Revised version of an inaugural Professorial lecture given at the University
of Buckingham, July 24th
Education and Modernity
Introduction and Summary
I want to say something
tonight about modernity and in particular
modernity's very problematic connections with our educational
arrangements. I have accordingly entitled my paper EDUCATION
AND MODERNITY. I feel bound to touch also on the strange conceit
that modernity has now past and that we are in a condition of "Post-Modernity."
My main concern, however, will be with a particular economic sociology
of education which I hope will both explain some of our educational
shortcomings and point the way to eliminating them.
My central positive claim
is the unoriginal one that modernity is a mix of private enterprise
and legally constituted representative government. I will spell
out the key sociological features of this mix as well as
its economic details. My central critical claim is that our education
system has a paradoxically perverse relationship to the modern order.
On the one hand, without mass education there could be no
modernity. On the other hand, the economic arrangements of education
do not themselves conform to modernity. When we look at contemporary
educational organisation, we find some of the features of the very
modernity it helps to secure, egregiously missing.
Before I enlarge on today's
educational shortcomings, however, I will have to plunge briefly into the problematic quagmire
of "modernity." I will say what the so-called "Post-Modernists"
seem to me to be saying and also I will dwell a little on how conservative
views on modernity differ from libertarian ones. I understand "conservative"
to mean "wishing to maintain our traditional civilisation."
I understand "libertarian" to mean "wishing to free us from unnecessary
laws and regulations and restrictions." There is no necessary tension
between these positions. Lots of people are conservative and libertarian.
I am for example. The reason a brief digression on conservatism
and libertarianism is relevant to my thesis is easy to explain.
Conservatives and libertarians would virtually all take varying
degrees of offence at our educational arrangements. Socialists
on the other hand will support them overwhelmingly.
The Notion of Modernity
I take modernity to mean
newness of a distinctive kind, in particular economic and political
arrangements of a historically novel sort. I refer specifically
to a mix of representative law-based government and private enterprise,
of the sort Francis Fukuyama had in mind when he wrote his End
of History book. It is important to emphasise, however, that modernity
does not at all mean the absence of ancient, long-standing institutions,
such as family, church and monarchy. Indeed intellectually it may
be claimed that modern European civilisation, from the eighteenth
century, was the first civilisation to take a deep interest in cultures
other than its own and was steeped in historical sense. This was
the civilisation which created
capitalism and democracy but also comparative religion and systematic
historical and linguistic analysis.
To return specifically
to the socio-economic anatomy of modernity, which Fukuyama does not treat
in great detail, I suggest four characteristics are involved:
1. In the first instance
a widespread accumulation of tradable private property. In a truly
modern society, there is a lot of this property and a lot of people
possess some of it. The legal forms surrounding
ownership are very complex but the key fact is the alienability
of property. Hernando de Soto has written a famous
book on this subject. If assets cannot be traded easily they do not
constitute modern capital. They cannot be traded readily if they
have insecure legal status, an observation confirming the belief
that law is the basis of civilisation, and that the market economy
despite its crucial importance as civilisation's lawful reproduction-system,
is essentially derivative. Modernity perhaps consists in the presence
of such a derivative economic reproduction-system.
2. In the second instance
a widespread accumulation of human capital in the working
population. Human capital is enhanced productivity of labour through
education, training, migration and health-care. The stock of such
human capital increases pari passu with the
accumulation of physical investment. It is very significant today
in the generation of income. Rather little of the labour available
in the market now is mere brute labour. Certainly in any rich society
the human capital stock will be huge. To distinguish human capital
from mere skills, we note that human capital is a matter
of deliberate, pondered decisions to commit resources to the protection
and or advancement of skills. It presupposes an open society encouraging
and permitting such decisions. Nor is knowledge as such to be identified
with human capital. When I first visited Poland, I was struck by how
well educated its denizens often were as well as how poor they were.
Without an elaborate division of labour and without the requisite
accumulation of physical capital, both of which will occur only
in the presence of effective rights of property, knowledge remains
economically inert. It is not then human capital.
3. In the third instance
there is a very large middle class.
When there are secure property rights at the same time
as a dynamic industrial technology, brute labour soon gives way
to labour modified by human capital increments. To my knowledge
the labour history here has never been written in terms of human
capital. What is involved, however, is precisely the growth of the
middle class, caused by changes in the division of labour, in favour
of new skills and capacities. The old Marxist notion that the contact
between the bourgeoisie and the workers produces a polarisation
as the latter are impoverished, has been utterly falsified. The
contact in fact produces social reconciliation as the demand for
managerial and technical skills, fuelled by scientific and technological
advance, creates a new kind of society with more complex and elaborate
In other words the capitalist
and the worker are not enemies but allies. The working-class shrinks,
the numbers of very wealthy people increase and above all the middle
class increases in size, until it becomes, in the late twentieth
century, the social norm. These changes express perfectly the sociological
significance of human capital formation, a very large accumulation
of human capital effectively signalling a middle class society.
This large middle class
also links the economics with the politics of modernity.
When there is a large and affluent middle class, indeed where such
a middle class makes up the majority of the population, the social
and political order is very easy to legitimate. It legitimates itself,
so to speak, there being no bitter dichotomy between minority haves
and majority have-nots. The market economy is the sole economic
system so far which can create a majority of haves in a given society.
This is why refugees want to go to America or Britain. They want to be free;
they want to join the haves.
It is probably not sufficiently
widely appreciated that in pre-modern societies the rich and the
powerful had (or have) endless difficulties controlling the poor
and the weak. Sometimes they used force; at other times they used
various ideological devices, in particular religious justifications.
But social control in such situations is always precarious. Most
political systems, past and present, have been unpopular. So unpopular
was Communism -- an endless war between the Party and everyone else
-- that the Soviets maintained 3 million men under arms in Eastern Europe, in addition to the vast
resources individual Communist states devoted to the suppression
of revolt. Market economies are historically novel in not needing
to use frequent and systematic violence to achieve control. Because
of their affluence, because of their huge middle class, because
of their overwhelming foundation in voluntary exchange, because
of the regard their members have for the rule of law, because property
rights are protected, because property is available, and human capital
can readily be formed, modern market economies do not have this
terrible problem of a hostile and sullen majority.
Such market economies
are, indeed, the first large-scale societies in history which do not have it. The Tudors were
terrified of the poor, the mob of beggars:
the dogs do bark,
the beggars are coming
some in rags,
and some in jags
and one in a velvet gown."
As late as the seventeenth
century in England men and women
effectively needed permission to leave their native villages,
since they could be returned to their own parishes if they looked
as if they might become a charge
on the rates of the parishes to which they had moved. In eighteenth century England the army was frequently
used as a means of social control. Then, as industrialisation spread the market
order, with its opportunities and its rising affluence, the new
British economy and polity became increasingly seen as legitimate.
The last Marxist-led revolt, the one steered by Arthur Scargill,
was a final despairing revolt by a disgruntled minority.
often paid from public funds, spend much of their time in modern
societies trying to unscramble the spontaneous political and social
consensus of capitalism. On the whole they cause trouble, between
the races and between the sexes for example, as well as for the
police and for the teachers, without their really being able to
reverse the advantageous outcomes to which market forces have given
The late Basil Bernstein
said that the education system created by progressive intellectuals
was an "interrupter" of the bourgeois order. He meant that it slows the market economy down.
I will add that it also restrains upward social mobility. It cannot
stop the social and economic movements of modernity. Indeed it mediates
them. Without some system of society-wide identification
of talent and aptitude, these characteristics of modernity could
not become established. But the way education is organised can and
does impede them to some extent. The education system is a
modernizer, but because of its governing ideologues and the views
and policies they force on the system, it is a reluctant, hesitant
and neurotic one. The middle class is huge; it would be even bigger
if the education system were more efficient. There has been a dramatic
reversal of poverty but the policies of educational and welfare
leadership have ensured that the poor and ignorant remain far more
numerous than they should.
The problem of educational
standards illustrates the tensions forcefully. Doubtless the élite who run our schools want education standards to rise.
Unfortunately they want other things, like the pursuit of equality
and the happiness of children, more. If there were a system of effective
private enterprise in education, these false goals would meet resistance from the properly vested
interests both of those who wish their children to prosper intellectually
and socially and of those who wish to make profits by providing
their clietèle with the education
they want for their children. The absence of property rights facilitates
4. The fourth principal
characteristic of modernity is a
large minority of the population
in possession of very high levels of intellectual development,
variously in mathematics or science, medicine, social science, arts,
philosophy etc. You cannot sustain economic and scientific
and technical innovation, and run complex legal and medical systems,
unless you have a brilliant élite. Here
we are talking about the veritable moguls of human capital. If you want to confirm a conviction that modernity
is not a synonym for "utopia," however, let me point out that there
are also millions of illiterates and innumerates
in modern society and that the populations of the world's richest
countries are not very well educated on average. One cannot help
wistfully wondering how much better things would be if our educational
arrangements worked well for the vast majority of citizens. My claim
is that privately financed education would produce intellectual
improvements across the board.
Difficulties in the Idea of Modernity: Post-Modernism
There are grave difficulties
I have not mentioned with the idea of "modernity." I shall not go into them at length. There are
one or two considerations, however,
which demand a few words.
Let me simply say that the whole concept of "Post-Modernism,"
though very fashionable, is an absurd one. As
Solzhenitsyn says, or more or less, "you cannot live after
now." Or as I would put it, in the style of Marx, (Groucho,
not Karl), "you cannot get more modern than now. Today is as recent
as it gets."
There is a vast literature on Post-Modernism,
for which expression cultural relativism and multiculturalism are
almost co-terms. The Post-Modernists argue that cultural
boundaries are breaking down. Intellectual absolutes are dissolving.
They claim that the "grand narratives" of our culture are losing
their force, e.g. the Biblical story, or the idea of European civilisation
as a special and different human endeavour. For me the biblical
story will never lose its force. As for European civilisation, the
idea is due for a rebirth if we can once repudiate successfully
the modern habit of intellectual self-denigration.
The most dramatic charge by the Post-Modernists
is that our experience is becoming "de-historicized," the claim
being that we are now experientially flattened, suspended in a kind
of universal present, or stasis.
Perhaps this is another version of the globalist
thesis, the idea that every place is becoming like every other place.
Everyone's experience is homogenised. Personally, this is what I
always found in Communist societies. I do not think it nearly so
true of market economies.
If the Post-Modernists
were referring to the academic study of history, or popular familiarity
with some of history's great land-marks, they would be right in
their claim that the sense of history has withered. I would wryly
note, though, that the voices telling us we are de-historicized
are the same sorts of voices first raised against the academic teaching
of history in our schools. So a group of people destroy an academic
tradition and then they, or their ideological look-alikes, call
the resulting ignorance of that tradition an eternal present, or
loss of historical sense.
The notion that our civilisation
is not historically alive is false anyway. Most of the citizens
of economic modernity are in one respect at least very aware of
past, present and future. At least economically our society is not ahistorical. Our economic life is characterised by widespread,
finely tuned calculation, in a large number of separate as well
as overlapping markets. The calculations and decisions involved
are deeply informed by historical perspective on price movements
and relative scarcities and they use past and present comparisons
to decide on likely or possible future variations therein. This
will always continue to be the case as long as there is an observed
rule of law and widely observed property rights. At least as far as economic life is concerned
the idea of a de-historicized world is simply nonsense. In more
cultural terms one might say that the easiest way to revive the
historical sense would be to teach it.
Conservatives Proper on Modernity
On the other hand, for
hard-line conservatives, those who believe neither in moral nor
in social progress, presumably "modernity" is just an inflated word
for "nowadays." Conservatives do not expect the world to be tidy
so they will not fully share my discomfort, for example, at the
fact that most market economies have socialistic education systems.
They might agree that it is a bit of a nuisance but they will not
see it as quite the anomaly it
is for me. Conservatives proper do not expect the world to be anything
but a collection of "bits and pieces." "Why should you expect it
to cohere?" is their attitude. It is historical philosophy which
divides libertarians and conservatives. Both believe in the rule
of law and in property rights. Conservatives, however, hold that
history has no direction. This is true of a philosopher like Roger
Scruton, or historians like Andrew Roberts
or Niall Ferguson. For these writers history's calm or grand periods,
its episodic improvements in other words, cannot be relied on to
last or even to happen at all. Above all, history never comes to
an end for the conservative mind. In this sense Fukuyama's thesis is merely false.
There is in some libertarian musings
a kind of formulaic conviction that the free market will
take care of all our human worries. I have to agree with the conservatives.
There is no final haven or resting place for the ship of humanity.
The Concept "Modernity" would be
Vacuous if it Meant Everything which Happens to be Around
As a conservative enthusiast for
certain aspects of modern civilisation, I do agree that "modernity"
would be a vacuous idea if it referred to everything that happens
to be around now. Many nationalisms and some religious movements
today seem like atavisms, reversions to more primitive type. The
same is shockingly true of many aspects of mass culture, which are
parasitic on the wealth of modernity but also abuse it appallingly.
The totalitarian movements of the last century were atavisms. They
manifested indeed certain horrible ahistorical
novelties but also, more importantly, they resembled in uncanny
detail the slave states of Asian antiquity and the storage despotisms
of pre-Columbian America. The fact that some German
scholars wrote bad books about the similarities does not mean that
the similarities were not real. The Third Reich was very like the ancient Assyrian
empire, with its insatiable military expansionism and unfathomable
cruelty. The Soviet Union was very like Pharoaonic Egypt or Ancient Mesopotamia,
or Peru under the Incas, even
if certain German philosophers said so. These various societies
were very different from each other in some respects. In
common was their indifference or hostility to law as we understand
it and their ignorance of or opposition to property rights.
All Said and Done, the Market System
is the Only Decent Economic Game in Town
I do not mean by this that I agree
with Fukuyama's thesis that the battle of history
is over. On the contrary I think that civilisation will always face
external enemies and often still worse internal ones. How would
one reckon the threat posed to this country by The Guardian newspaper
compared to that by resurgent Islam? The latter wants to demolish
our buildings while the former wants to demolish some of our key
institutions. I do agree
with Fukuyama, however, that from the
standpoint of modernity there seems to be no viable alternative
to the market economy and representative government.
Soviet-style socialism as a general way of life has lost
all appeal and Brave New World, which conceives the future
as kind of universal Sweden with knobs on, is not
much more appealing. The
greed of certain corporate moguls today will perhaps give capitalism
a bad name for a while; but it will probably not revive the socialist
project. My concern with the socialist project is rather the way
it lives on in education and welfare without people's seeming to
The Economic Apparatus of Modernity and the Educational
In fact the public do
try to make rational economic decisions about their children's education.
They do for the most part attempt to submit that educational experience
to the same calculus they employ for most of their economic affairs.
This is natural given the obvious impact of school and university
on life-chances. Unfortunately it is difficult in some respects,
because of the economic opacity of education. Parents do not have
access, when they are pondering matters of education, to the fine-tuned
data they can use for purchasing their groceries, buying their houses,
paying for their cars and holidays.
It would be good if everyone could work the state-system
as effectively as certain leading politicians seem to be able to.
Unfortunately many people simply cannot.
We can slightly recast my thesis by saying that one of the features of economic
modernity in the richer societies is the extent to which their educational
arrangements are not themselves fully paid up examples of the "modern" condition. Modernity does include a specialised division of
intellectual labour with a large recruitment, but this is a necessary,
not a sufficient condition. To meet the full criteria of economic
modernity, the organisation of such learning must also itself include
as an integral feature the developed apparatus of the modern market.
Indeed, this must be true of the large-scale production of all
private goods. In the educational arrangements of countries
like Britain, we see
the contrary and contradictory phenomenon of a socialist organisation
of academic life, based on public finance and egalitarian ideologies.
Of course there are many market influences at work in education.
If there were not, many people would simply revolt and withdraw
their children from school. Compulsory education would be unenforceable
in a free society if most people thought school had no significance
for jobs etc. But the preferences of educational leadership are
socialist ones. The DFES is notoriously socialistic, for example.
functional reasons for deploring this, as well as value free reasons
for trying to explain it. A free society with a dynamic modern economy,
a society necessarily characterised by radical intellectual disagreements
-- the set of controversies being by definition an infinite one
-- cannot afford to rely for the maintenance and reproduction of
its intellectual life on institutions which do not themselves belong
to modernity. If economic modernity is given by
private property in the means of production, money transactions
and the specialised division of labour, it may be asserted that
most of the educational institutions of this country typically meet
neither of the first two criteria and the third criterion only in
an unsatisfactory form.
1.Educational assets are
not in the main in the form of disposable private property;
2. Education is mostly within the
so-called "social wage," that is to say that it is not bought and
3.The division of specialised intellectual
labour within the educational service, is very half-hearted, or
if we are more severe in judgement, perversely inadequate. The
insistence on the uniform rate for the job, for example, has left
us with huge shortages in mathematics and science.
And these initial considerations
are only the start of a very long list of inconsistencies with the
market economy. Many of these are very little remarked upon. Let us spell out some of them.
Education and the Missing
Features of the Developed Market Economy
Consider. In modern education, for the most part there is no owning class,
no educational bourgeoisie. Even private schools are not for the
most part owned by capitalists. There is an absence of readily tradable
educational private property, as anyone who has tried to set up
a private school will know. By and large education in this country
is organised without property rights, without accounts of profit
and loss, without the crucial institution of bankruptcy. In the
British case legislation has so contrived things that even in private
schools it is difficult to sack a weak or unsatisfactory teacher.
It is in
what confronts parents and older children, however, that the economic
phenomena of modernity are most glaringly lacking. As far as many
families are concerned, there is effectively no exit for
their children if they find the schools unsatisfactory. There are
lots of manipulations. Parents can move location, even change towns,
to get good state schooling for their children. The worst plight
is that of those many families who either cannot do this because
they do not have the required resources or do not know of its importance.
It is absurd in any case that anyone should have to move house to
get his children decent schooling. The unsatisfactory nature of
our educational arrangements is seen in this example above all others.
The poorest and most ignorant of people can change supermarkets
or utility-suppliers. Millions of our young people, however, are
caught helplessly in schools their parents feel rage about but are
in no position to extract them from.
Public Finance of Education
Changes the Free Market Calculus
There are also perverse educational
dynamics some of which almost no one seems to have noticed. With
respect to a free market economy, the standard assumption of economics
is that the economic system is driven by the demands of citizens,
with direct regard to their own perceived wants. In a socialist
economy the assumption is that experts can plan the output of society
in relation to their understanding of the population's needs.
The economic system is thus supply-driven. In terms of whole
societies, the argument in favour of supply-dominance is pretty
well dead. Take your pick of North Korea or Cuba. Where argument still
rages, however, is in relation to the
"socialist pockets" as I elect to call them, of predominantly
free enterprise economies. The planners and their endless set of
needs are still well and truly alive in education.
Ideological Convictions and Public
In the case of British education
we can identify support for the status quo in the
convictions of committed socialist intellectuals and in the
habituation of millions of citizens. What though, does the public
financing of education do to the average citizen vis
the calculus of scarcity and choice? It changes that calculus. Because
the demand is financed with funds he does not have to provide himself,
the consumer is pushed away from investment and towards consumption.
He is led to think less about future income and enjoyment and
more about present enjoyment. Thus the ratio of curricular consumption
to investment rises. There will be more soft social science and
less arduous study undertaken, in science or foreign languages,
for example. Both consumption and investment, however, will be undertaken
more frivolously. So there will also be more curricular waste.
This distortion is an important and little understood phenomenon,
a part of what I call "subsidised innovation." It seems to me far
more important than the alleged curricular power of whites, or men
or heterosexuals or Western culture. More dramatic by far, however,
are the changes wrought by subsidised innovation on the supply side,
to which we turn in the next section.
The Two Regulatory Modes
of British Education: Subsidised Innovation and Bureaucratic Centralism
Here let us note two organisational aspects of modern education which underpin
all the arrangements in our nationalised education system. Both
are offensive to the free society. One is a parasite of economic
activity in such a free society, since it operates speculatively
using other people's resources. Just above, I called this mode "subsidised
innovation." It is even more destructive on the supply side than
on the demand side. Money was available at training college and
in schools when it was decided in the 1960s by certain authorities
that we do not need rote spelling, or the rote learning of tables,
or the general exercise of memory by factual mastery of anything
much. It was similarly decided on the basis of the taxpayer's money
that children are naturally good and do not have to be burdened
with elaborate moral training. Later on the same innovators pressed
for the introduction of the obsessions with race and sex and
cultural relativism that have made up such a large part of
the intellectual diet of teacher education in the last few decades.
innovation was privately secured, privatisation of decision-making, indeed. Unfortunately it was publicly paid for.
And the vast costs have been socialised, passed on to the general
taxpayer. Illiteracy, for example, has been socialised
under the banner of "special needs." Unfortunately, the reforming British governments of the
1980s appeared not to understand what was wrong. Worse, they tried
to fix it by imposing on the system a mode of control with an even
worse track record. This is the ancient system of governance managed
by the Pharoahs, the Chinese Emperors
and the Mongol Khans, the system the Spaniards found among the more
developed cultures of the Americas. We call
it "bureaucratic centralism." It must be said that no one who had
read Hayek could possibly have supported its use in education or
anywhere else. Yet in the 1980s the most successful economic
management of British modernity, the Thatcher dispensation, allowed
its civil servants to impose on schools in England
and Wales the "National
Curriculum," a bureaucratic Leviathan
so strange and alien to British ways, that
it is a wonder Lenin did not sit up in his coffin and grin
at its introduction.
of "planning" the nation's intellectual life on a centralised basis
is a dire conceit on the lines of the Soviet model. The Soviets
thought they knew the needs of the
Russian people. But the whole idea is misconceived. Their needs
mattered not a fig. What required attending to was not their needs
but their wants, and wants are something no socialist system
can ever or will ever be able to minister to.
The concept "need" presupposes that there are goods which
people must have, so important they can be thought of as necessities,
while non-necessities must be thought of as luxuries. Economic science
knows no such distinction, which is one of the myths of socialism.
A child will say "I want a lolly." An
adult may say, "I need a drink." The child's word-choice is consistent
with economic science; the adult's is not. Questions of curriculum,
pedagogy and moral management do not differ in this regard from
other questions of consumer/citizen preference. Parents and children
have curricular and pedagogic and disciplinary wants with regard to education, not needs.
We do not
know what curriculum, what teaching, what examination modes, what
kind of discipline the public favour till we let them demonstrate
these wants via their money demands. We cannot gather to
a bureaucratic centre all the subject information etc., which a
properly modern education system must supply to the public. The
variety of educational wants is hugely complex, and endlessly shifting
and recomposing. One family wants science, another favours arts
and another sociology. Some people like whole-class teaching, others
project work. Certain citizens, probably a majority, want strong
discipline at school. Others reject this as repressive. There is
no one model fitting all comers. This complexity does not permit
centralised systematisation. Such
a codification simply cannot be done. All
that gets codified is the supply preferences and solecisms of the
bureaucratic élite. And indeed,
what is happening today is that these two unsatisfactory modes --
subsidised innovation and bureaucratic centralism -- are becoming
intertwined. Subsidised innovation and bureaucratic centralism have
now linked up.
This unholy mess can never be rectified without recourse to the essence
of economic modernity: competition. Competition means: fluid markets,
money transactions, extensive property rights and a flexible, rational
division of labour. Education
necessitates markets, not planners. It calls for the rule of parents,
not of teacher trainers, inspectors and civil servants. Education
can function adequately only on the basis of money transactions,
not as part of the social wage. Education demands property rights.
People should own the schools and colleges in which education takes
place, otherwise no one will ever be held responsible for their
success or failure. There has to be an educational bourgeoisie,
its sound management rewarded and its bad management penalised.
There should be a voucher scheme which endorses the rights of individuals,
enabling them to seek better schools than the basic voucher will
purchase, at their own expense. Our families and their children want exit from
bad schools, not voice to complain about them.
One Longish Obiter
allow me one longish obiter. On the question of teacher education,
it is high time we exchanged all the claptrap about race and so-called
"gender" and Anglocentric culture and began talking instead about litter
and graffiti and bad manners and how to change them, and private
and public property and how to protect them. I spent more than a
quarter of a century in teacher education and neither in the hundreds
of schools I visited nor in the college where I worked, did I ever hear any genuine moral teaching,
either in Ten Commandments form or in terms of secular humanism.
it is worth saying that the Catholic elementary school where I began
my education during the Second World War, was vastly superior in
its general education to that of any primary school I have been
in to in recent decades. In our eleven plus year there were 53 children
in the scholarship class. All of them could read and had basic numeracy
and they had all learned the Ten Commandments. I have never been
in a class in any primary school in recent times where such standards
and such moral order are achieved. In many parts of the country
you would have to go to an expensive private school to find such
success today. It is probable
that none of our teachers, Irish nuns mostly, had a degree. Some
would also argue that they were often cruel. The standards they
achieved, however, with pupils from very low income families, speak
for themselves. So maybe they did love the children, though they
did not say so, more than those who repeat loudly how much they
love them whilst neglecting to teach them anything worthwhile. In
any event the sisters' outlook was very different from that of the
contemporary progressive ascendancy in primary education, conducted
under perverse arrangements set by soi-disant
experts who identify false ills and neglect real ones.
A Summing Up
I have argued that law is the basis
of civilisation, and that a market economy is a derivative of legally established property rights. I have defended the concept
of modernity from its post-modernist critics, arguing that general
economic life in countries like ours is still properly to be characterised
as "modern." I have sought to show that educational arrangements
in Britain do not themselves share
the characteristic features of economic modernity, namely institutionalised
competition, widespread private property, a fully developed bourgeoisie,
money transactions, fully specialised division of labour, consumer-driven
dynamics, proper accounting and the institution of bankruptcy for
failing practice. I have nowhere argued, however, that the system
fails for most people. The public would not tolerate such an outcome.
But education, along with health-care, remains a nationalised industry,
and the conditions which might have kept it intellectually viable
have long passed. Our educational arrangements cause permanent underperformance
and are outrageous to common sense as well as to economic logic.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
The question and answer session directly following the lecture
was opened by Dr Sean Gabb. Was it not
the case, he asked, that Political Correctness had made its way
to this country from the United States, where it had taken root
in mainly private universities? My reply was that the prestigious
private Universities of America are not as private as they look,
since these institutions receive huge Federal funds. Secondly, though
it is true that Political Correctness came eastwards across the
Atlantic, the intellectual inspiration for this movement was mostly
French, involving in particular the writings of Foucault and Derrida, and it has to be said, moreover, that there
is no nonsense which certain American and British intellectuals will not believe, provided only that it was
written initially in French.
Another member of the audience asked
what I understood by "education." I said I understood it in very
traditional terms, to be the pursuit of what is true or beautiful
or morally binding on us, and that these aims of education are all
too often marginalized or ignored. Professor David Conway raised
a question which had exercised me a great deal during the writing
of this inaugural lecture. Is there not, he asked, an exclusive
and highly demanding education, identified by the wearing of academic
dress, for example, which
has no bearing on the market and its imperatives? My response was
that such a model does not apply to mass enrolments. It could be
viable only when very small numbers of people attend universities.
Professor David Marsland's later response to Professor Conway, was that the
market would anyway supply universities
catering for this kind of intellectual preference.
Professor Julian Morris recalled
Adam Smith's observation that professors who were paid taught far
better than those who were not. His main query concerned my view
on the role of vouchers. Vouchers in my view are a transitional
mechanism, needed because the level of taxation is penal. If
taxation were significantly curtailed, vouchers would not
Ruth Newell asked whether, in view
of my long burden of complaint, education ought to be seen as involving
the happiness of the children. Was education to be enjoyable? My
response was first to the effect that in education we must in all duty seek to
get the measure of the world, to see what it is like. Education
must not overlook or deny the bad
things in the world. It must take them into account. This
does not at all imply a negative reckoning overall. Indeed there
is something very wrong in the fashionable significance among educated
people granted to the work of visceral pessimists like Samuel Beckett.
A dark view of the world now also informs much of the school and university curriculum.
Indeed it is not too much to
say that much of the conduct
of education is now steeped in despair. A child can be terrified
by environmentalism when he or she is at the primary stage and taught
to disdain high culture and our political history as an adolescent,
before moving to a degree course infused with the deadly pessimism
of political correctness. The most widely read "philosopher" in
British higher education at present is the late French nihilist
Michel Foucault, who believed that there is no such thing as the
human subject, all of us being no more than the meeting point of
various power structures. Overall, the atmosphere pervading much
of the curriculum is so gloomy that at times it could
put one in mind, though without the unforgettable
poetry, of Macbeth's terrifying and despairing rejection of life:
Life's but a walking shadow,
A poor player that struts and frets
his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is
a tale told by an idiot,
Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
This dreadful pessimism is at the
heart of modern educational arrangements. It is the vacuum left
by the collapse of utopian socialism and related egalitarian fantasies.
The glibly optimistic egalitarianism of the early Enlightenment
has now yielded to an equally false egalitarianism of hopelessness.
My criticism of education as now constituted does not signify
a rejection of the world. It is on the contrary, optimism which is the
educational imperative for those who seek a free society, a viewpoint
which, as Professor David Marsland later
pointed out to me in writing, was urged upon us as a moral duty
by Karl Popper. The discussion ended with my quoting as apposite
to this theme, the closing lines of the marvellous wartime song
by Burton Lane and Ralph Freed, How About You?
They say the world's in a dreadful
Too bad to contemplate,
Maybe it's true;
But I like it,
How about you?