The challenge of economic utility
In recent years, however, the demand for at least a strong instrumental element in the curriculum of secondary education has become more overt, especially from government agencies and from employers or from institutions that speak for employers. This is so much the case that a recent HMI discussion paper on teacher training could open with the statement:2
In particular the HMI document is arguing for a revised view of teacher training. Whilst acknowledging that teachers need to instil in pupils a sound basic education and an ability to work with others, and that they need as a first priority to be able to teach their subjects well, the HMIs nevertheless go on to say:3
Presumably the inculcation of respect is not seen here as indoctrinatory because of a surprisingly naive view of the value of industrial and commercial activity being non-controversial. This
continues a trend developed in earlier documents. For example, a consultative document produced by the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Secretary of State for Wales in 1977 was able to assert that an aim of schools that ‘the majority of people would probably agree with’ was ‘to help children to appreciate how the nation earns and maintains its standard of living and properly to esteem the essential role of industry and commerce in this process’.4 Admittedly this was only offered as one aim among eight which included aims like:
These aims, with perhaps some qualification, are not necessarily incompatible with the aims of a liberal education. The issue is really one of emphasis: ‘understanding’ the economic and political structures of a country leaves open the possibility of differing critical perspectives, whereas ‘respecting’, ‘properly to esteem’ and ‘appreciating’ all have a normative tone indicating a clearly and overtly instrumental purpose antithetical to the idea of a liberal education.