Friday, 21 January 2011

At Last, Something for the Digestion

Minister for Education, Michael Gove, is introducing changes to the second level curriculum that, for once thank heaven!, are not being greeted as another daring move towards the future but rather, at last, as a reanimation of the past: students of Geography will be expected to know the names of capital cities, students of English the novels of Austen, students of History the chronology of kings. Those so blinded by New Labour as to think that anything Old is regressive may say what they like, this is so hopeful a development as to amount to the possibility of a reopening of the channels to education that have been so surely closing over the last couple of decades or more.

And this too, at a time when what is called "higher" education has sacrificed itself so entirely to determining the extent of its quantity and, what is not, in the New Labour target culture, qualitatively different, its "quality," that it is no longer much else but the detemination of the extent of its quantity and quality. Open the pages of Times Higher Education these days, and what you see advertised in its jobs pages are lectureships in Higher Education. No, not lectureships in the higher education of students in Philosophy, or English Literature, or Physics, but lectureships in the higher education of students in Higher Education. In these times of unprecedented university cuts, when education has become so utterly defined by targets that the survey of students' sense of satisfaction as they sit in their "Introduction to Phenomenology" class is taken to constitute the success of their introduction to Phenomenology, the university has nothing but itself left to teach its students. The question is whether students' sense of satisfaction will be taken as constitutive of their higher education in Higher Education; if so, the university may find itself hoist by its own petard. Having savaged the possiblity of education in all disciplines but itself, the university may finally, having had to turn on itself for sustenance, end in savaging the university. It is too late, now, to feel that such an end would be anything but welcome.

But perhaps there is hope in the surprising guise of Gove: hope that, as education consumes itself at the top, it opens up again, nearer the bottom, to a healthier set of foods - including the recommended daily amount of roughage that has been utterly neglected by the over-refined, over-processed offerings of New Labour; hope that what had appeared as a devastatingly over-involved eating itself to death is only the last stage in a peristalsis that begins anew, now, to improve all our intellectual diets.

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