Words that should be banned: Learning

Have you noticed that the word “education” has gone out of fashion? Yep, it’s been replaced by “learning” – that horrible, anaemic little word favoured by people who believe that thinking is an elitist activity.

Indeed, when I first went to university, I was told that whatever my course of study, I was there to learn how to think. No such lofty ideals for today’s students.

Sorry, “learners”.

Getting an education teaches you to question, to evaluate, to construct an argument. And it was once so well thought of that the government actually gave you money to do it.

In contrast, “learning” equips you with the skills – not to mention the debt – to be a compliant worker.

Ever heard of “rote education” instead of “rote learning”? Or “learner riots” instead of “student riots”? Thought not.

At least our rulers are honest about it. Back in the day we had the Department of Education and Science. Today we have the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, which proudly describes its remit thus:

DIUS’ work on further and higher education, science, technology and supporting evidence based policy making across government is essential to national prosperity.

(National prosperity aside, what on earth does “supporting evidence based policy making” mean? And perhaps they should consider making some policies about hyphenation, based on the evidence of that nasty little snippet of bureaucratese).

Similarly, adult education has been replaced by something much less scary-sounding (if you’re an employer or the government, that is): “life-long learning”.

The government body in charge of “life-long learning” is the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which proclaims that it exists “to make England better skilled and more competitive”. The credo on the LSC website continues:

We have a single goal: to improve the skills of England’s young people and adults to ensure we have a workforce of world-class standard.

Now I know why my well-attended flute class is under pretty much constant threat of closure – it’s distracting too many useful citizens from productive economic activity.

Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, the poor citizens of Belfast have the Department for Employment and Learning, whose aim is “to promote learning and skills, 
to prepare people for work and to support the economy”.

And those of you in the private sector aren’t immune, either. How many of you have attended a training session only to come away with some “key learnings”? (The less illiterate “important lessons” presumably being far too chalk-dustily reminiscent of the class-room for the masters of the universe).

The usurping of “education” by “learning” is a sign the world is being run by the sort of people the sports teacher chose to pick the teams. (Yes, I was always one of the last three left shivering in the cold under the contemptuous gaze of the year’s two alpha females).

But those anti-intellectual sports bullies haven’t exactly increased our national prosperity, have they?

Well at least they’ve got a world-class workforce trained to clean up the mess they’ve made without asking too many difficult questions.

10 comments so far . . . come and pitch in!

  1. Chris says:

    I was always last to be picked as well. No matter, as I heard the alpha-alpha boy went mad. “key learnings” has an air of phoniness about it that seems to run against the authenticity that mags like the harvard business review preach against. I’m never sure where these weird linguistic perversions are dreamed up. HR? Glossy business trade mags? Special pubs in discrete locations?

  2. Dave says:

    My local college now has a “Learning Center” instead of a Library – lucky me!

  3. Clare Lynch says:

    Funny how most of the people I know were like us. But it did it seem unfair that the Physics teacher never did the team-picking thing. I’d have definitely had a crack at team captain if he had (though not the English teacher, who hated me because I had messy handwriting – what did she know?)

  4. Clare Lynch says:

    Dave, libraries are so fuddy duddy, dontcha know? In contrast, a “learning center” is no doubt bright, accessible, inclusive, interactive, and full of lights and noise and stimulation.

    A bit like a nursery, in fact.

    Let’s hope the British Library doesn’t decide to rebrand itself. I can’t imagine feeling inspired to consult a mediaeval manuscript in the British Learning Center.

    And as for the Learning Center at Alexandria – I wonder how much of a loss to civilisation that would have been had it burned down instead of the library!

  5. I think you will like this guy – john Taylor Gatto – He won teacher of the year in NY and then went on to condemn schooling as ultimately harmful to society!


  6. Clare Lynch says:

    Thanks for pointing me to Gatto, Richard. What an inspiring thinker.

  7. Arthur Brash says:

    Um, I hadn’t noticed the dumbing down in that particular area, and I suspect you’re right.

    One of the Canadian provinces with some of the highest academic achievements was considered to be “over funded.” Why? Well, the rest of the country might feel inferior. The solution of course is to cut funding in that province where kids excel – bring everyone down to the same level if you know what I mean.

    Kurt Vonnegut caught the trend back in 1961 when the wrote “Harrison Bergeron.” If you’ve not yet read it, it is a short story about a society where no one is allowed to excel as not to make anyone else feel inferior. Come to think of it, I think I’ll read it again myself!

  8. Clare Lynch says:

    Though at least they’re honest about it, Arthur.

    In the UK, every August we re-enact the same farce in which the government declares this year’s round of record-breaking examinees to have been more intelligent and harder-working than the last, while everyone knows that they’ve just made the papers easier.

  9. Arthur Brash says:

    Yes, but honesty in a case like that makes you wonder how bloody dumb they must be to admit to how stupid they are being. It’s like a child coming home, proudly announcing they received 5 (%) on their test and the parent having to remind them “This isn’t golf sweetie. Low is bad. High is good. Why don’t you try again?”

    That’s what I want to tell those numb skulls: Low is bad. High is good. Use the _high_ as the model, not the _low_.


  10. Clare Lynch says:

    And can you imagine them doing the same thing with the health service?

    “Too many people are being cured in this hospital, so instead of learning from them we have to cut their funding to bring the number of deaths up to the national average, because it’s making the rest of the country feel bad.”

    Please don’t tell me they do that too?

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