Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tory Lessons

The Tories are proposing that school league tables should be adjusted to reflect the notion that some A-levels are "harder" than others. The subjects they think are hard are maths, further maths, physics and languages. Well I happen to have A-levels in exactly those things: maths, further maths, physics and French and I can tell you for free that they're not hard at all. Maths and physics are the kind of subjects that if you have a naturally logical brain you find very easy. I did much less work than my English-studying school mates. And French I found easy mostly because I'd spent several summers in France working before and during my A-levels.

If we really believe that some subjects are "easier" than others the solution (obviously) is to increase the curriculum for those subjects to level the playing field. As soon as we start to say that a maths A-level is somehow worth more than an English or geography A-level we are short-changing those students with a genuine desire to excel at English or geography. If the levels need resetting then fair enough - feel free to add to the syllabus for the supposedly "easy" subjects and reduce the workload for the harder ones but don't tell kids that their brilliance in art can never outshine their weakness in maths.


butterflywings said...

Absolutely agree. This is a stupid idea. It is insane to claim some subjects are 'harder' than others.

If they really think that, they should be aiming to make them the same standard, surely?

I have a friend who did English and maths at A-level, and chose to do maths at uni because it was easier - as you say, she naturally thinks in that very logical way, and also the workload was simply less as she wouldn't have to write essays etc.


Well the tories always did have 'daft ideas' but seriously certain subjects are only 'hard' because surprise, surprise we human beings are diverse and do not all have identical interests or abilities.

Tories claim media studies is a 'soft subject but fact is it is not because it involves an analytical approach. Likewise sociology is considered 'soft' but it is not since again an ability to analyse is essential.

However, certain subjects such as 'maths' are still considered masculine and subjects such as those covering humanities are supposedly 'feminine.'

But given we live in a capitalist and patriarchal society, then obviously the primary factor in respect of education is turning all girls and boys into 'robots' wherein the most important aspect is whether or not they have the necessary 'market skills.' Other skills such as 'care work' or nursing are 'feminine' and hence are still devalued both economically and socially.

Dominic said...

Maths is harder for me than English, but I think that's a fact about me rather more than it's a fact about either Maths or English.

It may however be the case that there are fewer people for whom English is harder than Maths than there are people for whom Maths is harder than English.

It's partly a matter of how easily you're bored, and what by, isn't it?

Cruella said...

Well you say that Dom but of course it depends what sort of maths and what sort of English. I'm sure even you would find simple addition easier than providing definitions for obscure medical terms. The exams simply need to be set so that they are on average equally hard for most students.

Dominic said...

I'm not so sure. Suppose we both studied more or less the same Maths and the same English at GCSE level (I didn't do Maths past AO). Suppose also that you found the Maths easier than the English, while I found the English easier than the Maths. How can this be? I'd say that it's due to biases in willingness/ability to pay attention to certain kinds of things, or enjoyment in working certain kinds of things out. (Those biases in turn might have all kinds of causes, some of which might be deeply unfair and in need of redress).

Assuming your bias and mine balanced out, that would make the two subjects statistically as "easy" as each other (suppose them graded on a "difficulty" scale of 1-5, where you grade English 4 and Maths 2 and I grade English 2 and Maths 4; they both come out as 3 on average).

But now suppose that there are many, many more people with my biases than there are with yours. That pulls the Maths "difficulty" score up, and the English score down.

If you make the Maths easier (more accessible to people who don't really like maths, or get a lot out of studying it), you might manage to re-centre that Maths difficulty score on 3, and you might see exam grades broadly reflecting that. You'd also probably make the subject so tedious for people who formerly found it interesting to study that they'd lose all interest in it.

The less congenial you make a subject towards the biases of the people who actually like studying it, the more obnoxious those people will find studying in general. I'm not sure this is a good outcome. I'd rather Maths (or English) was kept fun for the relatively small number of people it was actually fun for.

I think a taste for Maths is a minority taste, and Maths has a reputation for difficulty primarily because a majority of people don't find it congenial in the way that a minority of people do.

I love mathematics precisely because it's hard for me, because the tricks and techniques that made me a bit of a star in English don't work on it, so I really have to force myself to concentrate, "unnaturally" hard at times. One of the things education is really about is helping people develop the confidence to tackle things that are hard for them in just this way. That, I think, is the way to get greater parity between subjects, and bring a taste of real educational achievement to everyone.