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From 1975, a lesson in how to give pupils a proper education

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THE Black Papers were a series of pamphlets attacking the excesses of ‘progressive’ and comprehensive education in Britain, first published from 1969 to 1977 in the Critical Quarterly – their name intended as a contrast to government White Papers.

They were founded by Brian Cox, lecturer in English at the University of Manchester, and his colleague Anthony Edward Dyson.

While now condemned as obsolete and irrelevant, the view of education championed in one of those pamphlets, Black Paper 1975: The Fight for Education should be compulsory reading for anyone with an interest or involvement in education and schools. 

If ever there was a panacea for the dismal and substandard education system being forced on generations of students, this is it.

In opposition to the faddish and dumbed-down approach dominant over the last 40 to 50 years, the Black Paper presents a compelling case detailing what real education involves and the most effective way to raise standards and improve results.

The Black Paper’s authors include notables such as Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch, G H Bantock, H J Eysenck and Rhodes Boyson, the former Labour-supporting headmaster who became a Tory MP and government minister.

Under the heading Black Paper Basics, the authors detail ten points which, if implemented, would save billions of dollars wasted on proven failures and provide students with a challenging and enriching educational experience.

In opposition to the belief that children are inherently good made famous in Rousseau’s Emile and championed by A S Neill in his ‘democratic’ school Summerhill, Point 1 states: ‘Children are not naturally good.  They need firm, tactful discipline from parents and teachers with clear standards.’  Children do not learn intuitively or naturally, they have to be taught.

Point 2 acknowledges the importance of competition and meritocracy in education, instead of the prevailing ethos where all are winners and teachers are told it is wrong to rank students in terms of performance.

One reason Asian students consistently outperform students in the UK in international mathematics, science and literacy tests is because tests and examinations are a normal part of school life and students are pressured to excel.

Today’s teachers are expected to be masters of their subject as well as counsellors, mentors and guides by the side, teaching everything from stranger danger, healthy eating to wellness and road safety.

As an alternative, Point 3 of the Black Paper argues: ‘It is the quality of teachers that matters’ and ‘We need high-quality, higher-paid teachers in the classroom, not as counsellors or administrators.’

In opposition to today’s classrooms, where students are taught to be politically correct in areas ranging from climate change and gender fluidity to radical feminist theory opposing the patriarchy, Point 4 argues: ‘Schools are for schooling, not social engineering.’

A teacher’s duty is not to indoctrinate students, but to teach them in a balanced and impartial way, especially in relation to controversial subjects where there are differing views and opinions.  It is wrong to use subjects such as English and history as vehicles to enforce cultural-Left ideology and groupthink.

Point 5 argues that it is vital students are numerate and literate and that the education they receive develops their abilities and interests to the fullest capacity.  For years now, the evidence proves otherwise, where too many students enter secondary school without the basics and destined to underperform.

After observing ‘every normal child should be able to read by the age of seven, Point 6 adds the qualification that teachers must ‘use a structured approach’ to literacy. 

As noted in the chapter titled Reading Instruction in America, a structured approach refers to phonics and phonemic awareness instead of a whole language model.

Whole language is based on the mistaken assumption that reading is as natural as talking and if children are immersed in a rich and varied language environment, they will eventually learn to read.  The research and the evidence proves otherwise, with generations of students destined to failure.

In addition to arguing that all students are winners, what currently passes as education opposes streaming and grouping students in terms of motivation and ability.  In England, this led to closing state-funded grammar schools that selected students on the basis of ability in favour of comprehensive schools open to all.

Under Point 7, the Black Paper argues that while motivated by an anti-elitist sentiment, closing grammar schools led to even greater inequality as ‘without selection, the clever working-class child in a deprived area stands little chance of a real academic education’.

Working-class children are further disadvantaged, according to Point 8, since without rigorous, academically-based external examinations they ‘suffer when applying for jobs if they cannot bring forward proof of their worth achieved in authoritative examinations’.

Mirroring recent debates about the lack of academic freedom in universities across the Anglosphere, Point 9 argues ‘freedom of speech must be preserved in universities.  Institutions which cannot maintain proper standards of open debate should be closed’.

One of the more egregious examples of cultural-Left ideology is its opposition to equality of opportunity in favour of equality of outcomes.  Positive discrimination, quotas for so-called victim groups and handicapping gifted students proves counter-productive, as Point 10 suggests: ‘You can have equality or equality of opportunity; you cannot have both.  Equality will mean the holding back (or the new deprivation) of the brighter children.’

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of How Political Correctness Is Still Destroying Australia (kevindonnelly.com.au)

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Dr Kevin Donnelly
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of A Politically Correct Dictionary and Guide (available at kevindonnelly.com.au)

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