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Saturday, September 09, 2017

"Elitist" education and Britain's survival

James Delingpole on the famous scientist James Lovelock:

Born in 1919 into a working-class Quaker family, [...] Lovelock’s experiences at a grammar school in Brixton made him a firm believer in selective education.

‘It wasn’t the teaching, it was the kids,’ Lovelock says. ‘When I came back from the summer holidays when I was 13 there was one boy called Piercy, who said: “I’ve been spending the hols swotting up on quantum theory.” This was 1933. It was utterly new. It wasn’t taught in universities. “And if any of you are interested in discussing it…” And we did. Now this is the unique education only a grammar school could give because it had selected. No bullies. No nasties. Just kids who were intelligent enough to be interested in the world around them… Egalitarianism is utterly evil. It’s contra Darwin.’ (i)

Whereas:

"If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales. And Northern Ireland."

- Anthony "Tony" Crosland, in 1965, as quoted by his wife in her biography of him. (ii) "Tony" attended an independent school (Highgate) and went on to Trinity College, Oxford, returning after the War to read PPE and become a don there.

As so many others have done, I ask, why grammar schools? Why not abolish private schools, if he was so intent on eradicating privilege?

Or was there some subtler plan? Was it to kick away the ladder of opportunity for talented working-class children like Lovelock, so that their resentments would fester and burst out when the chance of Revolution came?

Perhaps it was not so bad as that. Maybe the aim was more to blur the social boundaries by sending all secondary school children to comprehensives.

The first comprehensive I taught at - then the largest school in Birmingham - was ferociously disciplined and high-achieving in the late 70s/80s, under a whisky-drinking workaholic martinet who didn't live to pick up his pension; but he was exceptional and had turned the school around from earlier underperformance.

I was told that when the school was first "comprehensivised" in the Sixties it had enjoyed the support of the sort of parents who previously would have sent their children to grammar or private schools. Over time, as they perceived that great experiment was turning out a failure, many of them took their offspring elsewhere.

Part of the turnaround was to sort the c. 400-a-year new intake into streams and sets, with annual exams and re-setting children as appropriate. This certainly suited the many aspirant working-class parents - but I'm pretty sure that it had attitudinal consequences for those classed as being varying degrees of "failure". High - and sometime physical - discipline and staff coordination maintained order and made even unacademic children sought after by employers in the area, who wanted smartly-dressed regular attenders used to taking instructions.

But there were lots of other schools not run by overworking heads with first-class brains. Lovelock is right - there needs to be somewhere for "swots" to develop their minds, without having their heads forced into the lavatory by chippy thugs.

And we all need those grammar school children. Ironmonger's son General Bill Slim was one (iii), and without him the Japanese might have overrun not only Burma but India.

Today, as Britain continues (as it has done for decades) to be undermined by the Left and sold off piecemeal by the Right, we need to lead in science and technology again if we are to feed our overpopulated nation. Agricultural self-sufficiency is not an option.

Grammar schools; and a belated defence of our industrial base.

_______________________________________

(i) https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/09/james-lovelock-on-voting-brexit-wicked-renewables-and-why-he-changed-his-mind-on-climate-change/
(ii) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tony-Crosland-Susan/dp/022401787X
(iii) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Slim,_1st_Viscount_Slim#Early_years

6 comments:

A K Haart said...

I agree, we do need those grammar school children. We also need the political nous to understand why and that seems to be as far away as ever.

Twilight said...

I was a grammar school gal, and have been everlastingly grateful for it. I'm probably older than most of your readers. I passed what used to be called the 11+ exam in 1950. This gave me a "scholarship" to one of several local grammar schools, within daily travelling distance of home. The school I and my parents chose was one which, had been, not that long ago, an elite boarding school, closed to all but kids of wealthy parents. It retained an air of restrained elegance...until we, the great unwashed but bright ones arrived that is! ;-) It was an all-girls establishment; the boys had their own choices of grammar schools.

After 5 years I took 7 (academic) 'O'Levels passed them all and begged my parents to allow me to hit the road. I wanted to see more than classrooms, meet more than students and teachers, and get away from our boring small market town. Did that, and found my modest, but not too common out in the wild, qualifications got me everywhere I wanted or needed to go. I ended up, eventually, the civil service in a legal department.

These days, in the USA, where I've lived since 2004, there's so much emphasis on hallowed "college education", yet from what I can see, many of those with that vaunted level of learning are no better educated than I was/am (excluding, of course, dedicated specialists : medical, law etc.) In fact, when I completed some on-line quiz recently - quite a long one, purporting to tell me my education level (USA style), I came up with a Bachelor's degree. LOL!

So yes, bringing back grammar schools would be A Good Thing.

Paddington said...

I too went to a total of 3 secondary schools (British Army kid), 2 of them grammar schools. The students were really better, and bullying much less.

I went on to Exeter University in 1975, where I received a first-class education that more than prepared me for more graduate work in the US.

The selective system was cruel in some ways, but it worked.

Name said...

I failed the 11+ in 1961 and spent most of my high school education at secondary modern schools. The word "secondary" highlights the stigma felt by the teachers and the pupils as failures. 400 kids packed into a school built for 250, only the headmaster had a degree or teaching qualifications, only 1 student in 75 years had ever progressed to university. There was no provision for classes beyond 15 years old. Grade 10. Losers.
I somehow got transferred to Buxton College, a grammar school, not far up the road but a world apart. All the teachers had degrees except the games master, and several PhDs. Resources abounded. Yes, of course the students excelled academically and the assembly hall had rolls of honour on wooden plaques for the hundreds going to university. Only Oxford and Cambridge you understand.
Yes, concentrating educational resources will establish an elite who are important to lead a country in innovation. But there aren't too many labouring jobs anymore. Actually the whole population has to be educated up to their potential and tolerance level (learning is really hard work). Countries like Singapore invested in education a long while ago and it has paid off enormously. Sure, boost the gifted, but don't have a two tier system and the corrosive stigma for the losers.

Sackerson said...

Hi Paul, good to hear from you. Actually it was/is a three-tiered system, with Eton, Fettes etc training the elite. I'm working my way through a book by Correlli Barnett where he makes the point that public school education (classics etc) was about preparation for rule, not leading the economy. Maybe they do less Latin at public schools these days but I see little sign among our politicians of understanding economics and how to make things work. They'll do PPE at Oxford, then get a job as a spad and off you go, like Cameron. Industry is full of the "little men" who are expected to service these types. Politics, law, finance - nothing involving Swarfega.

He would like to have seen more "grammar techs" to train production engineers, the ones who turn brilliant discoveries into manufactured, marketable products.

Mixing all levels of talent in one class means a tendency towards the average, especially since the State makes a fuss about bringing up the bottom end. There was some move to help the G&T (gifted and talented) but in most schools, no traction.

The school I talked about was exceptional and was really a grammar, secondary modern and special school under one roof, with bullying kept down by a very domineering staff approach. Other schools didn't manage it and I'm sure a lot of talent rotted.

The days of secondary mods staffed by ex-servicemen are gone; there is the framework for a good basic education for all. We need to nurture the talent if we're not going to have a country of second-raters employed by foreign billionaires. Funny how excellence is allowed in sport and entertainment, but not in helping the country learn how to earn a living.

Paddington said...

As here in the US, the growth in the economy has, for 200 years, been the achievement of the second-tier people. That is, those not rich enough for the 'top' education at Eton, Harrow and Oxbridge. Where do most of our Engineers and Scientists get educated?