Francis Beckett

Question: What sort of educator writes: "Who cares what they [schoolchildren] think or feel"?

Answer: Chris Woodhead in the current Sunday Times.

It's part of his regular column in which readers ask him questions about education.  

A reader is complaining that her secondary school daughter is being taught "critical thinking skills" and the teacher is using The Simpsons in the six week course.

"Am I being unreasionable when I ask for stronger content? Perhaps, a book"? asks the parent, archly.  Of course, books are undoubtedly also used in her daughter's school, but she doesn't mention that.

Mr Woodhead replies that children should NOT be tauight "critical thinking skills." They should be tauight "the classics of literature."

He writes: "They should not be encouraged to express their opinions on the texts. Who cares what they think or feel?"

I'm not sure I have ever heard this Stalinist idea of education expressed quite so clearly and openly before, and it's very sinister.  They're not to think, they must just be told.  Shakespeare good, Simpsons bad.  Got that? Chant it together, and write it out 100 times.  Then stand up and salute the flag. Who the hell told you to think?

It's a measure of how bad things have got that this stuff can appear in a serious paper, from someone whom some people still consider a serious educationalist.  The jackboot is never far away.