One becomes tired of pointing out the breathtaking effrontery of our politicians, but Nick does take the bicky. For this alumnus of Westminster School to attack even pre-castrated proposals on improving secondary education is a bit like Jamie Oliver finding meat-eating morally objectionable.
The British do pay too much attention to the type of school one attends. Actually, as long as the school isn’t actively subversive (Shirley Williams, ring your office), any one will do. Of the highly educated Englishmen I know, three went to grammar schools, three to minor public schools, one to a major public school and one, incredible as it may sound, to a comprehensive.
Without pretending to have a representative sample on my hands, I may still suggest that one doesn’t have to go to Westminster School to become truly educated. For, contrary to a popular misapprehension, education doesn’t equate the gathering of so much information, though that’s an important part. It’s what happens as a result of such gathering: a qualitative shift from ignorance to culture, from barbarism to civilisation, from base to high feelings, from primitive to refined tastes.
As any neurophysiologist will tell you, most people are capable of picking up and storing a practically infinite amount of information – why, even crossing Park Lane in rush hour probably overloads one’s synapses with a surfeit of data. Yet as any teacher will tell you, far from most people are capable of becoming educated in the true sense of the word, regardless of the kind of school they attend.
Teachers would be reluctant to put a number on those so capable, but if you held a gun to their head, most would probably say about 25 percent. Another 25 percent are still capable of succeeding in most practical fields, while the remainder will have to settle for a life of intellectually undemanding careers. They could, for example, become Deputy Prime Ministers.
An effective educational system should then be made up of schools that educate the top third, instruct the second one and train the rest. Such a system would reflect the way God made people, and what he did can’t be undone. It can, however, be subverted – first by failing to recognise, or refusing to accept, that people are differently able and then creating single-tier schools that fail everybody equally. Enter the brainchild of the more pernicious lefties: British comprehensives.
‘Intelligent socialist’ is an oxymoron to begin with, but even the limited brainpower that socialists are born with tends to dwindle away to nothing when their smallish minds are overridden by a giant ideological bias. As a result of their efforts, the overall literacy levels in Britain are considerably below what they were at the height of the Industrial Revolution, when our masses were supposed to be oppressed and downtrodden.
A child of socialists this system may be, but even reasonably conservative politicians have fostered it. Margaret Thatcher, when she was still Education Secretary, closed down more grammar schools than any of her Labour counterparts ever did, although she might not have been an entirely free agent in that endeavour. On the other hand, though her brand of conservatism eschews economic egalitarianism, it’s not invariably averse to the social and cultural kind.
As a result of the wanton destruction of British education from 1965 onwards, the country has suffered much damage – not just culturally, but also socially and economically. The damage may not be irreparable, but it’s certainly not repairable quickly. Still, one has to start somewhere, and this is what our present Education Secretary is attempting to do, however timidly.
Having noticed that the GCSE exams presuppose the level of education that would have been expected in a kindergarten at the height of the Industrial Revolution, Michael Gove thinks they must be scrapped. In their stead we should go back to ‘world-class’ O-Levels for the abler pupils and have simpler CSE exams for the rest.
Being a politician, Mr Gove won’t find it in his vote-chasing heart to propose what really needs to be done: the scrapping of comprehensive ‘education’. But even the utterly modest and sensible first step he has found the courage to propose has created an outcry. The principal jeer-leader is Gove’s coalition partner Nick, ably assisted by the assorted Milibandits in opposition.
‘I’m not in favour of anything that would lead to a two-tier system where children at quite a young age are somehow cast on a scrapheap,’ declared Nick, with the bleating from the Milibandits providing the background noise. ‘What you want is an exam system which is fit for the future, doesn’t turn the clock back to the past and works for the many and not just for the few.’
In the past, Britain had one of the highest literacy levels in the world. She was in the top five in most academic disciplines, and top 10 in all. She’s now 16th in science, 25th in literacy and 28th in maths. Methinks a bit of clock-turning wouldn’t be such a bad thing, don’t you? And I don’t know how many scrapheaps Nick has rummaged through lately, but if he looked at the metaphorical one he mentioned, he’d find it full of little savages extruded from the bowels of the single-tier education he favours.
Having myself gone to the kind of school where most boys carry knives, I don’t know what sort of curriculum Westminster School teaches. But if it produces alumni like Nick, perhaps another look at the syllabus is in order. Then again, not everyone can be educated in the true meaning of the word.