Words that should be banned: learning

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[This entry originally appeared on Clare Lynch’s blog, goodcopybadcopy]

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 Yep, it’s been replaced by “learning” – that horrible, anaemic little word favoured by people who believe that thinking is an elitist activity.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Similarly, adult education has been replaced by something much less scary-sounding (if you’re an employer or the government, that is): “life-long learning”.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.

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