The Educational Priesthood
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Manifesto for the Educational Revolution
R.F.Mackenzie
1980

[chapter 1] [chapter 2] [chapter 3] [chapter 4] [chapter 5] [chapter 6] [chapter 7] [chapter 8] [chapter 9]



Chapter 2

The Educational Priesthood

"The later phase of life on earth has tended to destroy the wholeness of the child mind at a very early stage. The intensive pursuit of what is called education has also tended to disintegrate the young mind. Where the young mind undergoes disintegration, its capacity for coherence and action are impaired. It can thus quickly be made amenable to those who can gather the parts together and suggest a saving line of action."

- Neil Gunn, The Green Isle of the Great Deep


Of the four groups who compose the College of Priesthoods (ecclesiastical, legal, political and educational) this is the priesthood of which I have the most intimate knowledge. I first came into contact with the education system at five years old in a red sandstone school in a small market town in Aberdeenshire. The reading was dull and the writing laborious but there was a sense of satisfaction in doing long division sums that came out exactly, like the lived-happily-ever-afterwards stories. We could spell accommodation and harassed and cemetery and diarrhoea. We could parse and analyse sentences. We knew that adverbial clauses modified while adjectival clauses qualified and felt that there must be some subtle difference between a modification and a qualification.

I look back over the years to the geography that my teachers taught me. The Great Australian Bight. Icebergs in the Antarctic, rice in the tropics. Sacred cows in India. Cancer and Capricorn, prairies and savannahs, latitude and longitude (and the various ways that teachers pronounced that word), tundra and steppes and wigwams and kayaks and, caiques and igloos, temperate and torrid zones, palm and pine, the Gulf Stream. the Kalahari Desert, the Rockies, Fuji Yama, the Equator and the Arctic Circle and map projections and exports and imports. A redeeming sense of violence and drama was briefly introduced by the volcanoes, Vesuvius, Etna, Kekla and Stromboli.

I tried to differentiate between Henry I and Henry II (which was the king who never smiled again?) and Henry III (was he the one who was described as a weak character? I always felt sorry for him). Henry IV, Henry V (who stood out from the others: Agincourt 1415), Henry VI (or was he the weak character?), Henry VII, Henry VIII (wives). And the Scottish Jameses. James I (killed at Perth when Catherine somebody tried to bar the door to his enemies with her arm), James II (he had 'favourites', the history book said. He was killed by the explosion of his own cannon at the seige of Roxburgh), James III (killed after having been captured at Sauchieburn), James IV (Flodden 1513), James V (who said, referring to the Scottish crown, 'It cam wi a lass and it will gang wi a lass').  And then James VI and I whom the translators of the bible hoped would be 'the wonder of the world' and somebody else described as 'the wisest fool in Christendom'. And then into the boredom of Charleses and Jameses and petitions of right and solemn leagues and covenants and from that into the murk of religious wars.

There were wars and treaties and the mystery of treaty-making. We had to memorise the provisions of the treaties of Utrecht and Versailles. Custer and Disraeli and Dundas and Wellington and Marlborough and Peel. I discovered much later that the Irish called him 'Orange Peel' but none of this irreverence desecrated the solemnity of our history lessons. There were the noble Pitts (one of them called ' the great Commoner'). There were the Black Hole of Calcutta, the Siege of Lucknow and the Siege of Ladysmith, Magna Carta (which made everything different), the North-west Passage, Peary and Nansen and Scott and Amundsen, Cavour and Garibaldi, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Sodom and Gomorrah, David and Jonathan. The dull history of Scotland, Scots and Picts and Britons and all that, and Columbus and Columba and Colombo and Colombia, and Einstein and Darwin, and Churchill and Lloyd George and Bonar Law and Campbell Bannerman, and Balfour and Sheridan and Fox and Derby, and Devonshire and Aberdeen and Lord Eustace Percy, the South-Sea Bubble and the Boston Tea Party. And trade unions and truck acts. And Wilberforce and the freeing of the slaves and the Great Reform Act and indulgences and the Vicar of Bray. Alexander and Don John of Austria and Wolfe and Claverhouse and Montrose and the Earl of Dundee and the Duke of Montrose and Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. I look back on my educational career, littered with information like a road littered with pages from books that have fallen off a lorry.

Most of the characters of history, as presented to us, emerged as unattractive characters. Gladstone and Washington were the proto-types. I couldn't imagine them swearing, or winking to us, or smiling. They were all too good or too perfect or too noble for us sinners. GREAT MEN they were called. There were many such, gods of war and poetry and music, Caesar and Napoleon and Alexander, Shakespeare and Beethoven and Leonardo da Vinci. Gladstone made long speeches and was on our side. Nobody ever said so, but that was what we were given to believe. Now I know that he was no more on our side than the Dukes of Devonshire or the Pharaohs. John Knox was a kind of earlier Gladstone, frowning on sinners, both of them like ministers or dominies.

I sit back now and let the memories of my education flow back into my recollection. South America meant Aztecs and Mayas, and lordly conquistadors making circles round the aborigines, but who was caring for these dull aborigines? There were piranha fish and jaguars. I remember looking up the atlas to see which was longest, the Nile , the Amazon or the Volga. The Volga flowed into the Caspian Sea, or did it? And along its banks peasants sang the Volga Boat Song. There was Nijni Novgorod, or had that changed its name? There were endless steppes, and tea-kettles called - but there, I've forgotten what these tea-kettles were called - and ikons and kulaks and collective farms and the Bolshoi theatre. Samovars, yes, that was the name of the tea-kettles. And tundra and reindeer.

The school world was a world of question and answer. What is Chemnitz famous for? Who wrote Bleak House? Which century did Milton live in? What is a crotchet? Where is Perrambuco? What is x squared y squaredWhat is the chemical formula for common salt? What is biltong? We progressed from simple questions like these to more recondite information. Where did Ann Hathaway live? In which book does Meg Merrilees appear? Who were the Forty-niners? What is the chemical formula for sugar? Who was Metternich? What was the Agadir Crisis? What is a philosopher? What do you know about Peterloo? Who is the Chancellor of the Exchequer? What is onomatopoeia? What is osmosis? What are the Roaring Forties? Who wrote Major Barbara?

Who wrote, "And the red glare on Skiddaw roused the burghers of Carlisle"? Who was Mercutio? What is psychology? Who was Osiris? Where is Kamchatka? Who was Peary? What is a trochee? What was the money from the Forfeited Estates used for? What is an inversion in meteorology? What is Avogadro's Law? Who were the Lords of the Articles? Where is graphite mined?

I spent six years learning Latin. Cum with the subjunctive ( and the rare occasions when the rules were relaxed on cum and it wasn't lumbered with the subjunctive). There were ablative absolutes, gerundives and defective verbs. We plodded through Vergil's Aeneid. It was one of the WORLD'S GREAT POEMS we were told, but I never felt the impact of greatness. It was a dull story, made duller by our labour to translate it and pass examinations in "seen" and "unseen" passages. We achieved some facility in translation and got some satisfaction out of that as out of completing a newspaper crossword. The thoughts and feelings of an earlier civilisation didn't penetrate into our scholarly classroom. Their cookery or clothes were never enlarged on. 'Pius Aeneas' didn't come alive. We were sorry for jilted Dido. But no teacher dwelt on this human and therefore subsidiary side of the poem.  The language was the important thing, and especially the way in which constructions which would not be acceptable in prose were acceptable and perhaps admirable in verse. Once in an examination a pupil (later a minister of the Church of Scotland) explaining a poetic usage in Aeneid Book VI illustrated his answer by a comparison with a similar usage of the word in Aeneid Book I which we had studied the previous year. He gave the number of the line in Aeneid I and Aeneid VI in which this word appeared. I remember the teacher's delight at this piece of scholarship in a sixteen year old boy. Suddenly the teacher felt that all his work was worthwhile; this was the quintessence of education.

We read Livy, but not as history. Ovil might have been interesting. He wrote 'Ars Amatoria' but it never occurred to us that this might be a book about sex. He departed from Rome under a shadow but he didn't emerge in our classroom as a real, sinning, suffering mortal, just as a dull verse-spinner. Years later, on a snowy day at Constansa on the Black Sea waiting for a passage to Istanbul on a cattleboat, I wished I'd known more about Ovid and his exile in this Rumanian port. Cicero's eloquence didn't illuminate the classroom. There were some doubts about him to, some possible flaws in his character, and I was not sure whether to put him with the goodies or the baddies. Catiline was a baddie but the lurid lights of his sin didn't penetrate the blinds of our educational system.

We worked hard and got as far as Catullus and - amazing that I should remember the word all these years later - his hendecasyllabic metre. I remember part of a translation into English, in that metre,

"Dead my Lesbia's sparrow is,
Sparrow that was all her bliss."

Even at that time I thought it was a poor piece of verse. Back it comes as I write, even one of the lines of the original Latin,

"Qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum."

We were told to admire the light touch of the comic poet talking of the dead sparrow treading the dark road, and although I've no doubt I'd have elaborated on this 'light touch' if I'd got a question about it in an examination, I thought then and do now that it was artificial and dull.

Roman history lessons were conveyed in indistinct words. Romulus and Remus were 'suckled by a wolf'. It was a vague, polite term. Much later I saw a picture which showed me that they put their mouths to a wolf's teats. If we'd been told the meaning of 'suckled' in these words, we'd have sat up more actively and taken notice. In examinations we, too, probably used the word 'suckled', in a vague way meaning "nourished'. It was almost an abstract term, and we became good at using such abstract terms with the implication that we fully knew what they meant. Roman history included information about army and government posts. We learned about tribunes of the people, consuls, praetors, but it was a limited knowledge, the information which would earn two marks in a composite question which said, "Explain briefly the function of the tribune, consul..." We learned that the quaestor was an official who dealt with money and, in the examination, we said that, and got the two marks and there was an end of it. It was as if children were offered apple pies, and, as they stretched out their hands, they were quietly told that they were only to look at the apple pies, so as to be able to write about their appearance if they were asked a question in an examination. I'd have liked to bite into the quaestor knowledge. What did he really do? He got up in the morning and had his breakfast and went to the government office. What happened then? We had not the beginning of a notion of how a quaestor spent his day. And this was a school which had a reputation for turning out classicists, and I was in a top class, a member of a group expected to bring kudos to the school. Milton, writing about his blindness, said that for the book of knowledge fair he was presented with 'an universal blank'. There was the same blankness about a classical education in Aberdeen. Inflation, wages, prices - none of this entered the classical scheme of education. We knew about the Roman coins, the cesterce and the denarius and their value in our own currency but that was all we knew about Rome's finance.

The English literature presented to us was as remote from our lives as Roman literature. Even Goldsmith's Deserted Village was dissociated from our villages.

"Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheered the labouring swain,"

We memorised in school, and we loathed, sweet Auburn. Goldsmith's polished couplets were not for us. Many years later at an educational conference in County Down no Irish headmaster could tell me which village Goldsmith had in mind when he wrote of 'Sweet Auburn'. The 'labouring swain' illustrated the literary attitude towards ordinary people, continued in the 20th century theatre where actors and actresses imitated the accent of duchesses for serious discussion and the accent of labouring swains for comic effect.

The professor of English Literature and Language at Aberdeen University told us that before his time English had been merely a part of the Latin Department. The professor of Latin had the oversight of English as an additional activity. The priority that Latin took over English in the university influenced the attitudes of the North-east of Scotland (Education Committee members would rather choose a Classics graduate for a headmastership than a graduate in English) and influenced the teaching of English in the schools. In our homework we studied a scene from Midsummer Night's Dream as we studied a passage from the Aeneid, - with the thumb of the left hand at the text and the fore-finger of the right hand at the notes and constantly flicking from one to the other, trying desperately to make out what Helena meant when she said,

"Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Due but to one, and crowned with one crest."

Macbeth and Julius Caesar were just an easier kind of Aeneid. Peterson of the Oxford Institute of Education pointed out that the reverence paid to Classics teachers influenced the whole of the curriculum, - that science teachers, for example, felt that the more they could make science look like Latin grammar, the more highly regarded would science teaching (and science teachers) be. This influence has endured right down to the science classrooms of the present. "Nothing is less scientific than science teaching in school", a Latin teacher pointed out to me. I think he was right. At school we learned about current and resistance, potentiometers and ammeters in the same removed-from-real-life way that we learned about the use of 'Quippe qui' and 'Quo usque tandem' in Latin. It was something to be memorised.

Three years of schooling in Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen were spent mostly on mental exercises for their own sake. We learned nothing of the past of the city or the country. We reached a stage of writing almost impeccable Latin but nobody mentioned that Roman soldiers had marched through our region. We learned details of treaties made by castle-defending armies but never visited any castles. I didn't know that the North-east of Scotland had a richer heritage of castles than most areas. I didn't know that Aberdeen holds gems of 18th century architecture. We didn't see the city as a growing organism, spreading out during the centuries from the marshy areas at the mouth of the Dee westwards, workmen digging granite out of the ground to build stylish houses. Anything done outwith the classroom was regarded as an unnecessary and unjustifiable break in the continuity of word-smithing, the manipulation of word-symbols or numbers for their own sake. Mathematics was a kind of higher chess for which we were acquiring the skills. Physics made little reference to the physical world about us.

There was a status order of studies - Latin and Greek; then mathematics; then English; then history (but not yet geography); then science; then other notebook studies like French and German and geography. The other subjects, art, music, domestic science, technical subjects, religious education, physical education were like a gaggle of camp followers. In many schools there was a separate, less-esteemed staffroom for teachers of physical education and technical subjects. The rude mechanicals were not to mix with the cultural elite.

School offered me little beyond the primary stage. There was the kindness and help of individual teachers but that's another thing. It's the nature of the classroom work that I am concerned with here. I know that the content has changed and they no longer ask examination questions about capes, bays and watering places. But it is significant that reformers, seeking to alter the system, have been stymied and have had to settle for changes in the content. Secondary education is still about quantity of memorised information.

At the university I enjoyed zoology and political economy and I acknowledge an indebtedness. There were lines of poetry which still vibrate in my memory. There was the intellectual exercise of hanging on tenaciously to the involved thinking of a philosopher like Kant or an economist like Adam Smith.

Professor Sanford Terry, Bach's biographer, taught us history. I enjoyed his lectures, but only two things have been retained in the sieve of my memory. He was an Englishman and said that the mediaeval era had been described as the cold ages. At least that is what we thought he said; and obviously that is what he thought we thought, because he stopped to spell the adjective, -'cowled'. The other thing I remember is a quotation from the Cambridge Modern History describing a monk walking along the shore of Lac Leman pulling his cowl closer round his head lest he be distracted from his thoughts of heaven by the beauty of the earthly lake.

I remember with gratitude J. Arthur Thomson, professor of Zoology. There was a grace and excellence in his lectures and I have always felt the appeal of a piece of work done with distinction, whether it was ballet dancing, or dribbling the football down the wing at Pittodrie, or a piece of theatre acting. Some call it art and some call it a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, and it is as unmistakable as sunshine. His lectures were like that. There was an elegance and a simplicity about them. But more than that, there was a sensuous delight in the squirming of primeval life and in the development of the senses. Browning has a poem called Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis, in which he describes his retrieval of a dull book he had thrown a long time previously into the crevice of a garden wall where rain drippings stagnated. A toadstool had got stuck in chapter six; a worm and slug had taken away pieces of paper; the water beetle had laid eggs; there was life and fun and romping, frisking and twisting and coupling; and the newt borrowed just so much of the preface as tiled in the top of his black wife's closet. That was the richness of life probing its environment. Professor Thomson conveyed some of this sensuous delight that Browning felt, and he too was helping us to probe our environment, to discover more about the nature of life.

The professor of Political Economy (as it was called), Alexander Gray, a country boy from the Braes of Angus, who had helped to shape the new Health Insurance Act, told us about the squirmings and ramifications of living at another level. He was a lively man, walking up and down the length of his dais as he lectured, humorously and persistently exploring an argument. But that was unusual. Many of the professors and lecturers went through the operation of the machinery, their daily lecture as irrelevant as what Milton called the "weekly charge of sermoning" of the parsons. There was no Fifth Column inside the walls. Aberdeen students are docile. Industriously they copy down the lecturers' words in their notebooks, and they have no taste for discussion; discussing doesn't get you more marks in an examination. A student who asks a question is regarded by the other students as a time-wasting show-off.

But whether the docility of the students is due to the university, or the university itself is the product of a tradition-dominated area, I don't know. Lecturers have asked 'Where do you break into this closed circle?' and have shaken their heads. A university should exist to combat mental defeatism and apathy, not to reinforce it. It should encourage its students to articulate all the questions that linger timorously just below the level of consciousness, to bring them out and inspect them. But Aberdeen University in a dignified way pushed the questions deeper down. It took some of us many years in the outside world before we recovered from the reverence and acceptance induced in us by the university and began gingerly to ask more and more questions and finally to question the function of the university.

Not all the staff were remote. The genial Englishman in charge of Physical Education, Captain Brock, had a ready welcome for all students, irrespective of their athletic abilities, a concern for all of us and gave us encouragement to take part, which bred confidence.

You would have thought that teachers and inspectors and professors and government ministers would have been asking themselves the purpose of all this educational activity. But they didn't. Like an old ploughman they got into a furrow and trudged along it, enquiry deadened.

"And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life"

Many years ago when the Scottish Education Department were encouraging schools to teach navigation I accepted their invitation to send an inspector to discuss it with us. But I soon learned that their navigation was largely concerned with astro-navigation and looking up tables. What we wanted was help for the pupils to navigate a school boat in the Forth estuary. The inspector said that pupils could study the Department's programme on navigation (and sit the examination) without a boat. It was a revealing admission, because it must refer to most of the school work, history and literature, French grammar, higher mathematics, dictated notes on geography. You weren't expected to use or apply the knowledge; the important thing was the mental exercise involved.

It is this school and university experience that I now try to evaluate. It is difficult to be truthful without sounding ungrateful. Many of the teachers were gifted, friendly, helpful people. There was a mathematics teacher (to whom I owe much) who said that the purpose of geometry was to teach pupils to dig out what was necessary and sufficient to establish the truth of a proposition, and to be satisfied with nothing less, or more.

Village friends and relations probed mercilessly at the propositions I brought home from the university and nettled me into probing them myself. They introduced me to Wells's Outline of History (assuredly not a set book of the university) and Sean O'Casey's plays. Gradually I found that the proofs on which many of the school and university propositions stood were less than satisfactory. But I still felt that my failure to understand their grand design was a failure in me and that as I grew in knowledge, I would come to see it their way. But now that I do have a more extensive knowledge, I know that my early doubts were justified. The educational system is as unintelligent as I feared. The strange thing is that when you meet them at home or in a pub or in the intervals of a conference, many of the people who operate the system are intelligent and sensitive, aware of its obscurities and faults. Some of them, friends of mine, are doing what they can to humanise it. An anthropologist from the Third World, investigating our customs, would be hard put to it to explain why the joint efforts of people, many of whom are not cruel, produce a cruel system. The phenomena0n extends widely. There are liberal-minded journalists trying to temper the excesses of Tory newspapers. I dare say that in the Inquisition there were humane priests. I have no doubt that in the papal Curia I'd find kindred spirits who would reply to an attack on a reactionary papal pronouncement by saying, "You should have seen it before we got to work on it." I get the impression that there are Labour MPs who have found their encounters with Westminster traumatic. We need more study of the singular ineffectiveness, this century, of teachers, lecturers, bishops, journalists and members of parliament.

I think part of the explanation is that they want to have it both ways. The bishops want to serve God and Mammon. The Labour leaders want to advance socialism without breaking with capitalism. The school inspectors want to encourage new ventures in education while retaining the external examination system. I had not guessed the implacable staunchness with which even liberal-minded educational prelates defend their examination-based rituals. We were the first school in Scotland to introduce a school bus to take pupils afield, to rent a country cottage and to introduce gliding, and there was a big battle to fight on all of these issues. Tory and Labour councillors opposed them, being part of the educational establishment, but eventually conceded these changes. I had believed that after an even more prolonged battle we could persuade them to reconsider the examination system. I had not realised that there is a world of a difference between these things. To take pupils into the hills, or into the air, was merely an extension of the curriculum. Grudgingly, in the past, new subjects had been introduced, technical subjects, physical training. I remember the opposition in the north-east of Scotland to the introduction of physical training.  "Jumping about", was how an educational conservative described it, and he added, "Jumping about is not what they are sent to the school to do. They can do that at home at the weekends." But physical education was permitted to come into the programme after a pushing out of the walls of education. After all, it was just another 'subject'. Then hill-walking was conceded since hill-walking is only an extension of gymnasium activity. The prelates of the Scottish Educational Department were ill at ease about our cottage in the Highlands until they found a part of the old curriculum into which they could slot it. They were on our side. They wanted to support us when the Forestry Commission said they'd let us rent a cottage in Rannoch; they wanted to find ancient reasons to adduce in support of this new initiative. So they said that watching the cows being milked helped the pupils' biology, a trek up to the Coire Carie contributed to their geology, a walk to an ancient castle was a lesson in history. The educational priests were trying to contain change within the pattern which had been laid down and which they accepted. Change outwith that pattern was unacceptable. We were less interested in the pupils' biology and geology and history than in the pupils. The pupils were learning about udders and milk, corries and hanging valleys and the way the retreating ice chiselled and tore at the landscape, the thick castle walls that our Highland ancestors needed to help them to sleep secure at night. We pointed out things to them as we passed; sometimes they were interested and remembered, sometimes they weren't and forgot. We didn't revise it the following week, nor give them an examination question about it a month later. One of our teachers took a group of the Coaltown pupils for a trek over Kinnoull Hill near Perth. He stopped here and there, telling them about Agricola and the Romans, Walter Scott and the Fair Maid of Perth, an outlook tower built on a precipice overlooking the Tay in imitation of the towers on the Rhine, and other things. But there was little apparent interest. 

A pupil told me, "We saw ravens back there."
I said, "How do you know they were ravens? Might have been crows."

He replied, "Ravens move their wings like this," giving a hunching movement to his shoulders, like a fish pushing itself forward on its pectoral fins. He had appropriated the information which the teacher had given him shortly before and made it his own, incorporating it into the body of his knowledge. Agricola and Walter Scott and Rhine towers were of no interest to him, but the movement of a raven's wings, that was something else. The wind bloweth where it listeth.

Several of the school inspectors admitted the value of work of this kind. They were willing to help us and to find loopholes in the regulations which would permit them to turn a blind eye on our deviations from orthodoxy. History presents similar examples of liberal priests who found orthodox reasons for making room for unorthodoxy.

But there are limits. To abolish the external examinations (and thus give to teachers the freedom to work totally outwith their control) would eventually mean a change in our society, and that is something that the educational priests are ordained to oppose. The examination system is a vital part of the defence against change. It emphasises the past and the opinions of the groups who controlled our society in the past; it encourages competitiveness among the young and allocates prizes and certificates, confident in the measure that the young can be enlisted in the competition. Most gods are jealous gods, and the examination god is as jealous as any. He grudges time spent in the acquiring of knowledge or in the discussion of issues that will not be the subject of an examination question. The questing spirit of youth is diverted into channels less dangerous to the dogmas.

The educational priesthood is not the only one which defends the examination system. Our physicians know that a fair amount of illness, of dis-ease, can be traced to worry about the examinations. There is nothing like a good examination for putting up everybody's blood pressure. The requirement to drill dull information into the reluctant memories of the pupils forces teachers, violating their own nature, to inflict corporal punishment. An earlier physician, dealing with root causes, said, "Let not your heart be troubled." Our physicians are less free to enquire into causes. They spend most of their time coping with symptoms, and administer pills to worried pupils and worried teachers and sometimes worried parents.

A proposal to abolish the school examinations will encounter protest from outraged interests to whom they give secure employment, - administrators, question-setters, markers, textbook publishers and drug companies. The law-and-order lobby see the examinations as a controlling force. The teachers' unions will be in the forefront of the retentionists, claiming that the examinations are the backbone of the educational system and that, without this supporting structure, the organs of education will flop on the ground like a stranded jellyfish. Only a century and a half ago some of the controllers of society declared that slavery was an irreplaceable structure of society, but society survived the emancipation of the slaves and it will survive the emancipation of the pupils. Many teachers and even pupils will defend the examinations as some of the freed slaves of America defended slavery. "Give us back our chains," they are reported to have said; "We were happy in them." But that is only further evidence of the deep influence of long-endured mental control and we have to bear in mind that, to many of the young, the possibility of education free from examinations has never occurred. Professors use the examinations to fortify their control and exclude questioners. Professor Boissevain, a Dutch social anthropologist wrote,

"Those at the top also have the greatest voice in planning the teaching programmes designed to prepare students for the examination questions, which, naturally, have been set by themselves and, not surprisingly, reflect their views. In short, a theory, once it is established within the academic community, tends to become self-perpetuating."

These defenders of the examinations use varying arguments to defend their system. The examinations (they say) motivate the pupils; they discipline the pupils; they provide an objective assessment of pupils' abilities. Together with these arguments there is a vaguer, more philosophical-looking technique, calculated to baffle enquirers. Professor Bailey of the Chair of Sociology in the University of Sussex said that in Britain we favour, "a bumbling, rambling, reasonable-man style which is sometimes used quite deliberately to take the edge out of a situation and obscure lines of division and enmity until no-one quite knows what the trouble was about." That mechanism is used to defend the examinations. But when they are subjected to increasingly detailed criticism, the retentionists invent more and more convoluted patterns of testing in order to meet the criticisms and, by so doing, cunningly sidetrack all discussion of education into discussion of examining techniques until the public comes to believe that education and examinations are the same thing. Most of the education correspondents of the newspapers fall for it and treat the examination ritual with the same reverence as religious affairs correspondents treat an Easter ritual in the religious calendar.

This journey into the interior of education showed me how it is powered. I had been aware of its faults and strove to make improvements because I believed that at heart it was sound. I know now that I was mistaken. At its heart it is not sound. The commodity it is merchandising is Authority, and the teachers, like the commercial advertisers, are the hidden persuaders using subliminal, quasi-religious concepts to assure pupils and parents that their salvation lies in the worship of Authority, in accepting the Law, in preferring the judgements of this 'revealed' religion above their own unlettered thoughts.

Two centuries ago the Scottish Council for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, a forbear of the Scottish educational system, defined its objectives. They were to spread Christianity, loyalty to the king and his heirs and successors, to provide tuition in reading and writing, and were "for no other purpose whatever". It was a battle-cry, rallying education under the banner of the ecclesiastical priests in the service of the principalities and powers; and that, with some minor modifications, is its continuing purpose.

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