Let's get rid of the curriculum of the self! This book explores the issues in education.
Clearly, it took a lot of courage to write a book like this when one reads through it and can imagine what fellow tutors might feel who do not necessarily share your own point of view in the educational world.
The two Professors, Kathryn Ecclestone and Dennis Hayes, have produced a important work on educational policy and thinking here which, in my view, is much needed by giving some balance to the current debate on the future of education and the type of people we are producing for this first generation of 21st century.
So what is this `therapeutic education'?
There is no one single definition from the authors but let's has a go- they write that:
`Therapy was once regarded as a cure or treatment for people who were disturbed or troubled or mentally ill.'
They continue `now the term has changed its meaning and become a positive value'. This is where I come into the discussion, reading the work as part of my PGCE studies and being genuinely affected by it because it covers much of what has concerned me about what is happening in education in the early part of this century.
Continuing their theme over 8 chapters looking at different areas, the first introductory chapter is entitled "In an emotional state". Here, the authors examine "how the government has come to sponsor therapeutic education as part of New Labour's approach to `social justice'" offering "examples of popular concern about emotional well-being and the therapeutic orthodoxies that underpin and reinforce this interest".
The authors then show a political evolution from ideas about conferring esteem on a vulnerable public to the more active promotion of `the means to be happy', and they summarise how their arguments have led to a new role for education.
For me, this book then became a critique of what the `New' Labour government has done to the UK with its policies embracing `therapy' in all its guises since 1997, and I agree with most of what the authors have written, having viewed the effects of therapeutic education directly in further education colleges and at university (chapters 4 and 5) as a teacher in recent years and as Counsel in the courts.
Many readers of this book will know that it is no secret that much of what we teach today does not meet the requirements of our society and, frankly, much of the blame can be laid at the feet of this `therapeutic education' experiment which has failed with serious consequences for society. That is the strength of this book.
There are well argued conclusions to each of the main chapter headings, but the most important is left to the end, in chapter 8, entitled "a response to our critics".
I said Ecclestone and Hayes have been brave when looking at this `new curriculum of the self' which is how I would describe therapeutic education and therapeutic approaches to knowledge which (they say) instills "the idea that the pursuit of knowledge, once a liberating ideal, is inherently emotionally unsettling and even damaging" if such approaches are used.
Yes, they are correct and I gained original knowledge of it whilst completing my PGCE.
One sub heading is "There are a lot of damaged people out there"! The authors look at the state of suffering and their comments made me think immediately of the previous generation to mine whose lives had been transformed by world war but had got on with it, as ex-servicemen like me do today. I came away with the view that there is a strong need for balance, but that balance has shifted the wrong way and the reasons have been identified by the authors.
The authors' final conclusion is "don't change the subject" where they write that "therapeutic education exposes children ... and older people to intrusive interventions that probe, elicit and assess their emotions, and make them accountable for them. This reinforces a view that they are vulnerable and at risk".
I liked the best bit of the conclusion when they say that "therapeutic education is social engineering of the feeble, passive subject on an unprecedented scale".
The final problem to consider, then, is what have we produced here with the learners? The presumption is that most learners are damaged in some way. I support the view of Ecclestone & Hayes, and would go farther saying that it is rubbish to make such sweeping generalisations on `damage' which the therapeutic educator has done to turn education upside down.
The balance needs to be redressed because the saddest thing of all is we produce people who cannot read and write properly, but have a dangerously high ego which is of no value to employers, or ultimately to society which could become `broken' if remedial action is not taken soon.
Watching the news over the summer, I reflected on the effects of this experiment with the incidents of violence on the streets, serious challenging behaviour exhibited regularly especially by the young inside and outside the classroom, and, that by `changing the subject' what is actually damaged is society itself because that subject has been changed. However, it is not too late, to revert to established techniques which returns therapy to its rightful place.
I very much hope, after 2010, with our next newish baby boom, that the education balance can be redressed and we get away from the dominance of popular culture on social thought to expand and not diminish human potential and put therapy policy in the limitation box where it belongs. We should be very grateful, and thank, Professors Ecclestone and Hayes for having the guts to stand up and be counted on this issue- more power to them.