Old Ideas of Public Education


‘So people say we have to raise standards if this is a breakthrough, you know, really, yes we should; why would you lower them? I haven’t come across an argument that persuades me of lowering them. But raising them, of course we should raise them. The problem is that the current system of education was designed and conceived and structured for a different age. It was conceived in the intellectual, culture of the enlightenment. And in the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution.

Before the middle of the 19th century there were no systems of public education, not really. I mean you could get educated by Jesuits if you had the money. But public education paid for from taxation, compulsory to everybody and free at the point of delivery – that was a revolutionary idea. And many people objected to it – they said it’s not possible for many street kids and working class children to benefit from public education, they’re incapable of learning to read and write and why are we spending time on this? So there’s also built into it a whole series of assumptions about social structure and capacity. It was driven by an economic imperative of the time but running right through it was an intellectual model of the mind, which was essentially the enlightenment view of intelligence; that real intelligence consists in this capacity for a certain type of deductive reasoning and a knowledge of the classics originally, what we come to think of as academic ability.’

– Robinson, K. (2008, June 16) Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms. Retrieved from Ted.com

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