AC Grayling: Bad Education, Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2015



hello and welcome to the festival of Dangerous Ideas I'm Julia Baird and we have professor AC grayling here to talk to us today a great treat and of course the housekeeping first of all get your phones we don't want you to turn them off anymore just to put them on silent if you're tweeting hashtag fodi we are going to have some questions at the end of the session and remember that it's if we're filming everything as well and there's four microphones that you can come to but we will leave that to the end of the question in end of the session ac grayling says to read is to fly and he's Ryan he's a distinguished philosopher I think as dedicated his life not just to the acquisition of knowledge but to examining how it helps us live and asking the right questions about the way in which we live he's also called the fifth Horseman of atheism which i think is a fantastic title and one of my favorites of his books that he's written and of course he's been prolific and he's written and edited more than 30 books so is the good book which is a secular Bible he is the master of new college of the humanities and a fellow of sin and college at Oxford his other books the challenge of things Liberty in the age of terror the God argument to set Promethean Prometheus free and I can highly recommend his new one I lost some sleep reading that last night some excellent essays his dangerous idea is about asking to have a revolution in education and suggesting but the question that I have grappled with a lot and I'm sure many many of you have which is what is education for and he will suggest that this is entirely the wrong question to be asking and I would ask you to welcome professor AC grayling did you go Thank You Venice thank you very much thank you well indeed so by my team is education and of course education is the fast subject there are so many many different things to say about it those of you who in the audience who are educators will know that there are so many theories about how we should teach about how people learn there are so many different views about what the curriculum should contain so many views indeed about who should be offered education who should be educated at the moment of course what we do is we take kids from about the age of five or six and we put them through a process that they emerge from at the age of maybe 80 or maybe twenty-one or twenty-two if they've got on to a higher education and we hope that when they come out at the other end they will be what we hope that an education will make people be and the great question that we have to address is whether the answer that we give to the question what education is for and I do by the way Judy I think that is the right question what is education for that the answer that we give to that one is in my view now the wrong answer that's what I want to try and explain I want to say something about what I think the the right answer might be but it has always been the case right the way through the history of our civilization and indeed of all civilizations really that to equip people for a full part in the lives of our societies and we have to provide them with an opportunity to be equipped to understand the nature of the world around them to be able to manipulate the tools that are so essential in our world of course the tools of literacy and numeracy and there have also been people philosophers of education educators themselves who have thought that the future of the world its peace its health very much depends upon education and there can't be any question but that they're right in our contemporary world what really does matter is that more girls should get an opportunity for education it's a very surprising and dismaying statistic to realize that there many parts of the world and the Middle East is one of them where literacy among women is only about 50% and if you think of what that means mothers who can't read bringing up children who can't therefore participate in the society around them as effectively as they might do and if you think of the impact of illiteracy in numeracy you see how serious it is many years ago I'm doing some work at the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the UN had just published a report on the effect of Education on women in Africa and the report said that just as just a degree of elementary education the ability to read and write add and subtract actually transformed the lives of many of these women they had fewer children the children were healthier the women could look after their own money they ceased automatically to be the possession of their fathers passed on to become the possession of a husband or husbands and the transformative effect therefore this enormous Lea empowering thing which is to have those basic skills of literacy and numeracy was really astonishing they gave me a desire ready to be involved in some way in enhancing the education of women in Africa and so I wanted to help to set up a school for girls but I was advised by no less a person than I an Hirsi Ali who in his name you may very well know that it would be wrong to have a school just for girls that had to be courage and men and that community would be hostile to the girls who have been privileged in that way but she said to me the the key thing to ensure the girls get an education in Africa absolutely fundamental thing is that there must be a loo with the door it's gotta be a lavatory with the door because if there isn't then when the girls reach puberty they can't go to school or their school is very badly interrupted because they can't look after their personal hygiene and it's a little thing like that off the left field a surprising thing that one wouldn't normally think about when thinking about setting up a school that would make all the difference so there are lots and lots lots of different considerations that one has to adduce to think about education across the great range of questions that education involves but the importance of education to society into its future is as I say undeniable after the first world war three of the most significant philosophers of the twentieth century in the Western tradition anyway Bertrand Russell drew big bacon Stein and Karl Popper all of them got involved in education they all thought that in order to avoid war in the future in order to try to heal the wounds that had been created by the First World War the next generations that people really needed to be given a proper opportunity for an education a better Russell founded a school Telegraph house school which became rather notorious because of his views about things he as you know was a an atheist and he believed in rationalism wanted to bring children up to be rational thinkers the story is told that the Bishop visited the school one day rang the doorbell the doors opened by a naked child and the bishop said good god and the child said there isn't one it just shows you how successful Bertrand Russell was Karl Popper was a teacher of science and the effect of being one was greater on him that it was on his pupils because he came to understand something about the nature of scientific reasoning and the scientific process which dead of course to his contribution to the philosophy of science a very considerable one good big Viking schland as you might expect was the somewhat less successful teacher and he found that his patients wore very thin very fast with his young charges and he was hounded out of a mountain village in Austria for having knocked a child unconscious again such a hard clip across the ear for not understanding something in the Tractatus logico-philosophicus that he decided to give up teaching and therefore became a full-time philosopher instead but the important point of this anecdote is that all three of them really believed even if in the end they individually and personally weren't all that successful in it that education matters that if we really care about the future of the world then we have to care about education so across that whole range of questions how do you teach how do people learn what should the curriculum contain what should a school be like what should a university be like what should the educational day be like who should be educated at what ages and why and how should we examine or not all those questions all of them matter tremendously and as a result of course there is an extraordinary babble of voices so many different theories about these things that those of you who have studied at the Teachers Training College or God educational qualifications at university will know that this this chaos really of views about things is one side of a story which is all too often matched by the chaos that comes out of government policy and what curriculums should be and how people should be taught and how school should be funded here in Australia I'm conscious of the fact that there was a controversy not too long ago about the teaching of history of Australian history and this just shows you that there is a point very tendentious difficult and delicate point about what curricula should contain so these questions are very important in burning questions and to talk about them properly would take a very long time so what I want to do instead is to focus on major philosophical question about education a question which is not altogether easy to answer unless you play intellectual pick-up sticks with it now my references to that game where you hold a bunch of sticks and then you let them go you've got to pick up each individual stick without moving the others so in order to try to get a grip on what kind of answer should be given to the question what is education for one has to do that one has got to be a little bit nuanced about it most people nowadays consciously or otherwise and certainly in governments around the world if asked the question what is education for would almost certainly pick one of the answers that has to be given as the dominating answer and to put it at its crudest at its frankest the answer that you're likely to get is this we have to educate people so that they can become successful contributors the economic life of the country they have to be able to go out there and get a job and be successful perhaps even become entrepreneurs but anyway to be useful successful employees in short they have to become good useful foot soldiers in the economic war and that is why it's important that people should be numerous why they should be literate it's important that they should be part of a a trained workforce able to understand things like for example the information technology able to master the techniques and technologies of central importance to the success of the economy now this is something which is part of the overt curriculum of many educational systems but much more importantly it's part of what's sometimes called the hidden curriculum the assumption that lies behind what's happening you know going to government thinks about how it's going to invest in education it thinks of it as an investment and it wants a return on that investment it wants education to be such that it's productive from the point of view of GDP at once that investments are to really boost the growth of the economy and this good answer to the question that education is for producing people who are going to be useful to the economy is to me not only the least important of the answers that you could give but is too often understood in a way that makes it the wrong answer to the question because the much more important answer the better answer to the question what is education for is and should be that it is for life it is for people to have successful achieving flourishing worthwhile personal lives only part of which of course is going to have to relate to what they do in the way of careers or jobs of course it's a wonderful thing if you love your job if you do a job that you really enjoy so that likely the Chinese poet who once said I leap from my bed and hastened Swift as a thirsty cat to my work well if you feel that way every morning when you get up that's a wonderful thing they have a really wonderful job that makes you full of satisfaction and a sense of movement or something really worthwhile that's great a lot of jobs aren't quite like that and and therefore we are reminded if we are in such jobs anyway that there is more to life than just work and it's those other aspects of life there's other aspects of oneself as an individual and in particular one's relations to other individuals and to the community around one that should also be educated that is to say provided with an opportunity to be enriched and enlarged so that one's view of the possibilities for life month's view about other people and one's view about the world should have very broad horizons very fresh clear prospects before it so that life can be really really worth living and that's what an education should be for and there are all sorts of things to say about that because although it's a very simple point it's a it's a very significant point in a way because a great deal follows from it and one thing that immediately follows from it is that education is not just about the period between five and twenty one education should be for life we should all feel that we are perpetual students that we are always learning always open mouth and open eyed in order to drink in as much of the world as much of the debate that there is the great conversation that humanity has with itself about the world so that one can be an intelligent auditor of that conversation and a contributor to it and if an education can make people like that if we can help them to have that enlarged and enriched view and if it is something which continues to enlarge and enrich throughout life then education will do the thing that it really ought to be doing making us grow constantly making us constantly alert now how do you achieve that kind of education well that's something which I very very firmly believe is achieved not by focusing only on those aspects of what we call education which actually aren't education but which are something equally important but different and that is training if you think about what happens in a school part of of the process is the process of training people in certain skills I mean in the skills of numeracy for example when I was at school we learned our multiplication tables by rote and in fact that was a wonderful thing we've mastered them in a sing-song fashion very quickly and very early that freed up a lot of brain capacity therefore for doing other things afterwards now if I have to multiply it just comes naturally I don't have to get out a calculator or find that I've got too few fingers and toes to be able to do the thumb orthography spelling knowing how to correctly use the terms in our language that's something else that one can be trained in being trained in the formulae and the equations in chemistry and in mathematics that's also a matter of being of being drilled of being shown how to do something given a technique and training is not quite the same thing as education think about the etymology of the word education is a very interesting false etymology that it has now you were all reading Plato in the bath last night so you will know that he had this view about the fact that we simply cannot from the very fragmentary and degenerate examples of things in the world around us ever come to any general truths about reality and therefore we must have known about reality before we were born and what happens was well is that we have an immortal soul the immortal soul is in direct contact with the eternal and immutable truths of things and when we are born we forget it all and so the process of what we call education is in fact just a process of being reminded of a bit of what we knew beforehand this is you know was called the doctrine of anamnesis which means the doctrine of under forgetting of remembering little bits of what we had known in a pre-existing state and so if you look at the word education you see that it has a Latin etymology and it comes from a or X meaning out of a Duke or a to mean to lead get our word Duke or Dux leader from that to lead out or to bring out so the idea contains in it their germs of this ancient platonic notion that we are already equipped with all knowledge and that we must bring out that knowledge by reminding people of it and you would have read the dialogue by Kato the Meno in which he demonstrates this for the slave boy who knows no geometry and he gets the slave boy to construct a geometrical proof just by prompting him with questions it happens footnote that there are other leading questions in fact but at any rate it was meant to be an empirical demonstration that this idea of leading out has remained central to the idea of education not that we any longer believe except when we are ourselves teenagers that we know everything but that we we can have grown out of us by the process of Education our capacities our talents our abilities these are things that can be fostered and and coached and this is a really important aspect of the process we train people in the basic skills of numeracy and literacy we we drill people in a knowledge of those basic equations and dates and places and capital cities and the Norman Conquest but then on the basis of that training which you begin to erect the structure of Education which involves getting people to think and to be perceptive and to start to reach out towards that thing which is even more than knowledge even greater than knowledge and that is insight or understanding knowing what the knowledge is worth knowing how to connect different bits of knowledge to other bits of knowledge learning how to apply knowledge knowing which bits of knowledge tell us that there are yet more things to know and that that's level the level of insight and understanding is what emerges during the process of the schooling and which of course is the the great objective of a higher education at university which is to bring people to the point of really making sense of what it is they they know and have learned now in our contemporary world this is a matter of the very very very first importance because now at the touch of a button and the speed of light you can find almost any information that you want on the internet so if you want data if you want facts if you want dates if you want equations you can get it just by pressing a few buttons and therefore the thing that that we we need to use education for is not so much to download from the neck top of the teacher to the neck tops of the students in the classroom those dates and facts and equations that was something that had to be done before information was so readily available now what we have to teach people to do is to be good evaluators of all that data good critical Assessors of what they read and see on the internet because this marvelous thing the internet is also a dangerous thing it's the biggest lavatory war in history everybody can scribble their graffiti on it many many aspects on the Internet are false and misleading I don't know whether you know this but the wikipedia pages many of them are under attack sometimes dozens of times a day by people who want to change or tweak or falsify information on them it said that the Wikipedia page on Israel for example is attacked several times a second and the information there has to be adjusted so there's a huge amount of tendentious nnessee of the internet is a very important thing and you can only be a good user of it if you were good at evaluating if you develop a good critical reflective nose for knowing how to make sense of what's being offered you in the way of data and of information and if you wanted an illustration of this my favorite story about how important it is to know how to handle the internet well it relates to the French philosopher they are not only levy I'm sure some of you have heard this story before Bernard is a as I say contemporary French philosopher has flowing locks not necessary to have flowing locks to be a philosopher but he has them he's very distinctive for his dress style he wears the plunging decolletage in fact I learned just recently that he doesn't have any buttons on his shirts they are opened down to his belly button I asked him one day I said Downard why do you wear your shirt open to your belly button and he answered and I quote because I'm hot anyway Barnard they're not recently published a book and in this book he quoted an unknown French thinker of the 18th century called beaucoup bo tu l Elisha to discover when the book had been printed in was on the shelves that there is no such person it been made up by some Joker on the internet and this is something that Bernard would have noticed if he had further noticed that Boat rules theory is botulism well he inaud was asked on television how on earth he could have quoted something from the internet without checking it up and with great Gallic Flair he said oh you know what he says he's good so I quote him well but that might be one way out of the problem but it's a very good illustration of the fact that you have to be very good at spotting what might not be quite the right bit of information quite the right source or quite the right validation for a piece of information that you get hold of when you look at the Internet and so that's still the forensic critical skill of being really good at making an assessment of something and evaluating something that is a matter of intellectual technique which isn't a very very important component of what it is to educate a mind to make a mind prepared and equipped and alert and able not just to get information to know how to get it but how to use it and how to make sense of it so that has to be a primary target of what we do in education today now there is no question at all that the STEM subjects is there for science and technology and engineering mathematics that those subjects are of the first importance also it's hugely important that people in our world should have competence with information technology and should be numerate and our world our economies do need engineers they do need scientists physicists and IT specialists there's no question about that either and what I'm just about to say therefore doesn't in one little iota affect the fact that we should encourage people to to know about these things to be literate scientifically I mean that doesn't involve having to be a scientist but to be scientifically literate is the of an intelligent grasp of those things that are happening in cosmology and in particle physics up at CERN in Geneva in the biological sciences which are having such a great impact on medicine for example in the neurosciences which is telling us so much more about ourselves and our brains and how they function one should have an intelligent ability to grasp these things understand them and be able to follow debates about them and if necessary when questions of science policy arise to be informed voters about them so I'm not in one way impugning the importance of STEM subjects but what has happened in our world because of the answer given to the question what is education for is that we have devalued the humanities we have paid them seem less important because they appear to be less of a direct contribution to the great economic battle the process of increasing growth and the bottom line on GDP and by the humanities of course I mean history and literature philosophy the languages classics those aspects of the social sciences psychology and sociology and law and economics that bear on the same questions which are really central to the humanities because the central question of the humanities is what sort of people should we be how should we live what should we value what's important in life and in our societies how can we build societies with social justice in them where it's possible for individuals to forge for themselves lives that are really worth living and where they can forge also that thing which is central to the very best kind of life and that is good relationships now why do I say this why are the humanities important well let me just give you the quick answer on the three central humanities of literature and history and philosophy I think they could think of it this way imagine a society that doesn't care about these things at all so the humanity is not taught in the schools or the universities there are no books of the book shops or libraries about them no programs on television about them but would that society be like if it knew nothing at all about history it would know nothing about how it came to be as it is now wouldn't know about the evolution of the institutions that it lives by we don't nothing about the experience of our forebears of the human story and what they achieved and what they failed at and why if indeed they did so it's often been said that those who know no history have very little understanding of the present and that's true and also of course the future doesn't exist we created moment by moment and the only resource that we have for trying to work out the best course into that future is by looking at our past experience I say well this by the way leaving aside the other great fact which is that history is utterly fascinating to know something about you to read history and to have an understanding of it is is absorbing and fascinating it's all the stories about about human experience but we can learn an enormous amount from them and so a society that didn't care about history it was ignorant about it would be in a very impoverished in shallow state so that's why our educational systems should want people to be historically sensitive historically literate to have a sense of context now I imagine that this society doesn't care about literature either doesn't care about the stories we tell one another about what it is to fall in love or to experience grief or to have great ambitions and to strive to realize them if you think about your literature is a very highly organized form of gossip and we all love gossip we all want to know about what other people are doing and why what they felt and what happens behind closed doors and this is the marvelous thing about the future however energetic you are yourself you can only live your own life and have direct experience of the lives of those close to you but literature provides open windows into many many many different kinds of lives and experiences it enables us to see across the great panoply of human experience and human nature if we are reflective and sensitive readers and teach us to be so much more sympathetic and generous in our understanding of other people and help us to be tolerant can help us to get some insight into ways of life and experience that we might never ever ourselves encounter directly literature is an extraordinary resource it's an extraordinary opportunity really to get into the minutia and the details into the into the blood and sweat of human reality and extending thereby our view of those things so the society that didn't care about the future about these stories about the narratives that we are all so hungry for all the time is a society which was blinded itself to an immense resource of possibility for understanding ourselves and our other people and finally we imagine this society doesn't care about philosophy so it never asks itself questions about the nature of knowledge of reason of right reasoning of the good of lives worth living of value as never questions the assumptions on which it rests and one of the great things about philosophy is that it asks us to challenge assumptions it asks us to dig down on unearth the assumptions on the basis of which we act and and believe I give you an example of this and I am an Oxford person myself I was a student then I taught there for many years and you've all heard of Oxford some of you may have heard of that other place on the in the damp meadows of eastern England which i think is still called Cambridge now one thing that Oxford people notice about Cambridge is that Cambridge people think that what happens in Cambridge applies to the entire universe I'm a chief example of this is Isaac Newton he was sitting in one of those that Meadows one day when an apple fell on his head it made him look up at the sky and he saw the moon and he asked himself the question why doesn't the moon fall to the earth and thereby began a long curly tail which eventuated in the inverse square law of gravitation which like a good Cambridge man he applied to the entire universe instead of just thinking the gravity I mean you know there's a lot of gravity in Cambridge but why do gravity just applied to Cambridge he implied it to the entire universe so now you might want to ask him if you have the opportunity to say Isaac why did you generalize the law of gravity the entire universe Oh buddy answer well he would say well it's because the universe is the same everywhere you use the Spay poetic turn of phrase the universe is homogeneous throughout its parts so you say to him but I think why do you think that knowing is you know now of course because the other thing you were reading in the bath last night was quantum physics and cosmology so you know that the laws of physics don't apply across the whole universe on the event horizon of a black hole or at any singularity like the Big Bang the laws break down so you know you did Newton is wrong so you say to him but why did you assume that why did you assume the universe is the same everywhere but he would say has he does say in the Principia the universe is the same everywhere because it was created by God and God is an economical workman meaning that God would just make the universe the same everywhere even though having eternity you might expect a bit of variety well there are three great assumptions at least three great assumptions lying behind what Newton says first that there is a God secondly that she created the universe and thirdly that she's an economical work person by the way people do ask me well I say she why I say she I say it's just to keep you awake well so there are three great assumptions and the really significant thing about them because of course they're independently debatable assumptions but the really interesting point is that they are non-physical assumptions non-scientific they're theological assumptions and yet they lie in the very foundation stones of classical Newtonian physics and that's a surprise and that surprise is repeated again and again and again when you look at the kinds of beliefs the thoughts the bases the foundations of things that we think and do in our society so to dig up those assumptions is that the first importance and that's why philosophy matters so this society were imagining which never does that gives us the narrowness the lack of depth there lack of perspective that results from not knowing what the humanities offer us and this is why four lives that are good for lives that are I mean good in the sense of fulfilling and worthwhile not necessarily good in the narrow moralistic sense but lives that are really good to live one needs to have that horizon of view that the humanities offer and it is no surprise to me at all that one of the great institutions for the study of STEM subjects Imperial College at London has introduced for its students what they call the co-curriculum which is a strand of humanity studies alongside their technical studies in order to provide that widening of you now many things that the humanities address are things that don't have easy or black and white answers and sometimes of course they don't have answers at all that's a characteristic sometimes of for the soffit of inquiry but then you know watch the French poet Paul valéry said about this matter he said during difficult day a Lumiere a difficulty is a light may in difficulty create some on table a loose relay an insurmountable difficulty is the Sun so what you tackle ideas that are hard when you tackle questions that are difficult when you look at the complexity and ambiguity of human experience that the humanity is address you learn so much about others and about oneself and about the world around us that is what the humanities offer so the answer to the question what is education for has to be must be it is for life it is for the living it is to provide us with an opportunity to think and to see to become critical and reflective to have that broader vision which enables us to imagine more and to see into other lives to be more tolerant and embracing to be more generous than our understanding of things but also ourselves to live with the kind of imaginative courage that a human life should be premise thanh now i love to tell this and i close on this little anecdote now and i'm sure you you're all very familiar with this but um when you read your Herodotus probably this being a Sydney audience in the original Greek you will remember that he tells the story of so long the great lawgiver of Athens who visited King Croesus of Lydia richest man by far richest person by far of ancient times he would love to have his visitors taken to the treasury there to see you've great panoply of wealth that he had that he would ask is visitors who in your opinion is the happiest person in the world and the visitors who say were you because you're so rich in your king but Solon said I knew somebody back in the suburbs in Athens there Croesus was a big cross what you choose a commoner over me and so and said yes because I don't know whether you're happy by the way in those old days happiness meant something different from today happiness in those days meant something really you know well doing and well-being what Aristotle called eudaimonia and nowadays of course if we put enough prozac in the public water supply rule so we have we have a different conception of happiness so that's what Sola meant so done with you're happy but I do know you should think about it you should educate yourself into a into a consciousness of how important it is to think about it and you know why because of the brevity of life that a human life is less than a thousand months long 300 of them were asleep another 300 months ago in the supermarket were waiting for a bus so you have 300 months to live with all the vividness and passion that a human life should be full of now that sounds rather dispiriting especially when you start start doing a bit of mental arithmetic and thinking heck I've used a few of those months up already but but here's the thing if you are a reflective attentive consumer of the riches that the humanities offer us if you've had the opportunity to read literature to know something of history to think and discuss and debate philosophically then you turn those 300 months into 3,000 months into 300 years because time is not time its life its experience and the more richly you experience and the more richly you live but longer you live the fuller your life is it's so easy to prove this but I can say this to audiences in England it's a little more difficult for audiences in Sydney but if you go to Paris for the weekend while you're there it feels as if you're there forever it's wonderful when you get home again afterwards feels if it's gone like a flash what does this tell you it tells you that time is very very elastic around experience and so if your life is full of rich experience it is a hugely expanded in time and where do you get that rich experience from you get it from knowing stuff from insights from having read and thought and listened and heard and discussed that's what makes you live all those centuries when you're living your 300 months and by the way guys 300 months is 25 years is not too bad thank you very much thank you that was so wonderful can you just say again in French so I can just learn how to say it and drop it into conversation myself the insurmountable difficulty is the Sun an insurmountable difficulties the Sun yes because it's so illuminating it's very so much light on the whole area around that problem so if you don't come on announcer he say it for me again in French in French so he said in difficult day and Lumiere I so good okay um viola preparing for questions and we will of the questions I'll just kick off quickly so much to think about there I have been reading your book court with a very narrow title the challenge of things and either you talk about teaching and you say in short you know a good teacher inspires what is it that's the most important characteristics do you think of a good teacher well I think that's it actually it's the making people want to learn so if you can if you can make your your students your pupils hungry to know more they really want to get that they want to take it further than that that's the inspirational bit that's the thing that is in the end the great outcome of it because as I often say to people and I really really believe this I think teachers are among the most important people on the planet because they can make the big and make they can create wonderful lives you really create wonderful possibilities and lies to people if they can switch them on and you can see this if you think of a bad teacher somebody who who turns somebody off a subject which they might have really contributed to or they might have you know got so much out of if they'd enjoyed it and that's a tragedy to lose that kind of possibility but a good teacher and you know one of the tragedies of our world now is this that teachers were always until relatively recently anyway and you know part of the sort of natural aristocracy of our world you think about an English village in the nineteenth century The Vicar and the doctor and the teacher would be the top people in the village of respected and admired and really necessary to the life of the community now alas that we have a world where everything is measured by how much you earn the teaching profession like the nursing profession like so many other of the really really important professions are not considered in the way that top football players or CEOs of companies or something are considered they are thought of as you know the kinds of jobs are desirable because they have a lot of money attached to them the idea of a vocation of doing something which is intrinsically valuable is really you know so instinct with value as teaching is and now is is less well regarded than it was and that's a tragedy I could not agree more okay so we'll open it up for questions we have one two three and four and I'll start with number three hi I'm studying to be a teacher and I don't care about money it's a calling for me but one thing I have noticed is a lot of the students studying alongside me have come straight from school into University and the the attitude is that it's about marks and it's about passing your subject and there's no sense that we're doing something that's in that's incredibly important and that we owe it to our students and we'll be using this information I was wondering if you had any comments on the model that you just go straight from school to university to back to school to be a teacher and whether there is a deficiency in that model because it's something I'm wondering about well there are two separate points in what you say I mean I do think that there are people who having had such a good experience as pupils in education might be so turned on to the whole idea of Education and wanting to give back that they should go straight from school into into being teachers I mean I think that the burden of your point which is that perhaps having some experience outside and being able to bring more into the classroom when you get there eventually could be a good thing too but it does depend on individual so I think it would be that the answer is for some great to go straight from one back into education father's maybe a few gap years doing something else yes but tucked away in your question was this this other thought that I'm teaching for exams teaching to a curriculum you know if I had my way I would abolish exams altogether she's I think I think that amount of time wasted getting people ready for exams you know which could be used to education to encourage them for people to read and think well I mean probably in the tens of thousands of years of Education or wasted doing that and I'm here I think you're a bit better off than we are in the UK but in the UK in England or Wales anyway kids do GCSE at 16 a s levels at 17 a levels of 18 first-year exams at 19 year four five or six years they're doing nothing but preparing for exams and that is not education thank you can come before young students in the public education system aren't exposed to Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection until year eight yet they are exposed to religious explanations to the origin of man since kindergarten I was just wondering if you could reflect on that and well how much time do we have I mean if we were if we had concentrated on the title of my troll bad education one of the things I would have to say is that religious education and especially the asymmetry in the in the case that you've just eloquently described this is a very very important point now I've said in other context that we should stop religious education of course it's important that at school university people should know about the religious traditions in our world they have after all been a little bit too influential in history so we need to know about them but they should be put into the context of the history of ideas in general so you just start from what we understand the very earliest views of our universe the development of the mythologies all the different many many different religious traditions there are the philosophical traditions and the rise of science and our better understanding of the world and this would put it into it into context but I agree with you I mean there is a very very significant skewing of the point that if you are taught at the age of five about Adam and Eve and you only get to two Charles in the air eight that is a bad thing alright and we've only got seven minutes left now so if we just kick the questions short but hopefully we can fit in a couple more proposal writing thank you very much for your speech and sort of bearing on that previous question I'm actually associated with the ethics centre which co curates this event one of the major achievements of the ethics Center is to create ethics classes in the New South Wales primary schools from K to sixth I think it's the only place now on the planet that actually enables that to happen so feel free to react to that when you in your point about giving people life skills we believe that's a pretty critical subject that kids now get in New South Wales from K through six or they have at least SX access to it my questions slightly different you've talked a lot about the content of Education I have a question about the process and in particular intensive cognitive training you may have heard of techniques like the Aerosmith technique and people who focus not so much on content but just training the brain pick me up on the ideas of brain plasticity and just improving the engine of thinking as part of the education system yes thank you and by the way I'm a tremendous admirer of the of the ethical Center and what it does in New South Wales I think that's completely wonderful and by the way there's a reporting point associated with that which is that very often people conflate or confuse the idea of ethics and morality now of course moral outlooks moral views can be a part of ethics although you notice that the the great ethical debate in our civilization is one about the nature of the good and of what really does matter and it's the attempt to answer the Socratic question what sort of people we should be whereas the moral pendulum goes backwards and forwards and some periods of history a more puritanical some are more libertine fact you look across the landscape the last four hundred years and you see how far the pendulum swings in both directions and you can see from the hairstyle that I was around in the 60s when the pendulum was in about the right place now it's it's heading towards a much more puritanical view of things which which worries me so it's not about morals but it is about reflection on life and how to live it and what sort of person could be and how we should relate to others and I hugely admire what happening here in New South Wales that you guys do so I'm all for that on the business about cognitive training but in fact in what I was saying in my talk there about critical thinking of the ability to reflect having a good nose for noticing something being very observant and attentive being alert I mean that that's one thing there's one way of putting this and I think about this you know about my students of my college at my great ambition for them is to have turned all the lights on for them and sometimes put it by saying what I really want to do is to pimp their ride you know so when they come out of the other end they're they're so switched on that they notice things and they're and they're very very good at scrutinizing them and challenging them with good questions and that ability to be critically reflective in our world today is more important than it ever has been okay alright the last one number two Thanks Thank You professor grayling for your presentation um you touched a little bit on classical languages and the classics it's only if you could reflect a little bit on their place in the curriculum I think they're included as a little bit under emphasized as you said there's a part of the humanities and if you could reflect on perhaps where they should be he emphasized in the curriculums well do you know up until relatively recently at what let's say 75 or 80 years ago and people who were educated largely in the classics at the ancient universities in England at Oxford and Cambridge was sent out to run an empire in a Burma and India and what have you and you might think to yourself well how the heck did that work I'm how can you know a bit of Latin and Greek help you to do that well when you look into a classics curriculum see what you're reading you're reading history you're reading philosophy you're reading literature you're reading about great generals about statesmen about the history of the Roman Empire a study in the classics is an almost complete study of almost everything that you need to know to go out there and run an empire and it is it is so rich and full and so so much insight and so much of what we are today stems from that I mean occasionally people talk about Western civilization being a Christian civilization well actually when Christianity became the dominant outlook of Europe in about the fourth century that was nearly a thousand years after Socrates and for most of what matters to us in our intellectual life and our institutions and our thinking has come to us from classical ándale Anakin and Roman antiquity and a real knowledge of those things was so deep in our view of ourselves today that in my humble opinion the teaching of Latin and ancient Greek should be compulsory to the age of 55 Oh if we extremely quick number three we can fit one in going on the first question what H we start teaching children about all religions so that when they're in the very early is they can understand there are other religions and other beliefs if I'm very much with you on that one and as I said a moment ago about teaching the history of ideas in general of which religions would be one strand and would be put into the context of the overall history of ideas and that should be something that comes a bit later when the students are better equipped with a more general knowledge of history and geography and also able to appreciate some of the varieties and nuances there are in competing ways of thinking about the world so it really is something for the more mature mind but it's of the first importance that these different traditions of thought should be in the context of other traditions of thought what we tend to do in our schools is we fill it out one strand in the history of ideas that's the history of religion or religious studies and we thereby privilege them and make them seem to our students to be more important than the others and they most certainly aren't Anthony it's been a great pleasure and an honor to have you here today you know you've been distantly before and you know us very well we do read Herodotus in the original Greek most of us we do read Plato in the bath and if we finish now of course we have the challenge of things to read in the bath because but that promise of pimping our rides how can we resist professor grayling will be signing books in the foyer outside so can we now just thank him for speaking to us today Oh

31 thoughts on “AC Grayling: Bad Education, Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2015

  1. Actually, biblical Intelligent Design and biblical archaeological fact is censored out of public education, and Darwinist religious myth enjoys a monopoly in that forum.

  2. Belief in the deity of Jesus Christ, His Gospel and the historisty of His resurrection seems to be the dangerous ideas since every idiot in the world seems aggressively opposed to these ideas.

  3. AC Grayling is big on tall tales, and weak on educating himself on the real history of the anecdotes he so happily regurgutates

  4. It's ironic to think that some still see the present course of human events as indicating we humans have a future. Only a hopeless optimist would do so. Endless war; toxic pollution; rising corporate fascism; government corruption; an antiquated voting system; joblessness; rampant racism; worldwide austerity….and on and on. In forty years the future can only be as black as spent oil if our present insane course continues.

  5. Here is a dangerous idea: go to the top of a multi-storey car park and then roller skate round the edges …

    Dangerous or what!

  6. Grayling is a dope! If everything in our universe is the result of godless evolution, then all ideas about God and religion are the result of that evolution; and if you cannot trust what that evolution tells you about God then you cannot trust what it tells you about anything! In Graylings universe there is no truth, there is no knowing, no logic, no reason….I reject his anti-intellectual claptrap.

  7. It is not an assumption, that Newton's theory of gravitation applies to the whole universe (as Newton could observe it), because it made correct predictions about the movements of planets and comets (except the deviations of Mercury which were explained by Einstein). And Neptun was discovered by application of Newtonian gravitation to deviations of the path of planets under the assumption, that Newtonian gravitation worked in the whole universe known at that time. I think he was aware that his assumption that something is universal is a hypothesis that holds as long as it is falsified, though he didn't know Popper. The hypothesis of the of a paradigm has nothing to do with religion. But another interesting thing about Newton is, that he thought, that the fact that he could not explain why the planets are moving almost in a plain, was evidence for God.

  8. An Atheist talking about God is like a hard line feminist talking about marriage. People just love to babble about things they know nothing about.

  9. There are only 2 fools remaining on this planet and this AC Grayling is one of them.
    Never trust anyone who seeks to convince others there's not a creator according to their personal philosophy and the other is not to trust anyone who claims the contrary according to their personal philosophical or religious insistence likewise.
    Knowledge is powered by a firm awareness only of truth. -silly debate obviously!

  10. Oxford Breeds Super donkeys carrying holy Books. None of them know what Yeshua or Yeshiva stands for? Not for saviour but …..

  11. If ACG’s groupies have stopped – I think it’s time for the prosecution to briefly sum up:
    ACG assumes he and others who agree with him have the right to impose on others. They believe they have superior knowledge based on expert status. They believe they know better than all the accumulated wisdom of all people, groups and institutions.
    They use the power they have to impose systems of control on others and claim superior knowledge in all cases, places, times and circumstances. ACG is, by the way, an atheist. Sounds like he’s found a new god to worship.
    These experts know what’s best for your son. They know him better than you do. This is why he is now subject to modular exams. Such ‘examinations’ favour girls. Linear exams favour boys, who have more obvious autistic traits than girls and so outperform girls when it comes to recalling streams of information.
    For ACG and others, education isn’t education. Actually, education is fairness – because things are not the things we think they are. We ignorant masses are too stupid to know such sophisticated truths. Girls need a hand up, but we also need a state controlled system which imposes fairness on all from on high.
    Education can, apparently, also be justice or a right or any bloody thing else we want it to be. This is how they justify this extraordinary pantomime.
    The stupidity and arrogance of ACG and his partners in crime, knows no bounds. For a century such people have shoehorned Rousseau’s deluded fables with Dewey’s screwy ideas. They make no sense – equally stupid and opposite doctrines. However, they are successfully combined and we just have to accept that. Far from being a handicap, it has proved to be a terrific strength. If one crackpot idea fails, use its opposite. Horses for proverbials. If you want to know where stupid and vicious doctrines like feminism and postmodernism came from, look to ACG and the slime that came before him.
    What matters is truth and justice. Results will take care of themselves.
    There’s more, but here I rest my case.

  12. Oh for fuck's sake!!!! What a total fucking prick! ACG, ask a real question. What is education for? What is education? What shall we… all these questions are fucking bullshit now. The state (democratic authority) owns and controls education. Any real question on education has to ask about the nature and scope of other people's authority over my choices for my child/young person and other people's authority over children and yp's choices.
    When that is done, we may ask subsidiary questions. Sad, but essentially true and becoming ever more true as the state jackboots its way into all aspects of spreading culture and knowledge to future generations.
    ACG acts like a stupid cunt! He does not even begin to start asking the real questions. Anyone impressed with this pseudo-academic, shallow and off-the-peg shit is also a stupid cunt. ACG is not stupid (nauseating yes) and he does not have to talk such bollocks. If you are impressed by this, then you are a stupid cunt too.

  13. "I sometimes think of my students what I really want to do is to pimp their ride" – now that's my kind of philosopher, intelligent and witty 🙂

  14. 7:44 Bertrand Russel's lover, & fellow linguologico philosopher, Wittgenstein knocks a kid out for misunderstanding Tractatus. lololol

  15. Before the internet there was misinformation….Thanksgiving …Columbus Day….kids are taught things not only in media but else where world wide misconceptions. There are schools in the bible belt in the US a first world country ….loch Ness monster is real without question among other things not realistic.

    To question, critical thought, and media literacy among children play….the testing drowns it out. The teacher is pressured and cannot really teach secular ideas…they can barely teach politics and religion history and literature without some parents going crazy about kids being allowed freethinkers.
    Science is given manipulation by cults homeschooling and trying to take over public schools to the point of making up misinformation pretending it is fact.

    Humans….

  16. Marxists already control education and academia. Try having a conservative viewpoint on a university campus. This "revolution" is just for further thought control of students and faculty.

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