Education is, of course, something on which everyone is far more expert than the professionals who dedicate their lives to it.
And they don't get much more expert than former journalist Michael Gove, the new Secretary of State for Education.
Parents are keen to run schools?
Somewhere or other (Sweden, perhaps) he came up with the bizarre idea that parents not only can't wait to run their local schools, but would also make a far better job of it than those who are doing it at the moment.
Somehow or other, he managed to sell the idea first to the Conservative party and now to the new coalition government - and has apparently already started writing to primary schools to tell them the good news.
But there are two rather serious flaws in his argument:
- Most parents only take a passionate interest in the running of schools for the very few years during which their own children are at school - as almost any chairman of school governors (or parent over a certain age) could have told him had he bothered to ask.
- Only a tiny minority of parents are willing or able to spend the huge amounts of time involved in running a school - as almost any chairman of school governors (or parent any age) could have told him had he bothered to ask.
But, as you'll see from this video clip (originally posted on webcameronuk last August), Gove's attitude towards evidence is a bit lacking in the kind of rigour that he claims is lacking in our exam system, especially when it comes to examining 'rigorous' subjects like mathematics and science. And, with an Oxford B.A. in English, Mr Gove knows a thing or two about which subjects are 'rigorous' and which ones are not.
As a former president of the Oxford Union and debating adjudicator, he also knows enough about rhetoric to know that you don't need much in the way of evidence to make an argument sound plausible. All you have to do is pick three examples that support your case, wrap them up as three questions, each of which juxtaposes two contrasting categories, and the conclusion will be obvious for all to see:
Now for some research to prove I'm right
Having 'established' that maths and science exams obviously aren't rigorous enough, Mr Gove goes on to tell us about a rather ambitious project to prove that his assertion holds true on a much wider front.
He doesn't mention what objective (or rigorous?) measurement procedures will be used to assess the quality of exams over the past hundred years - yes, 100 years. But why bother with trivial details like that when you already know in advance that the answers to your two main research questions will be "No"?
Gove's 3 Rs?
For me, the thought of anyone with such a cavalier attitude towards evidence being being allowed to meddle with something as important as education is, to say the least, extremely worrying.
It's reminded me of some lines I wrote for the first speech I ever worked on with Paddy Ashdown - for the launch of the SDP-Liberal Alliance general election campaign in 1987, when he took the platform as their education spokesman.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, the most depressing thing is that the same words apply so aptly to Mr Gove:
"When it comes to education, the Tories have come up with their own 3 R's: rigid, ruthless and reactionary. [APPLAUSE]
"Putting a Conservative minister in charge of education is like putting Herod the King in charge of the Save the Children Fund." [APPLAUSE]
Almost as depressing is the failure of the LibDem coalition negotiators to veto the elevation of Mr Gove to such a crucial job, not to mention the inclusion of his 'fast-track' Academies Bill in the Queen's speech.
See also Simon Jenkins in The Guardian: Gove's claim to be 'freeing' schools is a cloak for more control from the centre.
An interesting discussion of the schools issue is also developing HERE.