Howard Jacobsen in Friday’s Independent was on fine form, giving  Simon Armitage and his constructivist mind -set a well deserved   mauling.

Armitage believes it is OK   for children to learn poetry off by heart providing   “children are allowed to find the poems that fit their voices or appeal to their imaginations and their cultural inclinations”.Jacobsen  is having none of it.   He  replies “No, no, no, and no again. In that weasel sentence is to be found all that’s gone wrong with education in our time, the very reason we have fathered a generation of the disinherited who can’t call on the language of “The Lady of Shalott” or much else in the way of poetry when they need it. They don’t, of course, know they need it. How could they? A good education creates the needs it satisfies, and so long as children are given only what they are “allowed to find” – which dodges the question of what happens if they find nothing – so long as they are taught only what “fits their voices” or appeals to their “cultural inclinations”, whatever the hell those are (a Jewish inclination to Sholem Aleichem, maybe), they remain in blank ignorance of, not to say in blank indifference to, languages of feeling, of inestimable value to us, but assumed to be of no use or relevance to them.” Ouch!

A blast against Armitage, for sure, but also  against the constructivist approach to education which many, including Government ministers, believe has done so much damage in the past to our children’s education .It holds that learners  must discover or find  knowledge  for themselves and the teacher is seen as a  facilitator . This approach was championed by the late John Dewey, whose ideas ,its safe to say, are not informing this  governments approach to  curriculum reforms.



  1. Jacobson is right to be angry about this because not only do the kids on the receiving end of this kind of weak teaching “find nothing,” but their ignorance is validated by those very same teachers, and far worse, the kids know this and build on it.

    So you have a situation where in an “English” class of around 30 fifteen year olds I recently taught, well over half had genuinely never heard of “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens, Scrooge, or anything whatsoever connected with that quintessentially “English” story. They genuinely had never heard the writer’s name or of the story. But far, far worse… they were outraged at the suggestion that maybe they should have, at the very least, known the story. And this was not a race question at all: the class was the normal mix you would expect to find in any urban UK comprehensive school.

    • Thanks. Am looking to do a piece on the teacher as scholar Can you explain what this means to you, Is is basically about the teacher as a sage rather than guide or facilitator(constructivist). Would you like to see more research being generated from within schools, and for teachers to be given more time to do this?

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