An Open Letter to Ed Balls: everyone has a theory about something.

Dear Ed,

(I hope you don’t mind me calling you Ed: we’ve never met, but I have a theory that you wouldn’t mind, you being the affable kind of bloke that you are. I’m sure we’d have a few pints in my local, The Fly and the Loaf in Liverpool, and I’m sure we’d leave on good terms, having disagreed to disagree on many countless matters including what the best German lager in town is. My argument would be that it would be Veltins, but my theory is that you would probably disagree. No matter: that’s not why I’m writing to you right now.)

In your call today for there to be “more to education than theoretical learning”, you’ve joined a long line of distinguished politicians and educators who have deep philosophical reservations about the concept of theory and its relation to practice. My theory about you and your colleagues is that ‘theory’ is an alien concept which has no place in your so called ‘real world’ of pragmatic learning which promotes and drills skills, skills and yet more skills into learners. In this ‘real world’ learning is ‘delivered’; ‘academic’ is an insult and the person who suggested that teaching and learning is not a simple causal relationship should have been shot at birth, or whenever it was some lefty trendy academic theoretician invented him or her.

The trouble is, Ed, is that we all love a good theory. This includes you with your theory that there is more to education than theoretical learning. Of course there’s more to education than any one form of intellectual engagement (there’s another dirty word for you, Ed – intellectual): there’s practical engagement, there’s emotional engagement, there’s social engagement, there’s sensual engagement: there’s lots of forms of engagement but my theory is that your forensic like focus on the word ‘theoretical’ is to try and assuage the leading educational commentators of the Daily Mail (who they?) and its acolytes (who they ditto?) that you are following their theory free zones like all good pragmatic, cautious and entirely uninspiring commentators before them.

Perhaps Ed, if you had offered the theory that learning is more than any one fashionable fixation and will always perplex us in its difficulty and complexity, you might have persuaded a lot more of us that you were the politician to lead us out a neo-Govian future. But my theory (cough – spot the Monty Python reference) is that you didn’t because you can’t and so we won’t.

More’s the pity.

Best wishes and mine’s a pint,


Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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