Liberal Education and the National Curriculum by David Conway
A free and democratic society demands much of its citizens, which is why universal education has been the foremost concern of every genuine liberal. In a remarkable piece of detective work, Professor David Conway traces the history of proposed school curricula from the liberal reformers of the 1860s to modern times. The common thread has been the idea that all children, whatever their backgrounds, should be introduced to 'the best that has been thought and said'. The reactionary and anti-progressive demands from some contemporary educationists to abandon the attempt to provide a liberal education for children from less advantaged backgrounds is both unjust and unwise. To limit the enjoyment of the riches of culture to a small elite who attend independent schools would be to create a divided society, with negative consequences for all. The National Curriculum has attracted criticism from different quarters: some claim that it stifles the creativity of teachers by putting them in a timetabled straitjacket; others say that the National Curriculum is too focused on traditional academic subjects that working-class children cannot relate to. Professor Conway argues that the overly prescriptive and politicised National Curriculum that we have now is not necessarily an argument for not having one at all. He cites educationists going back to Matthew Arnold whose concern for the education of the majority of the nation's children through the state system led them to call for a national curriculum of some sort. Arnold's curriculum was designed to provide a liberal education, that is to say, an education of which the primary purpose is not training for work. Rather, by introducing children to the work of the world's greatest artists, writers and thinkers, a liberal education would help them to self-knowledge (through the humanities) and knowledge of the world (through science).