Friday, August 04, 2006

Children: Products or People?

Jax pointed me in the direction of this one from the Guardian. Just when I imagined life was getting too full to blog atm, I can't help it, I'm back here! Couldn't let this pass.

Ooh, that article is rhetorically naughty and epistemologically dodgy, by turns. It's good on rhetorical devices that conceal the fault lines in the argument, vague about the implications of assertions, particularly in the key matter of learning theory, and apparently incapable of applying the logic leading to the first conclusion to the second instance.

The most notable rhetorical device centres around the use of the word "product". In the course of asserting that children are not, or should not be regarded as products, Prof Archard only addresses the issue of children being regarded as products *of their parents*. He does not touch upon the possibility of children being products of a school system. There is no explanation provided as to why this automatic exemption should take place. By this fallacious argument by omission, schools are automatically apparently exempted from the possible fault of treating children as products.

Without getting stuck on the matter of definitions, we need to know what the Prof. thinks he is implying by the idea of a child being a product. It seems by product that he means that someone asserts their right (whatever this may be) to control and mould someone else in order put the object of these attentions out there as some sort of representation of the maker. There is an implied epistemological point here, which is that that someone who is a product is not the master of himself; his qualities, thoughts, actions/ theories are not his, he is not able to apply critical thought to these things, nor to act freely. This because being a product implies conveying only those ideas that are imparted by the producer.

Given this definition, it seems that there is very good argument behind asserting that parents should not treat children as products. We would agree (for epistemological reasons since it is better that children apply their critical faculties to theories) that it is a very good thing that children be not products of their parents. But the thing is, this definition of what constitutes a product actually also fits precisely with the very thing that Prof Archard seems to be suggesting should be created by the school system, since he asserts that schools should seek to impart "secure values and beliefs" and this in preference to teaching the skills of critical thinking. In other words, he wants children to adopt ideas that are promoted by the school, which is the very definition of wanting to achieve a product.

It's pretty hard to see how Prof Archard is not saying that it is perfectly OK for schools to treat children as products when it is completely illegitimate for parents to do this. So how is that Prof? How do you justify your argument that children should be products of schools and not of parents? Well, he suggests that parents are much more likely to teach rubbish to their kids than schools are. JUST HANG ON a second here. How is this so transparently true? It certainly by no means follows so immediately from the assertion that schools should be teaching secure values and beliefs rather than critical thinking skills. In implying that parents are more likely to be teaching things like flat-earth theories, he implies that parents are the ones who are the sole owners of batty beliefs that do not have truth seeking qualities. But, but, but he the asserts that it is schools who should be teaching SECURE beliefs, and NOT critical thinking, the very things that are more likely to lead to the fault of which he accuses parents, ie: clearly irrational positions.

Hmmm, the thing is, it does seem to us that children be not regarded as products, (for epistemological reasons, ie: that it is better to be a free thinker since that way you can apply creative, rational criticism to theories, and generally pay attention to what you are doing in a much more constructive way), so if Prof Archard is promoting the force feeding of secure values and beliefs onto our kids, it is far better to keep children out of such an environment. Parents will only have the chance of offering critical thinking outside a liberal fundamentalist school (how it is not this, is another thing that never explained by the good Prof...despite the fact that he simply asserts it!)

Aha...someone may say, surely critical thinking is as much a secure belief and value as anything else? Well, not necessarily so. In fact, almost implicit in the notion of critical thinking is the idea that one can never be secure in one's theories, so that teaching fallabilism in the cause of truth seeking as a set of seemingly good ideas, and some that is worth sticking to for the time being, is a vastly different activity to "teaching secure beliefs."

It is arguable that secure beliefs would best serve the interests of society. I personally will stick with the idea that truth seeking, critical rational fallibilism is an apparently better way to go, and it certainly doesn't reduce anyone to a product, anywhere in any environment.


archrights said...

Hmm. We noticed this one, too, and were surprised by the selective quote from Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The opening sentence of Art 29 says that "the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential". Until the education system is achieving that, it's probably not a good idea for him to invoke Art 29 in support of his argument.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education said that: "The respect of parents’ freedom to educate their children according to their vision of what education should be has been part of international human rights standards since their very emergence.”

There's a very good reason for that: the human rights instruments were framed at a time when the world had witnessed what happens when the state has direct control of children. See eg Stalin's famous comment: "Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed."

Unfortunately human memory is short. Very odd to argue on human rights grounds against such an important cornerstone of human rights!

Ron R said...

Posted my response here:

excellent post.

JoVE said...

I agree with your point about 'secure values and beliefs' versus 'critical thinking' but note that this is NOT the opposition in the original article. Rather his argument is about 'secure values and beliefs' versus 'particular values and beliefs'. Critical thinking doesn't seem to be on his agenda at all. Nor, presumably, the agenda of the schools. (But maybe that is an assumption to far.)

Carlotta said...

Hi Jove,

Thanks for your point...I think I tried to address this point but did so very unclearly: in the article he says something like he believes that schools should teach secure values and beliefs as opposed to principles for distinguishing between right and wrong. It is these last principles that I meant to refer to as critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills do not seem to belong to the catagory of secure values and beliefs, because the theory that one's theories could be wrong is central to the theory of critical thinking.
Therefore, by his argument that he wants to teach secure values, he does seem to be excluding the possibility of teaching critical thinking skills.