We are used to plaintive cries that not enough students opt for scientific subjects, and related worries about the supposed drift of our culture towards an anti-scientific relativism or, ultimately, a post-truth mentality. But one of the things we have learnt in the past ten months is that we set ourselves up for profound confusion if we talk about “science” as a source of self-evidently clear and effective solutions, as if narratives and values played no role. Bland claims to be “following the science” have acquired an unhappily hollow sound.
What does it mean to “fail our children” in this broader context? It means backing away from the scale of change that we face, and from the job of resourcing young people to respond with intelligence, imagination and honesty. It would be ridiculous to pretend that there are a few simple restructurings that will achieve this. We need a courageous rethinking of our ingrained assumptions about education. We need to pay some critical and sympathetic attention to those despised and frequently attacked parallel worlds of the Montessori and Steiner systems. We need the issue of resources for the human spirit to be at the heart of educational vision – including craft, drama, sport, exposure to the raw natural world, community service. And anyone who thinks this is somehow in tension with responsible scientific training has not understood either sciences or humanities.