School; Monovian Editorials

Editorials - 1961

 

No. 77 Spring, 1961

 

Editors: C. J. MARTIN and A. T. GABLE

SPEAKING ED1TORIALI.Y

It is not at all surprising that past editorials of the Monovian should have been concerned with the theory and practice of education. Such is our feeling of inferiority and insecurity as a nation that intellectual and technological advancement are increasingly and urgently sought after through the medium of educational reform. The editorial of the summer, 1958 edition, summed up the position by declaring: "We have passed the stage when education consisted in merely fitting out somebody so that he could perform a certain function required by society". Yet we grope around seeking a new and grandiose conception of supervised education when the precept which should clearly guide us is rejected by educational 'reformers'. The simple morality of education in the 'ragged school' era has been replaced by the agonised heart searchings of the equalitarian society. Ad unum a more general education is demanded. Yet the fundamental misconception of the 'reformers' is the identification of all worthwhile education with 'schooling'. To quote again from the previous editor of this magazine: "to all ages, instead of relying entirely on a child's learning freely and naturally from his surroundings, people have attempted some form of deliberate instruction." The fallacy is to identify this instruction, obtained through the medium of the school, with education. There is a difference, a vital difference, which must be recognised, between education for information and education for understanding. Primitive society was hardly a society at all, since the preoccupation of the individual was with his own survival in the constant struggle for life. No cohesion governed the accident of separate existence. The need for self-sufficiency dictated that education for information should be all-embracing of the skills necessary for staying alive. But, as society took shape, there emerged the principle of the division of labour, the exchange of services, the interdependence of the community. Thus society really came into its own and leisure emerged as a recognisable facet of life. There was time to observe, to speculate, to interpret, and something to observe, speculate and interpret for - the continuing welfare of the community. Self-preservation was still the motivating factor, but it was the preservation of self as a part of society. This education was education of the understanding, and, most important of all, it was primarily self- education, whereas the acquisition of basic skills would obviously be a matter for direct instruction. So, from the beginning, education had this twofold division - between education for information based on the necessity of the individual to live, and education for understanding, based on the necessity for the community to live, but this form of education is largely a matter of personal and intellectual synthesis rather than acquired information not based on actual experience. Both are necessary to each of us in some degree, the one personally, the other as part of society. Matthew Arnold struck a profound truth when he wrote: - "Even if good literature entirely lost currency with the world, it would still be abundantly worthwhile to continue to enjoy it by oneself. But it never will lose currency with the world, in spite of momentary appearances; it never will lose supremacy. Currency and supremacy are ensured to it, not indeed by the world's deliberate and conscious choice, but by something far deeper - by the instinct of self-preservation in humanity." "It would still be abundantly worthwhile to continue to enjoy it by oneself even though humanity as a whole has the instinct for self-preservation." It is vital for the individual to hold his own sacred communion with the great minds of our own and other centuries, to obtain his own synthesis of personal and intellectual experience, without the magisterial bias of an inferior mind placed between the great book or great work of art and the individual. In no other way can the individual make an original contribution to maintaining society. This is education for the understanding, and, save for a certain permissible explanation of superficial technicalities of style by an intermediary teacher, it is largely a personal contact of writer and reader. Wordsworth clearly saw the foolishness of educational authorities who attempted to channelize the student's reading of the great books and to provide him with a secondary bias in viewing their relationship to each other: -

They who have the skill
To manage books, and things, and make them act
On infant minds as surely as the sun
Deals with a flower: the keepers of our time,
The guides and wardens of our faculties.
Sages who in their prescience would control
All accidents, and to the very road
Which they have fashioned confine us down
Like engines."

And this synthesis of intellectual experience is the discovery. the personal discovery, of the relationship of one great understanding to another. One reads what is relevant to one and so educates the understanding. Modern educational theory, however, ignores the differences between the two varieties of education. Lofty schemes are proposed for squeezing out the juice of western civilization and serving it up in forty-five minute packets to provide a more 'general' education. At the annual conference of the Incorporated Association of Headmasters, held in January of this year, a recommendation was made that in the first three years of the grammar-school course, only three subjects should be taught: mathematics, language and "the basis of western Christian civilization." "Western Christian civilization" is not a geographical or a mathematical subject to be explained by one who has mastered its technicalities. We 'teach' artistic and literary appreciation, moulding each mind into a familiar pattern. Yet Aristotle clearly saw that experience, not instruction, is the telling factor in developing the understanding, in relating personal observation to the observation of a great thinker or artist. He opposed the teaching of philosophy to youth: - "One may enquire why a boy, though he may be a mathematician, cannot be a philosopher. Perhaps the answer is that mathematics deals with abstractions whereas the first principles of philosophy are derived from experience: the young can only repeat them without conviction of their truth, whereas the definitions of mathematics are easily understood." The sudden truth, the sudden relevance of a great mind to Everyman is a vital link, as the mainstay of civilization: its purity must not be besmirched by the indoctrination of an intermediary. Who reads the Bible via an explanatory commentary'? And if only we had this attitude to every great book and work of art. Thus education of the understanding is a personal responsibility. The State has the responsibility only for 'fitting out' somebody so that he can perform a certain function required by society. This should be our modest criterion: instruction of the individual in a factual, technical skill, or the faculties whereby to acquire some skill later, that is to say, information whereby the individual may live. The care for the much-condemned 'specialization' is thus apparent, since in an interdependent society, one man does one job. The pleas for an extended 'general' education are a dangerous farrago of pseudo-progressive nonsense, since the 'arts' education of the scientist and vice-versa is both unnecessary and miserably inadequate from the point of view of the amount of information he receives. By all means, let the scientist explore the development of western civilization: let the artist wander in the realms of technology. But let him do it himself, and in communing with the Great Ones, he may stumble on some profound truths: his own synthesis of experience could prove humanity's ideal. But let him not be a state subsidized dilettante, believing that a small pile of general knowledge constitutes a catholic understanding. It is time for a douche of common sense to be applied to educational theorists. Dreams invariably distort reality: and, pleasant as they are, when they are concluded, we must wake up.

 

 

C.J.M.

 

No. 78 Summer. 1961

 


Editors: A. T. GABLE and C. J. MARTIN
Assistant editors: G. C. CASEY and A. J. MOORE

FOR the generation growing up in the sixties the disillusionment of the twenties cannot but seem remote. Our generation refuses to be disillusioned: it faces the constant horror of a nuclear war, and even realises that there can be no panacea. and yet any despair is short-lived. Our susceptibilities have been dulled. Were sudden painful pressure to throw our so-called middleclass off its balance, the result would not be a traumatic revelation of latent disillusionment, nor even a desperate attempt to find stability for the specious comfort of a middle- class existence; it would be a revolt against the utter falseness of our values. It would not deify: it would despise the pseudo'. Such a revolt would mean the cud of the way of life of a nation infatuated by the carefreeing self-abasement in television - a nation vulgarised by the unscrupulousness of hysterical journalism. putrefied by the disastrous success of large-scale advertising. No! It is not a sudden penetration of politicians' solecisms that we need, but a rejection of dustbin dramas and meaningless drivel which abhors page-margins; not the destruction of ephemeral "pop" for vulgarity is inherent in humanity - but the renunciation of this apotheosis of cacophony and of any canvas hit by a messy sponge. for this eats at the very roots of our standard of values. The perpetrators of such horrors are not in themselves iconoclasts they are parasites gnawing away values, not overturning them. They are not even the merest shadow of a Bartok or an Eliot or a Picasso, but, popularised by mass media and greeted by mass hysteria, they prevail. Superficially it may seem that we have no new problem before us. Wordsworth in l800 could write: 'The invaluable works of our elder writers - I had almost said the works of Shakespeare and Milton - are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse'. But Wordsworth had no horror to counter comparable to the appeal of mass-advertising or of vulgar gutterpress hysteria. Indeed, our chronic monomania to glorify the individual, even if his standards are repulsive and his morals antipathetic, could not affect Wordsworth. It is new. 'Be tough, be ambitious, develop a trading sense' - this was the sincere tenet of a writer in the Beaverbrook press. But our Christian society does not even regard it as apostasy; and so far is it from condemning such a set of values, that it takes them to its heart; it fosters them in print and on the screen. Wordsworth's fear was lest indifference to greatness should set in, lest the 'instinct for self-preservation' fail. Our fear is far removed from his, for our standard of values can acknowledge established greatness, if not give it its due praise, hut it cannot penetrate and courageously reject hollowness. Wordsworth's position was, all the same, very similar to our own. For him the Revolution of 1789 seemed to open new vistas for humanity. He thought he saw in that upheaval that can only be explained as a radical change in human nature - and human nature does not change. We today have our new vistas: one is called the emancipation (or the annihilation) of mankind: another the conquest of space. Will these, too, end in disillusionment?

 


A.T.G.

 

No. 79 December, 1961

 

Editors:C. J. MARTIN and A. T. GABLE
Assistant editors: G. C. CASEY and A. J. MOORE

SPEAKING EDITORIALLY
During its first eight years of existence, the new 'Elizabethan' era, which was gloriously proclaimed for Britain from the summit of Everest in 1953, has measured up pretty poorly to its predecessor. Suppose we make a comparison on the comparatively low level of food. The prevalence today of the scientifically determined 'diet' is justified on two grounds. One of these is feminine aesthetics, for today, for the first time in history, society places the emaciated woman upon a pedestal. The other is the justification afforded on health grounds, immoderate diet being seen as the ruin of a programme of deliberate physical exercise yet as The Monovian observed on the occasion of the simultaneous opening of the School Gymnasium and Tuckshop in 1932: "These two seemingly opposed ideas are easily reconcilable . . . Hunger grows with exercise". Which is a decidedly true observation proving that the present generation cannot indulge in any real exertion, or it would not have the 'diet' craze. Let us set beside these latter-day orgies of lemon juice and lettuce, and beside the 'chop' (0 miserable object!), and the frozen pea hygienic to the point of tastelessness, the sheer poetry of the order placed by Sir George Monoux with victuallers and vintners when he feasted his fellow drapers on becoming master of the Drapers' Company: three boars, twenty-four dozen quail, forty-five pike, poultry, two sacks of flour, a hogshead (fifty-two gallons) each of red wine, white wine and claret, twenty-two gallons of muscatel and thirteen and a half barrels of ale. As late as the eighteenth century, Englishmen were still eating. That famous Norfolk parson, the Rev. James Woodforde, records in his diary a light meal of "boiled Tench, Pea soup, a couple of Boiled Chicken and Pig's Face, hashed Calf's Head, Beans and roasted Rump of Beef with New Potatoes, etc.; 2nd course roasted Duck and green peas, a very fine Leveret roasted, Strawberry Cream, Jelly, Puddings, etc. Dessert - Strawberries, Cherries and year's nonpareils". And if they paid for it occasionally (even Woodforde once notes "Mince Pye rose oft"), then they still saw in evening an enjoyable experience instead of a hurried biological necessity. Not that this editorial is a plea for gluttony. The comparison of ourselves with the Elizabethans and indeed any generation of pre-Industrial Revolution days may be extended on other levels, and the conclusion we must draw is that the Englishman has lost the taste for living. On the level of intellectual capabilities, let us take as an example of past achievements 'Good Queen Bess' herself, able to speak Latin and modern languages at the age of sixteen. The scholar of that type is no longer with us. Nor is the man who comes to books through his own natural instincts and needs, rather than through an imposed syllabus, like Abraham Lincoln, who, as a boy, found his key to life in Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, discovered at the bottom of a barrel of rubbish he bought for fifty cents from a pioneer emigrating west. As Lincoln tells us: "I began to read these famous works Never in my whole life was my mind so thoroughly absorbed. I read until I had devoured them." Let us think on these things as we idly toy with our sixth form books or jot down ready-made opinions straight from the horse's mouth. As The Monovian has pointed out before, digests, commentaries and second-hand education deny the individual ability to think for himself. Again, it was the middle-classes whose patronage enabled Elizabethan and indeed all Renaissance art to bloom, but today there is no corresponding patronage of the arts, society has managed without the artist, and the gifted individual is apart from it and attacking it, not part of it and helping it to develop. As J. B. Priestley has complained, society and the individual are no longer moving in the same direction. It is hardly necessary to mention the decline in spiritual values from the deep-rooted awareness of God, which prevailed in the Elizabethan era. Our religious values today are manifested by laws, which impose virtue, because the evangelists no longer have enough fire in their bellies to persuade men to voluntary virtue. It is fairly evident why all these changes have come about and why the Englishman has lost the ability to express himself on any level whatever with the vitality of his ancestors. The villain of the piece is plainly the Industrial Revolution. This great social upheaval took out of the hands of the Englishman the control of his own destiny through his skill and through the craft of small machines he could personally control, and placed it instead in the hands of the big impersonal machine. And so initiative today has become the prisoner of vast technological knowledge. Yet, and here is the supreme paradox of the situation, not only has industrial advancement brought material prosperity to Everyman, but the contemporaneous medical revolution has increased his life expectation and the possibility of spending the wealth he amasses. This was a pleasure denied to the average Elizabethan, with a life-expectation of forty years. He was hardly likely to be able to spend his money if he saved: and he was scarcely likely to live longer by taking things easily than if he enjoyed himself, what with the constant menace of plagues, famines, fire in highly inflammable towns, sudden death in a dark street with no patrolling policemen to intervene ("Twelve o'clock and all's well! ") and the constant menace of Parma, Spain and their Machiavellian brethren. The effect of the Industrial and Medical Revolutions has been to differentiate life and existence in the Englishman's eyes. With a dismal and meaningless routine imposed upon him by industrial economics, the average Englishman is deeply committed to staying alive whatever the cost, to enjoying his retirement by going carefully in the prime of life, to a deliberate policy of not enjoying himself. He pathetically clings to life as an end in itself, fortified by a new something-will-turn up optimism: who has not heard that ridiculous applause for the contestant on the TV quiz show for no better reason than that he or she is sixty-three? Naturally enough, death is the greatest fear of such a materialist society. The Elizabethan, on the other hand, had no such fear of death, because it was too imminent, far more imminent than is the impersonal threat of the H-Bomb today, for men to walk in constant fear of it. The thinkers and writers, then the leaders of society not as now its cranks, pitted powerful intellects and a profound spirituality against not death itself, but the real enemy, the fear of death. As their French contemporary Montaigne put it  "Let us learne to stand and combat her with a resolute mind . . . Nor alive nor dead it doth concern you nothing. Alive, because you are: Dead because you are no more." He goes on: "The profit of life consists not in the space, but rather in the use" for "life is it selfe neither good nor evill; it is the place of good or evill, according as you purpose it for them." Yet the fault of our society does not lie fundamentally in our materialism itself, but in the lack of purpose underlying that materialism. We have reached the end of what the American scholar Walter Prescott Webb calls 'the age of the Frontier'. This is the term applicable to an age in which a society is still expanding and which consequently offers to man the greatest opportunity for both personal success on a material level and the full fruition of himself as an individual, a fruition that cannot be accomplished without acquisition of some spiritual values. In such ages society has a sense of mission. Thus, in the United States during the last century, the settler, fortified by his belief in the Declaration of Independence as God's latest testament, believed he was extending a civilized and democratic freedom in a land which needed civilization and in a world which needed freedom. As the frontier closed, the sense of mission was lost. President Kennedy has endeavoured to remedy the deficiency with his concept of the 'New Frontier' and although we may laugh at the naïveté of the 'Peace Corps' there is no doubt that in the idea of the civilised voluntarily putting their material prosperity to the service of the underdeveloped, Kennedy has found the remedy to the mortal sickness of the materially prosperous society. The irony of our situation in Britain is that our frontier need never have closed. When the 'White Man's Burden' ceased to be borne on a political level, with the evolution of the Commonwealth, it had scarcely begun to be assumed on the economic and scientific levels, within the framework of that Commonwealth. And unless we recover our sense of mission in these fields, the lack of purpose, the lethargy, the fratricidal strife of our sick society will go on - will go on until we turn outside ourselves. The need grows apparent, therefore, for us to recover something of the zest for life which the Elizabethans had, which even the Victorians had not lost whilst they retained some control of the monster of technology. There is a necessity to eat, drink and be merry 'for tomorrow we die' and it's no good pretending that we won't. But these things are only the superficial level of enjoyment: we must aspire to the higher enjoyment of the subjection of self in the service of others. And if we balk at the hazards of desert and tropical forest, of veldt and slum tenement, if we balk at the one spectre not yet laid by technical Man, Death itself, let us remember Montaigne, smiling at his follies in his tower of contentment, with enough experience behind him and enough soul within him to have the self-knowledge to say 'Some man hath lived long, that hath had a short life."

 

C.J.M.

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