John Walsh: 'The classroom of the future will be very odd if the Tories have their way'

Tales of the City

Share
Related Topics

Sit up straight, Binns Minor, and do your breathing exercises. Face the front, Farquarson, you wretched child, and adjust your diaphragm. Cease texting your ladyfriends, Gibson, and fill your lungs with ozone ... "

How odd the classroom of the future will be, if the Conservatives get their hands on it. And how will our children react to being inducted into new subjects? (What did you study today, Oscar? "We had Emotional Learning until lunch, then a woman came in with a baby and taught us about Roots of Empathy. Can I have some fish fingers?")

Did you read about Michael Gove, the shadow secretary for schools, and his vision of education in the future? He is keen to break the stranglehold that local authorities currently exert on state schools, and wants to throw schools open to new management.

While he drafts his new Education Reform bill, Gove and his advisers have been talking to the progressive International English School in Sweden, and have asked the French government to help them set up schools styled on the dead-posh Lycée Français in Kensington, London. Gove has also called on the actress Goldie Hawn to offer her thoughts, and is hoping for the support of President Obam–

What? Yes, that Goldie Hawn, the former ditzy, giggling, bikini-clad comedienne on TV in Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In in the late 1960s, turned Oscar-nominated Hollywood sweetheart in movies such as Private Benjamin, Death Becomes Her and The First Wives Club. She's an unlikely ally of the somewhat straight-laced Gove, but appearances are deceptive.

Hawn may seem as daft as a bottle of crisps, but she's a busy philanthropist, especially when it comes to the education of children. Though raised a Jew, she has embraced Buddhism and a raft of quasi-religious beliefs, and through her charity, the Hawn Foundation, endorses a Buddhist technique called "mindfulness training" and a programme called MindUp that she invented in Vancouver some years ago.

This is what Gove would like to see introduced into British state schools. It's a jolly rum business. MindUp has nothing to do with numeracy or literacy. It teaches children about the brain and how it works; it gives them breathing exercises, to learn how to calm themselves and focus their attention. In that way (the brochure says) "they feel empowered when they can manage their emotions and make better choices". All this is part of a larger concern called Social and Emotional Learning, which is now taught in American schools as assiduously as the three Rs.

Whether you welcome this stuff as a giant step in the teaching of social responsibility, or dismiss it as a footling distraction from filling your child with facts about artesian wells and the Russian revolution, depends on you. But how odd to find the Conservative party embracing something so resolutely un-traditional and new-fangled. Or is it? Look closer, and it starts to sound a bit alarming. A testimonial on Goldie's website describes one of the little boys, sorry, empowered juvenile citizens, who went through the MindUp baptism. Here he is: "A kindergarten student who was being bullied in school was moved to another class. Recently this student had contact with his previous class and classmates. Apparently he spent some time thinking about what had happened. While in the car, he told his mom he knew why the other boy bullied him ... he said the boy did not use his prefrontal cortex to make good decisions and he often acted that way because of his amygdala. His mom was amazed ... and told the teacher and parents at school." I'm not a bit surprised. If I found a nine-year-old talking about his flipping amygdala, I'd call the cops. If one of my children started speaking like a midget pop-psychologist, I'd hunt down the perpetrators with a ninja flail.

The Goldie programme is meant to reduce aggression and increase empathy among the students, to keep them focused on their work, on learning and getting on, to turn them into good little citizens. It has no truck with naughtiness, spirit, anti-authority stances or a refusal to join in, all of which are healthy childish responses to being told what to do. No wonder Gove is so keen on this smoothly dirigiste doctrine. And how strange to find Hawn mixed up in the kind of thing we've have laughed ourselves silly at, back in the days of Laugh-In, when she was our dream girl.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick
 

Something wrong with the Conservative Party’s game plan

John Rentoul
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing