I was going to post something over the weekend about how Richard Desmond’s chamberpot of a business was now actively toxic to UK citizens, what with commemorating the death of Jade Goody before it happened and manipulating some of the most tragic teenagers on the planet to sell a few extra issues in Scotland. But there’s something even more insidiously awful about the Guardian’s front page this morning.
The story the Guardian is reporting is this: the education editor, Polly Curtis, has seen draft plans for a shake-up of the primary school curriculum undertaken by Sir Jim Rose, the former Ofsted chief. I haven’t seen the plans, obviously, but the drift of Polly’s report seems to be that Rose is proposing to make two rather fundamental changes: trimming down the 13 standalone subject areas into six “learning areas”; and giving teachers and schools some concrete choices about which options to teach in class. In history, for instance, schools could choose to teach either the Victorians or the Second World War.
Now, if you know anyone at all who teaches, they’ll probably tell you that the single thing the government could do to improve things would be to give teachers and schools a bit more leeway to tailor teaching to the circumstances of their schools and their classrooms (David Hepworth has a nice post on this today). So a more fluid platform on which to hang subjects, together with some options to pick and choose, seems like an eminently sensible course.
Oh, and the Rose plans apparently recommend that children should be given some teaching on “digital media” – on self-publishing, on shared knowledge, on the changing shape of how we talk, share and learn in the new digital sphere.
So what pithy concept has the Guardian chosen to illustrate this move towards a more flexible curriculum, which acknowledges that the way children consume knowledge has changed utterly in the last decade? “Kids to be taught Twitter, and Second World War no longer compulsory.”
How does this help human understanding? How does this disingenuous attempt to grab some attention on the newsstand help children, teachers or parents? Why is a supposedly intellectual institution like the Guardian succumbing to sub-Daily Mail posturing? What on earth happened here?
Well, we know what happened, of course. A front-page team and a news editor and a reporter took an interesting story. And they juiced it. They juiced it so much that a story about one thing became a story about something else. And in the process they managed to make Jim Rose – a highly-respected, experienced educationalist – look like a dad at a wedding playing with the cool kids by associating his work with Twitter, which for many is the poster child for feckless technical twiddling and twaddle.
The Express-Dunblane stuff was unconscionable, nasty and even evil. But this is intellectually ridiculous and socially poisonous. When a newspaper changes the weave of a story deliberately to gain attention – and when that newspaper is the poster-child for independent British journalism – all our arguments about the centrality of journalism and its importance are in danger of being seen as flimsy attempts to prop up a discredited profession. This is shoddy, vicious and cynical.