their thinking. This fluffy, Utopian, teacher-esque approach to recognising the 'baddy is merely an attempt at improving 'description' rather than developing any level of deep understanding of what is going off.
Far more effective would be making Sophies World by Jostein Gaarder and Changing Minds by Howard Gardner compulsory reading in Schools. In this way children could be introduced to the essentials of critical thought and quickly learn to discriminate between dogmatic ideas and healthy skeptical thinking. Once they were tooled up in this way, they would be naturally skeptical of anyone who attempted to force an extreme ideology down their throats.
UK schools would be better off if they weaned themselves off the self-reinforcing subject focus of the curriculum and started teaching children how to ask questions rather than expect to be given answers. You've only got to look at the needy 'doe' eyed undergraduate to see what our education is turning out. Someone more skilled at rapid note taking than using their brains.
Philosophy should not be regarded as an irrelevant to everyday life and a subject that is studied at university by introspective idealistic undergraduates it is far too important for that and it needn't be stuffy and hard to access either.
Curious minds need their curiosity developed not dumbed down and their fears raised by vacuous ideas like this 'kit'. The kit won't keep children 'safe and secure' and neither will merely 'bringing things out into the open' like some tree-hugging therapy group. Sorry Mr Jones this is the real world we are dealing with and the gloves need to come off. The only thing that will keep our children and society safe is a clear understanding of how with think, the assumptions we make about how the world works, and the ways that mind-sets are formed and changed, and crucially why dogmatic mind-sets are so hard to shift!