I’m sorry, comprehensive WHAT?

This little piece is dedicated to the cherished memory of Anthony Crosland, Labour Secretary of State for Education, 1964-1970.

Mowglis on the prowl

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.  

10 thoughts on “I’m sorry, comprehensive WHAT?”

  1. The future will be bleak if batteries become scarce as youth will be unable to calculate. In a similar way they will be unable to write if laptops become unaffordable. There is already an expanding community of smartphone scrollers constantly updating their status, yet they find it difficult to communicate verbally in the real world.
    The men will not need to be trained as soldiers for any conflict as drones would easily outperform them. They are, on the whole, unbelievably gullible too! It is so very rare to find a thinking, astute and energetic soul with aspiration.

  2. I’m afraid to say things are no better this side of the Atlantic. We have talk-show hosts who take to the streets asking similar questions. I suppose it’s all meant in fun (ha, look at these dummies) because no one ever questions WHY these people are unable to answer basic questions. I often wonder how many of those in the audience loudly laughing can answer correctly (I suspect very few under the age of 50). One conservative web site has an interviewer on university campuses. Students can rarely answers questions on general knowledge. Imagine not knowing when the second world war was fought or who fought in the American civil war or the names of the planets in our solar system (or what is a solar system).
    My own children, despite my best efforts, mainly eschew education. Who cares what Byron wrote, he’s dead! Who needs to know the Pythagorean Theorem, much less an eigenvalue? What IS interesting is watching some boob rating video games from the 1990s (a decade before they were born). Just last night, a visiting friend (a junior in high school, 17 years old) was complaining about having to read Shakespeare: “Literally NOBODY likes Shakespeare, bro. Nobody.” In my typical passive-aggressive style, I walked by loudly stating that I never want to do anything that is hard, I never want to grow, I do not want to learn about others, about their thoughts and feelings, about the human condition.
    I know so many people who fear our future, but few who understand where it all started.

    1. The problems in America are similar, and they have similar roots if slightly different mechanisms. Alan Bloom’s book the Closing of the American Mind came out almost 40 years ago, and he analysed the situation brilliantly. When I lived in Texas, I was staggered by the ignorance of high school pupils – and by their insistence that their opinions were as good as anybody’s. France, another country of which I have first-hand experience, is still marginally better, but she too is going to the educational dogs. More and more of my French friends are sending their children to American universities, which should tell you a lot about the state of their own education. The problem isn’t specifically British, American or French. It’s pan-Western: the Enlightenment chickens have come to roost. A civilisation dedicated to achieving equality, by however artificial means, is antithetical to culture, which is be definition hierarchical.

  3. “’Spell ‘unnecessary’.’ ‘Bro, I can’t even spell it, man. You spell it.’”

    Why is it necessare for me to spell unnecessare in the first place?

  4. As someone born in the 90’s I can attest that comps are pretty poor, but this is something else entirely. When I attended the primary problem was discipline, we didn’t fear our teachers, because aside from a stern talking to, they could do nothing to us. On the rare occasions the class behaved, the lessons were not too bad, especially in history.

    I would favour corporal punishment, but the problem these days is that youngsters are well aware of S&M so it’s hardly appropriate.

      1. With K-12 dominated by females , feelings will trump reason every time , and discipline a distant memory . What it must be like in the common room for a male hetero teacher , I shudder to think.

  5. Looking at Sir Robin Day of your BBC along with old interviews from the 1960s by men like Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Dick Cavett, Lawrence Spivak and others, I would say that the interviewers of today fit the modern education mold perfectly.

    1. Sensationalism, triviality, sentimentality. All for hype and ratings.

      “Ground control to Major Tom [the astronaut]. The papers want to know whose shirts you wear.”

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