Nicky Morgan is the UK Secretary of State for Education. This week she gave a speech as part of the ‘Your Life’ campaign, designed to promote mathematics and science subjects to young people. These are part of the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and in her address she said:
"Even a decade ago, young people were told that maths and the sciences were simply the subjects you took if you wanted to go into a mathematical or scientific career, if you wanted to be a doctor, or a pharmacist, or an engineer.
‘But if you wanted to do something different, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do, and let’s be honest – it takes a pretty confident 16-year-old to have their whole life mapped out ahead of them – then the arts and humanities were what you chose. Because they were useful for all kinds of jobs."
Interestingly, those words could have emanated from the mouth of her predecessor, Michael Gove - so it's good to see they're both 'on message'. But man, what tosh.
"Discouraging teenagers from pursuing a career which actively interests them is almost the opposite of education."
The problem with many, many politicians (and traditional Conservatives, in particular) is a determination to re-instate a rose-tinted past, which never actually existed; and show it as a glorious future. I well remember John Major's reference (via George Orwell) to warm beer, long shadows on cricket pitches and maids cycling to church through the mist. All very poetic, but almost wholly fictional and completely unreflective of life as most experience it.
In this instance, I believe Ms. Morgan is conjuring with images of studious classrooms, full of sunlit chalk dust and ink smudged exercise books. Youngsters slaving over long division, the better to secure themselves a 'proper job'. And that phrase 'proper job' goes to the heart of it. The suspicion that school-leavers with ambitions to work in the creative industries are silly dreamers who should forget such notions and knuckle down to some accounting or quantity surveying, has been rife of late. Yet, the creative business contributes more than £71 billion to the UK economy every year. Or put another way, £8 million an hour.
Besides, discouraging teenagers from pursuing a career which actively interests them, and in which they show flair, is almost the opposite of education. It's restriction.
When I finished school, I drifted badly - failing to establish anything resembling a career until my mid 20s. However, I knew I could write and write well. So, when I settled down a bit, that's where I pushed myself, and largely succeeded. Nevertheless, it only dawned on me at that late stage, that somebody might employ me to do something I loved. At school, it was never once suggested I should chase that notion. Instead, the vital importance of maths and physics was foisted upon me.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with either of those subjects. People talented in those fields have just put a probe on a comet - and I admire them for it. But if education is about anything, it's about possibilities; and a career as an economist or chemist was never going to be possible for me.
So, while Nicky Morgan may be convinced that STEM subjects are superior to arts or humanities, I know the only priority is to go hard and fast after a career in which you believe and in which you can excel. Those in charge of the nation's educators, would do well to remember that.
Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant.