This little piece is dedicated to the cherished memory of Anthony Crosland, Labour Secretary of State for Education, 1964-1970.
Early in his tenure, in 1965, he made a solemn promise: “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales, and Northern Ireland.”
To use Mr Crosland’s chosen socialist idiom, this spelled the dawn of a new era, that of comprehensive schools. As we speak, they make up 90 per cent of all schools in Britain, which means Mr Crosland fulfilled 90 per cent of his promise – a remarkable success rate for a politician.
Until then, Britain’s state education had been the envy of the world. Since then, it has become its laughing stock.
About 25 per cent of all children used to go to grammar schools, where they were educated very well. Some of the most erudite people I’ve ever met are grammar school alumni.
The second tier of schools were called secondary modern, and they mostly prepared pupils for the rough-and-tumble of quotidian life, equipping them with the essential knowledge and skills. The separation between the tiers was determined on the basis of 11+ examinations.
However, some children are late bloomers. In recognition of this observable fact, the system remained fluid, and the ablest secondary modern pupils were often promoted to grammar schools. Again, I know several quite brilliant people who made that shift to great effect.
Britain was then one of the best-educated countries in the world. However, good education that system might have been, but it was bad ideology. Mr Crosland and his fellow socialists hated it because it didn’t “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, to quote from the founding document of the first modern, which is to say incipiently egalitarian, state.
Since the socialists ran the show even more then than they do now, they merged grammar and secondary modern schools together in the name of “comprehensive education”. The designation is half-right: it’s indeed comprehensive.
Over half a century later, Britain has succeeded in breeding two generations of Mowglis, deracinated creatures as thoroughly divorced from civilisation as Kipling’s lad raised by a pack of wolves.
The other day some kind soul shot a video of random youngsters, late teenage to early twenties by the looks of them, being asked the kind of questions that shouldn’t unduly trouble any school leaver. The youngsters represented the demographic and ethnic cross-section of our population. None of them looked mentally retarded.
To let you judge how successful Anthony Crosland’s mission has been, here’s a sample of the questions and answers.
“How many countries in the UK?” “One. The UK.”
“When did World War II end?” “1974.”
“Name the continents.” “London.” “I don’t know what a continent is.” “Spain?”
“What is the official language of the USA?” “American, innit?” “There isn’t one.”
“What’s the capital of America?” “New York.” “I don’t really know. Detroit?”
“Who bombed Pearl Harbour?” “Is it America?” “Where?” “Osama Bin Laden.” “Russia.”
“Who did the Americans beat in the Revolutionary War?” “Russia.” “Was it like East America against West America?” “Germany?” “France.” “Japan.” “Vietnam.” “It was Americans, innit?”
“Spell ‘unnecessary’.” “Bro, I can’t even spell it, man. You spell it.”
“What’s three cubed?” “Seven.”
If we define success as achieving the desired objective, then we shouldn’t describe comprehensive education as a failure. The socialists have produced exactly the result for which their levelling loins ached: a malleable, brainwashable herd ready to be putty in their hands.
But you know the scary thing? All those youngsters were of voting age. The country’s future – yours and mine – is in their hands. If you’re curious to find out what this future will be, move from Kipling to Huxley and Orwell.