When he put together the words ‘free school’ and ‘Marxist’, UK education secretary Michael Gove linked one of the things in education the old left and many liberals most hate – free schools – with another they, to varying degrees, love – Karl Marx. Gove was subsequently abused by the prolier than thou on Twitter and assorted blogs for his perceived ignorance of the Marxist tradition.
This is what Gove actually said: ‘Classical Marxists support free schools because they embody the ideal of the soviet, a self-managing institution run by workers in the wider public interest.’
Gove is right: Marxists should support free schools. Not because they resemble soviets, but because the best of them now embody the ideal of education that many ‘classical’ Marxists would have supported.
If you want examples, just look at the curricula of the West London Free School and the East London Science School, to name only two. What these free schools embody is the idea of what is called variously a traditional, a liberal, a knowledge-based, or a subject-based education. It is the old left in particular that has entirely forgotten that this is what education means. It doesn’t mean offering children a piss-poor ‘relevant’ education based on ‘skills’ or ‘competences’, or, even worse, an education based on some sort of therapeutic fad that aims to develop ‘emotional intelligence’ or ‘happiness’.
It was not only Marxists like Antonio Gramsci who argued for a subject-based education for everyone. It was also liberals like Hannah Arendt and conservatives like Michael Oakeshott.