The Next Leap Forward
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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 eight

The Next Leap Forward

"It will regularly be avowed that the purposes of government are too complicated for the untutored to understand; cultivation of the belief that this is so then becomes an aspect of social conditioning. In past times much of the power of the U.S. State Department, as also of its counterparts in other countries, rested on the belief that foreign policy was too subtle and intricate a matter for the average citizen or the ordinary politician to comprehend. Outsiders should keep out, not challenge the power of those who had a monopoly of the requisite knowledge and skills. The same social conditioning technique is now employed with great effect by those concerned with weapons policy and arms control....This deliberate conditioning, in combination with the size, complexity, and technological and other sophistication in the tasks of modern government, leads to the submission that is evident in the phrase 'We must leave it to the experts.' "
J.K.Galbraith,
The Anatomy of Power

So what? Where do we go from here?

In his report on the remaking of American education, Silberman quoted statements made by the Moravian educationist, Comenius (1632) and the American educationist, Zacharias (1966) agreeing that it is next to impossible to reform the schools. Later, another American educationist, Lortie of Chicago, said that Silberman's report had had as little effect as the efforts of these others. The implacable opposition to fundamental change in the schools of Scotland, England, the USA, France, Germany, the USSR and the 'undeveloped' countries is so ancient a phenomenon as not to be news and is unregarded by the newspapers. So what do we do? Shut up shop and go home?

Long ago the fishermen on the Aberdeenshire coast would go out to the headland and look over the sea and the face of the sky, and, out of a gut reaction, announce, "There is a change working."  I sense just such a change working in the thoughts and feelings of people throughout the world, the turning of a tide in the affairs of men, 'such a tide as moving seems asleep'. The educational revolution has to do with the whole nature of our life on earth. Its sources of inspiration, the deep springs from which it draws its life, are the inner promptings of the human heart, the vague questions, the doubts, often unspoken, that have troubled humanity throughout its tenure of the planet. Concerning the upsurge of one such question in the mind of one of his characters, Neil Gunn said, "You saw it - but you have not yet brought it into your head in order to put words on it." The change that is happening is that more human beings are becoming aware that they should have the freedom to bring those private doubts into their heads and put words on them.

Down the ages the minorities, brutally imposing their ideology on humanity, have tried to make such thoughts unthinkable and therefore unutterable. We, the bottom people, emerge from our hidey-holes and begin hesitantly to articulate these doubts. I imagine the unspoken thoughts of the French farm-workers in the Millais picture, the Angelus, as they straighten their backs, relieved to have the excuse for a rest when they are called upon by the bell to think on time and eternity. Glimmers of thoughts must have crossed their minds, asking what the whole business signified. "Surely this back-breaking toil from early morn to night isn't what life on earth was meant to be about."  Such subversive thoughts must have teetered on the brink of consciousness throughout human history.  "What if the top people also don't really know?"  The Greek slaves must have wondered sometimes about the confident statements of those distinguished Greeks sitting on Mars Hill and philosophising in the sunshine. The Roman legionaries, goose-stepping in Caesar's triumphs, maybe asked what there was in it for them. Sometimes the doubts surfaced and were firmed into action. The Maya peasants had doubts about their priests who were immersed in sacred mathematical calculations, and they drifted away and the priestly edifice crumbled. It was a very slow process, the transubstantiation by which unquestioning loyalty and homage, offered during half a lifetime, disintegrates and emerges in some other form. It took a long time for the friends and neighbours of the Tolpuddle martyrs, frightened and maintaining a low profile, to come to their own conclusions about the aristocracy and their kept clergymen. Throughout history the religious priests have been so closely and sometimes clearly identified with the political powers, defending them and reinforcing their control over their subjects' minds, that political doubts merge into pervasive religious doubt. The fellahin, toiling on the pyramids, shrank in fear at the thought of doubting the god-king, the pharaoh, but the doubt was there, and kept surfacing down the centuries. Highland crofters, counselled by the Presbyterian ministers to accept their fate when the lairds cleared them from their lands, ventured alone into a nomansland of thought, groping for some vision of the inscrutable Presbyterian god that would make sense to them. It's usually a lonely quest because the strength of contrary opinion is so massive that the individual seeker hesitates to share his doubts. The controllers invented a word, blasphemy, to scare off humanity from such impious speech.

But sometimes an outside group articulates thoughts that have hitherto been only wispy clouds, giving them a firm outline. The 7:84 Theatre Company, touring the clachans and cities of Scotland, draw attention to the torture inflicted on Scottish political prisoner John Maclean, stone-breaking in the quarries attached to Peterhead prison, and the audience file the memory. The image of the gentlemanly Tory has a provisional question-mark set against it. The file, once opened, is available for the storage of other related information bearing question-marks. The law-lords' mistakes of judgement make us ask ourselves, "Why have we invested the Law with an aura of sanctity, as if ex-public-schoolboys become endowed with wisdom when they don their wigs?" The published statements of scientists employed by drug companies and asbestos companies go into the file. So does the International Herald Tribune's headline, "Bumper Grain Harvest Around World Raises Fear of a Food Crisis." And the report that a multinational company has persuaded African villagers that it is fashionable to get rid of the thatched roofs of their houses and save up for a tin roof.

Wraiths of ideas take shape and swirl in people's heads and disintegrate and reform. We are still in the indeterminate period that Arnold described, wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other (he thought) powerless to be born. But I think he was unduly pessimistic, unaware of the events that were happening deep in the minds of people all over the earth just beginning to put clumsy words to their thoughts. I think Arnold's contemporary, Arthur Hugh Clough, may turn out to be the better prophet.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

Most of us fluctuate between these two views of our future. But even if the odds are on Arnold's new world, powerless to be born, the human will to survive makes us continue the struggle. How can we teachers become enablers, obstetricians, helping into birth the concepts already kicking inside us?

The question deserves an answer as practical and workable and concrete as we can make it. In a stimulating book, THE FUTURE IN OUR HANDS. What we can all do towards the shaping of a better world, a Norwegian engineer, Erik Dammann, says that many of society's apparent problems would be solved if people working in ideas could all be persuaded to take up physical labour for a year. "I believe their inability to solve practical problems is partly due to the fact that they have gradually become far too isolated as theorists - that their thinking has become far too removed from real life because they have never been connected with physical actions and earthbound problems."

Dammann has traced one cause of the failure of education to cope with society's problems. Unlike scientists, who are expected to enquire clearly into and solve scientific problems, such as going to the moon, the people who deal with the problems of society have had a high-priestly education which exempts them from such enquiry. In a past generation the man who had studied Euripides and Vergil at Oxford was considered qualified to govern the Sudan. In the present generation he is considered qualified to advise the ministers on monetarism and nuclear policy. It's beautiful magic, but alas, it doesn't work. The problems of society are not clearly analysed. They are wrapped in high-priestly terms and, when the answers don't work out, the cultural priests don't blame themselves, they blame the recalcitrance of ordinary people.

This is where Dammann's explanation comes in. All of us have encountered the recalcitrance of material things, the damp patch on the ceiling that obdurately persists after we've replaced the slates, the car that continues to stall at the traffic lights after we re-checked the ignition points, the bicycle tyre that goes flat after we've patched the inner tube and tested it in a bucket of water. We realise sadly that we have to enquire further. But in many schools, when recalcitrant pupils are encountered, there is no further enquiry. The obstreperous language with which some educationists lambast their pupils is like the kick which the exasperated cyclist directs at the flat tyre of his bicycle. Many educationists don't feel the need to submit their curriculum to practical tests any more than they enquired in detail into how classics qualified a man to lay down the law on monetarism. They accept the hallowed answers of the priesthood.

It is this otherworldliness, this irrelevance of much of 'cultural' education, that conveys to many people that education doesn't have much to contribute when we meet the problems of real, everyday life. An Aberdeenshire farmer gave his foreman instructions for spreading sacks of artificial manure over a large field. When he returned in the evening he found that all the manure sacks were empty but a third of the field remained to be manured. He remonstrated with the foreman. "You should have divided the area of the field by the number of sacks to see how much ground each sack had to cover. One acre is 4480 square yards. You knew that!"

"God almighty," said the foreman, "they learned us that at the school but I never thought it would be any use to me."

Culture should be as directly relevant to our lives as arithmetic, helping us to frame the questions and think out the answers. But when even the arithmetic taught in school is regarded as having little to contribute to the problems of everyday life, we realise how far the classroom lessons have been ritualised, losing contact with reality. The educational revolution will re-establish the contact. It will start with intelligibility. No society is likely to live happily when three quarters of its pupils and of its adults are excluded from full participation in the understanding of its culture and its government, when culture and government are esoteric studies, a priestly preserve. These two things, culture and government, are conducted like a game of tennis outside an ancient manor-house. The rest of us are spectators, permitted to learn the rules and appreciate the skills so that we can applaud appropriately. We may even get a friendly smile if we retrieve from the undergrowth a ball that has been driven too far out of court. But that's as far as it goes. Now, following Dammann's advice, since we are determined to participate in this absorbing game, we sit down and direct our practical attention to the causes of our exclusion and the steps we should take in order to gain entry.

Controversy immediately arises. The tennis players say we haven't the intelligence to play the game. I'm saying that we don't have to accept that statement until we've done further research into the nature of intelligibility and the impediments that shackle our pupils and adults when they try to encompass it. As an engineer surveys his tools for their suitability to the work he wants them to do, we have to examine words, our tools of communication. The schools give the impression of carrying out this examination. The exercise is called grammar, but it's a traditional ceremony, a ritual performed for its own sake, insulated from its purpose of aiding understanding. At school I learned to write reasonably good English but I never understood the lessons on grammar. Priests do this all the time, ensuring the carrying out of rites without enquiring into the purpose for which the rites were initiated; they adjure their congregation or classroom to believe that the performance of the rite does them good. Grammar is supposed to do you good in the same way as Latin does you good, or Art, or History, or French, or any other curriculum ritual. The educational revolution asks, "How does it do you good?" The examination of language does do you good, but not at all in the way that the 'grammar' rituals are performed. We want our study of language to be of as concrete value as the study of the fuel system of an internal combustion engine. What is it that is restricting the fuel supply? What is interfering with the ignition? Did the teachers use abstract words beyond the pupils' experience and scope to translate into concrete terms? While the pupil lingered over a particular word, trying to relate it to his experience, was the teacher driving remorselessly ahead, unaware that the pupil was no longer a passenger in the coach? Have we adults lost contact with the world of children and adolescents, its idiom and tentative speech-patterns, its groping efforts to link one of our words to its perceived reality. Matthew Arnold claimed that only a minority are capable of making fine distinctions but I doubt if he had conducted much imaginative enquiry, as a school inspector, into the speech of working-class children which would have entitled him to make the statement. We need much more detailed research into comprehension and the nature of incomprehension.

The school atmosphere is uncongenial to the carrying out of fruitful enquiry of this kind. Schools lack comeliness and conviviality, they are too compartmented to allow of the uncompetitive sharing of ideas, the engaging of different abilities and insights in a joint enterprise. They divorce the artistic from the intellectual, the dreamers from the hard realists, the thinkers from doers in an artificial apartheid. But we are all artists and scientific enquirers, dreamers and practical people who like to make things that work; and all of these qualities, that exist neglected in our children, are needed if the possibilities of earth-life that have haunted the dreams of our predecessors (the Garden of the Hesperides, Atlantis and Shangri-la and Utopia) are to be nursed into reality. Schools are too cold and forbidding to be a hearth in the glow of which the young learn about their heritage and prepare to take over what we hand to them.

Starting from the here-and-now, how do we achieve the emancipation which would allow us to begin the remaking of our education? The first step is to abolish the external examinations. Until we overthrow this Bastille of the old regime, there will be no educational revolution, no freedom to ask questions about the upbringing of our children. When teachers are freed from the task of making pupils accumulate information and memorise accepted opinions, the school ceases to be a punitive institution and the teachers will take their place among the research workers of our society, enquiring into the making of a real democracy. They will respond. Teachers, drudging through the examination syllabus, become changed people when presented with the opportunity to do original work.

We'll bring the parents into the classroom. One way in which they can help is to tell us what it was that they missed at school, the information, skills, experience that would have been valuable to them in later life. Snatches of disappointment are voiced in random comments, overheard. "I wish I'd really learned one foreign language." "I wish I could have spent a year learning about motor engines. Then I'd have been able to go off on my own, exploring Africa in a land rover, or sailing round the Aegean." "I wish we'd been able to follow through a piece of scientific research for a whole term, sometimes improvising our own equipment." "I wish they had taught us many more skills, - ski-ing, gliding, horse-riding, squash, living off the countryside."... But there is a more general contribution that the parents could make. The elites, the officer class, the 'academics', the 'top people', all those groups 'set apart' like the pharisees in the New Testament, are lacking in some constituent of fundamental wisdom, perhaps because their upbringing has given them more experience in the manipulation of words than in the management of realities, or perhaps because power has corrupted them and intense competitiveness has hardened them and made them self-centred. We need a richer wisdom and a greater simplicity than their select upbringing has given them. We need a greater readiness to admit error than their insecurity permits them; they haven't the confidence to put their embattled advantages at risk by inviting us in.

One writer has suggested that the participation of parents in running the schools may turn out to be the best way in which all adults will become fully involved in running their country. Practice in helping to frame the policy and organise the practical affairs of the school would give them confidence to tackle wider-ranging activities. Parent teacher co-operation could be an embryo that would grow into a living democracy. I think he could be right. The country will be better off when the majority contribute their common sense to the solution of problems that have hitherto baffled the minority.

The old system, which ignored the parents and forced upon the young the rigid, priestly ideas of elder statesmen, created the generation gap. The new dispensation will be as blissfully unaware of a generation gap as an African village was. The young and old members of the community, listening to one another, learning from one another, will be less likely to try to put anything across on one another. Parents of very young children are bombarded with questions, and they wonder why the questions dry up when the children go to secondary school. When the examinations disappear, the bombardment will recommence and parents will understand more fully the role of the teachers in facing this bombardment. Teachers will be free to ransack the riches of film and radio and television to provide answers for the tumultuous questions that will assail them. In more leisurely days, BBC script-writer Rhoda Power made of a twenty-minute programme an art form. Her series How Things Began gave to young listeners a vivid picture of the story of life on the earth. Before then, most youngsters had no idea at all of where they came from, the dark backward and abysm of time. I think she was one of the great educators of our century. One early ITV programme, The Story of a River, traced the Dordogne from the Puy de Sancy to the sea, describing the difference between the mountaineers of its source and the inhabitants of the richer lands of the Gironde. For the first time many pupils realised that where you live makes a difference.

We shall exploit much more fully the skills of film photography to help children to know their heritage. The concrete reality of photographed material will remove the unintelligibility that at present clouds our word-based education. We shall take our pupils in aeroplanes, helicopters and gliders to show them what their home-planet looks like from outside. If they are to get our earth-life into perspective, they need to look down on it from a great height and also more intimately from a few hundred feet. We'll read to them Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Scots Quhair and Sholokhov's And Quiet Flows the Don and Virgin Soil Upturned, and fly them over the Mearns and the Don basin and exchange pupils so that Ukrainians and Scots can understand that they have almost everything in common. Rural children of the Mearns of Scotland will visualise with total understanding the scene that Sholokhov describes outside the new collective stable on a winter's evening when seven or eight previous owners of the horses would hang around, each concerned to see that his bay horse, or the little mare that he had tended solicitously from birth, was getting a fair share of the hay.

Capitalism doesn't permit such ventures. Inbuilt in its system is a requirement to economise on the upbringing of the very great majority of the young. The educational revolution will regard our children as our most precious assets, not to be economised upon. It will employ the most imaginative of the film and television producers to explain very clearly to the young, the long-back story of their local area, the glaciers scraping out the river valley and leaving the scratch-marks still visible on the rocks, the early colonisers extorting a living from the valley and the seashore, the lords immuring themselves in thick-walled castles, the Earl of Montrose savaging Aberdeen on behalf of his political-religious beliefs. We'd have an intermission there to home in on the details of this story. Most of the people who control the history-ideas communicated to the young say that Montrose was a noble character. It is not the function of the teacher in the educational revolution to support or deny Montrose's admission to the Scottish Valhalla. What we have to do is to tell them the Montrose story as clearly and fairly as we can. The forced march in a snowy winter over the mountains to Inverlochy, the endurance, the heroism, the mental conflict, the loyalty however mistaken, the murders, all of these form a story that will keep children from play and old men from the chimney-corner. Capitalism's educators maintain that the majority of teenagers are unqualified to adjudicate amongst the differing opinions about Montrose, and should sit down and memorise the textbook conclusions reached by experts. We who support the educational revolution say, "Not so." Teachers are professional people who are to be trusted to dig up all the facts about Montrose and present them to the pupils. The pupils have the subtlety and the generosity to decide for themselves what manner of man he was. And they have the gumption also to realise, as they balance the ideas and feelings, tragically contradictory to each other, running round in Montrose's head, that the same kinds of heart-breaking decisions, although in the idiom of the twentieth century, will confront them. What I am trying to emphasise, in the teeth of present educational practice, is that no democracy will endure that denies to these youngsters acknowledgement of their ability to size up these issues for themselves.

Then we'd resume the saga of our developing country and world, the growing towns, the awful factories, cholera, the reluctant concessions made by aristocrats and industrialists and archbishops. The present dispensation teaches our history as if it described something that was over and done with, like the Roman Empire. They give the pupils the impression that the major problems of society have been solved; everything has been settled and bestowed and zipped up. We will unzip the package and open up many of the questions again. We'll tell the pupils of the provisional answers advanced by Buddha and Jesus, and St. Benedict in his educational experiment at Cassino, by Adam Smith and Tom Paine and Karl Marx. We'll apply these answers to present problems, in the way that Dammann suggested, to see if their answers can tell us where we should go from here. We'll be particularly concerned with basic values. Why, for example, was Napoleon so keen to marry into a European royal family? "He might have been the father of a new world. He was content to be the son-in-law of the old." Did he feel, like an American tycoon, that material success was too earthy and needed to be validated by this sublimation of nobility? We'll help our pupils to analyse this 'nobility'. Two hundred years ago the new American revolution sent its representatives to the ancient courts of Europe. Grey reality was contrasted unfavourably with colourful pageant. H.G. Wells described it in THE OUTLINE OF HISTORY. "Some writers, even American writers, impressed by the artificial splendours of the European courts and by the tawdry and destructive exploits of a Frederick the Great or a Great Catherine, display a snobbish shame of something homespun about these makers of America. They feel that Benjamin Franklin at the court of Louis XVI, with his long hair, his plain clothes, and his pawky manner, was sadly lacking in aristocratic distinction." We'll read to our working-class pupils passages from today's popular dailies in which we plodding, homespun characters are contrasted unfavourably with the dashing headline heroes.

History repeats itself, or nearly repeats itself as it follows a spiralling, cyclic course. Life becomes intolerable for slaves, or wage slaves, soldiers, school-pupils. The soldiers go berserk, the pupils smash the classroom. Improvements are made, and life goes more smoothly until there is another build-up of intolerable conditions. The cycle is caused by the determination of the minority to re-establish control after a bout of concessions. Because of its restricted upbringing in which minority people communicate mainly with minority people, this minority has a narrower understanding of the nature of life on the earth than it would like the majority to think. It doesn't understand (or acts as if it didn't understand) that growth continues all the time, and that, if the circumstances of living don't alter to accommodate growth, there are strains. Milton in his Areopagitica emphasised the need of a healthy society to be open to new challenges and not to seek to censor them, from whatever source they came. But the minority doesn't allow for growth and change. Its picture of the majority doesn't change down the ages. As long as the members of the majority give no trouble they are praised as loyal, law-abiding, god-fearing, industrious, co-operative. When they step out of line they are anathematised as recalcitrant, atheistic, anarchic, vandals responsible for 'senseless' destruction, the mob. The various priests are the minority's officers whose function is to contain revolt and inhibit change. They have been remarkably successful for millennia. They have, for the most part, contained the majority, keeping them in a state of physical and intellectual subjection. There are some indications that that era in human history, the era of ruthless division of humanity into controlling minority and subjected majority, may be moving to its close. It will be a major event in what Heine called the Liberation War of Humanity when the thought-control, which the minority's educational priests exercise over the majority, is overthrown. The purpose of the educational revolution is to do away with the South African-type apartheid which has divided humanity for millennia.

What is surprising is that it has continued for so long. That long duration shows how effective has been the shut-down not merely on the asking of questions but on any general awareness that we might all participate in the running of our society. The totality of the shut-down may be difficult for future generations to comprehend. We were wholly immersed (as in a river) in the thought-feeling continuum in which we had our being, carried this way and that by the movement of the current. Throughout my education I never felt that I was included in policy-making, asked for an opinion that counted, even at the university. History was an army exercise and the instructions would come down to us from above and our education qualified us in different degrees to carry out these instructions. The nearest we got to the controllers of power was when we saw an alumnus of the university who had returned, laden with honours, to a graduation ceremony from service in the far-flung empire, a grand vizier, and even he, we felt, was still only a servant of the mystery. In no sense was the human venture our venture. (Politics was about getting a few shillings' increase in pay.) We never got round to the ghost of an inkling that we might have something to say about how we would choose to spend our time on the earth on which we had so inexplicably appeared. None of us could get into the holy places, the council chamber where the major decisions about our lives were made, far less bang on the council table and say, "Hang on a minute. We have a few things to say about this." There was never any question about accepting the rulings of a remote, impalpable authority beyond our ken. We accepted this higher power as we accepted the weather. There was no way we could begin to doubt it, or question the evaluation it put on our modest abilities. There was nobody, nobody at all, to whom we could have turned for support and encouragement in raising a small voice of protest (if we had been so minded). The kindly-disposed and distinguished and wise elders raised a finger of warning if I continued in questioning even a minor issue, like the insistence on Latin, and people in whom I had learned to put my trust leaned over, gently deprecating this breach of manners. It was unseemly. Our elders gently and firmly "put us in our place". They liked us and had helped us and now helped us further by saving us from ourselves, from the solecism of raising our voice in a holy place. They said they appreciated this demonstration of the Scottish spirit of independence but there was the Greek doctrine of the mean, and, like them, we would learn as we grew older, and we would measure our words. We felt properly reproved, but puzzled. I had vaguely felt that enlightenment meant clarifying issues so that you could reach a clear conclusion. But they said it wasn't as simple as that. There were imponderables not accessible to ordinary reasoning, to be taken into account, a sense of fitness, of knowing when to hold your peace.

I know now (but I wouldn't have dared to say it then even if I had discovered it) that what prevented these kindly, scholarly people from giving voice to the truth as they felt it within themselves was not fear but something much more deeply imprinted on them, something of the nature of a hoodoo. It had been handed down for such countless generations that they felt that it had taken on the quality of an instinctive reaction. It continues to be interposed like a filter to prevent people from reaching the conclusion that rational argument would lead them to. It appears when I talk to a churchman and find him intelligent and sensitive and sympathetic, and then we get to the details of the Nicene Creed ("descended into Hell and rose the third day") and the filter comes down and there can be no further discussion. It appears in debates on education when scientists, who question mercilessly every statement in their own field of study, accept with docility the current dogmas on the secondary school curricula.

In THE ANATOMY OF POWER J.K. Galbraith says that the supreme expression of the use of power occurs "when the person does not know that he or she is being controlled.... Belief makes submission not a conscious act of will but a normal, natural manifestation of the approved behaviour. Those who do not submit are deviant." The central effort of the educational revolution is, as Freire said, to make people conscious of these ancient patterns of deception. The Mephistophelean grandeur of the deception, spanning the centuries, makes Machiavelli and Goebbels appear like small-time, local operators. Our strategy to combat this general anaesthesia, to help people to wake up, is to un-complicate the fundamental issues and persuade people to start asking questions again, the self-same questions they asked or came near to asking when they were children.

The hymn says, "Tell me the story simply, that I may take it in." The story is this. Here we are on the surface of a planet spinning round the sun; how should we be spending these three-score years and ten, or four-score years allocated to us? For the first time in human history the opportunity, nay, the necessity, has arrived for everybody to be brought into the search for an answer, evaluating the richness of sexual experience, the peace of the countryside, the liberating effect of art which, as Sir Philip Sidney said, 'claps wings to solid nature', and, weighing these things against the accumulating of goods, or of power over our fellow-colonists of the planet, to give the young some clear understanding which would help them to make their own, independent choice between these things.

We who work in education have to tie our work into that major design. I revert to the confrontation on Mount Carmel in the ninth century BC when the lights were going out in Israel (as today in Europe and the USA) and defeatism had become stronger and Baal's crowd (as today) were on the up-and-up. I imagine there had been a period of confusing of the issues, of neutrality and opting out, a period of Butskill compromise. I had dismissed the Elijah story as irrelevant to our times, supposing that the god he was recruiting for was he of Rome and Geneva and Canterbury. But it is possible that the crisis in belief, the gods contrasted, the opposition of values were nearly identical to our own. Baal, the god of Ahab and Jezebel, is the god of Reagan and Thatcher; his values are their values. Elijah cracked the mould of compromise with hammer blows. "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him." He left no room for neutrality, for opting out. In our world of very rapidly sharpening crisis, that's the choice the teachers are presented with.

They have to decide if their loyalty is to Baal and his values (inducing docility and defeatism in the majority) or to different values and a different god (requiring them to try and restore humanity's belief in itself).

It will be difficult to restore a confidence that has been so relentlessly and calculatedly undermined, and the high priests of Baal will, of course, continue to confuse our judgement, "darkening counsel", and above all, diminishing the pupils' self-esteem. This is the main issue on which the teachers will have to take their stand. What kind of people do they really think our youngsters are? Are they the characters that Reagan and Thatcher, the military and the multinationals and their attendant priesthoods say they are, lumpish, credulous, mob-like; or are they something else? Teachers who have accorded their pupils freedom and respect have seen an upsurge of energy and initiative. Surliness and suspicion are cleared away in a torrent of activity, glazed eyes begin to twinkle, ability sprouts in unexpected places, generosity replaces hostility. We have babied them too long; here in Scotland we have the fittest generation that there has ever been in our history, and teachers have made them sit at their desks and learn their lessons. In Fife we let them loose and were surprised at their overflowing energy. Some of our fourteen-year-olds made record crossings of the Mamore Mountains and the Cuillins in Skye, beating adult times. We begin to realise by how much we have under-estimated both the physical and mental ability of the young. And consequently of our whole nation.

This down-valuing, de-grading, is a mechanism of the minority to price themselves up and confirm their control over us, and to take away our freedom. It has been challenged often. Milton warned us against them. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." He was under no misconception about the worth of our people. This was how he assessed them in 1644. "A nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious and piercing spirit; acute to invent, subtile and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that human capacity can soar to."

Part of our contribution is to give to all our pupils an awareness that they can measure up to this assessment, and that history is not the story of a chosen group of kings and captains for whom the rest of us are capable only of hewing wood and drawing water. We teachers have to replace the reverence for institutions with reverence for life, for all human beings, and to give to our pupils the sense that they are history, a feeling of the integrity of the whole human race.

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


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