Power is a funny old thing. It’s thrilling to have, but I definitely wouldn’t want too much of it. As a writer I love it when the words that I use turn out to have power. If I’m lucky they have the power to engage, to inspire, to amuse. If I’m unlucky they’re a damp squib. Power is fickle like that. Power thrives on networks, word of mouth, and confidence. The more powerful people you know, the more powerful you tend to get. The more confident you are, the more people believe that you know what you’re talking about. The big problem with power, though, is how easily people can abuse it. The news at the moment is full of people who drunk too deeply on the elixir of power and did the wrong thing with it. I’d imagine there are a lot of people currently thinking “There but for the grace of God go I.”
The theme du jour in education is that “knowledge is power”. That school is about “making kids cleverer”. That we should get children to memorise stuff, pass lots of tests and then the keys to the kingdom will be theirs. It’s interesting to pick this idea apart. To ask what the power we’re talking about actually consists of, and to what extent people want it. To consider whether power is truly available to everyone who gets a good set of exam results. And to think about whether knowledge does end up being power and whether education should be framed in terms of IQ or income anyway. (Thanks to Nancy Gedge for getting me thinking about all this.) We need to ask what different people’s values are, before we start to make grand statements about ‘what really matters’. Given the state of the world we live in, the political problems we face, and the nature of the people who have caused those problems, I can’t help but think that maybe education shouldn’t be about making people cleverer. Maybe it should be about making them kinder instead.