Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Empathy or traditionalism: Goldie's lesson for Gove

One of the biggest problems with the Tories' school policies is the contradiction between their desire to let a thousand flowers bloom when it comes to 'free schools' and their own strong convictions about an ideal curriculum or syllabus. Michael Gove is commendably strong in his opposition to Islamist extremism. Yet there are supporters of extremist Islamism, as well as scientologists and various religious cults, keen to establish taxpayer-funded schools. On the curriculum, Gove's support for traditionalist rigour sits uneasily with the thematic skills-based learning that many schools believe to be more relevant. And at the weekend, we learnt that a prime candidate for some of Gove's new schools is the actress Goldie Hawn, whose MindUP organisation advocates empathy rather than traditionalist teaching (although to be fair, her foundation includes some respected mainstream educationists among its directors).

However, this incongruity has finally awoken the anxieties of the Daily Mail, which has a scathing attack today on the actress's philosophy and Gove for adopting her 'unproven' approach. As Christopher Wilson writes:
Whether the Tories’ Mr Gove has checked the efficacy of this system, we wait to see; more crucial is how he can contemplate giving taxpayers’ money to a system devised and patented by an unqualified individual, whose knowledge of the special educational problems of this country can at best be rudimentary.....Surely, with ‘hundreds’ of teachers trained in the use of MindUP, the research has already been done — it either works, or it doesn’t. Apparently not. So quite what value MindUP can offer our nation’s children can only be in the far-seeing eye of Mr Gove. But when putting forward his ideas, it’ll be interesting to see how many times he comes up with the word ‘ empathy’ — for ‘empathy’ is what MindUP is all about.

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