The Treehorn Express
Professor G.W. [Bill] Bassett asks
Professor Bill Bassett, one of Australia’s most respected and formidable academics wrote his memoirs in 1987. He described the period of learning excitement of the 1960s and 1970s, when teachers were free to respect the intellectual, social and emotional differences between children and to innovate and teach -and pupil their pupils without fear – as the greatest period of his lifetime. They were free to teach and children were free to learn. Humanity prevailed all year round. Things were different. I have recently found that, in a post-script to his memoirs, he suggested that that good schooling needs to include a liberal component which deals with knowledge, values and skills of the citizen living in a free society. He suggested that a statement by J.H.Newman  was relevant and worth quoting at length.
Schooling “..aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the public taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspirations, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life.
It is the education which gives man a clear conscious view of his opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophisticated and to discard what is irrelevant.”
Bassett suggests that these are the sort of qualities which ordinary people must have if democracy is to become a reality; and asks…
“Is the intellectual tone of Australian society what we might expect to find after 120 years of universal education?
Certainly we are more literate. But for many that has meant little more than increased vulnerability to exploitation by those who print to deceive.
Are there signs that the national taste is being purified by the increased availability of education ?
Is our education system facilitating the exercise of political power in the sense of making democracy more widely prevail ?
How well can we see things as they are, go right to the point, disentangle a skein of thought, detect what is sophistical and disregard the irrelevant ?
We seem to have a lot of difficulty acting in this way when our interests are involved, particularly when we are electing governments. “
[see “The Educational Historian”, Vol.11 No.1 1999]
One might also ask : How democratic is the removal of the rights of parents to choose what is best for their children [e.g. the right of choice : Yes or No to NAPLAN testing]?
How democratic is it to impose major changes without an open examination of the integrity of their source [e.g. high stakes testing, charter schools, direct instruction] ?