An argument between my older & younger self

A friend raised the thorniest question of British cultural life last night, and eloquently articulated the perspective that my younger self espoused about the iniquities of the class system and its symbiotic relationship to private education. It set me thinking why I have come to take a more nuanced view.

One of the reasons is that I now think only the existence of a self-sustaining private education sector makes certain kinds of cultural transmission practical. In theory this could exist within the maintained sector, in practice there are huge political pressures against it, given the gimmicks and quackery of successive education ministers. The is exemplified by a recent remark about the pronouncements of 'The Supreme Goviet.' Every government in my lifetime has come in determined on root & branch reform, and the result is a wasteland of half-fulfilled initiatives any one of which mightve borne fruit if it had been allowed time to integrate.*
    Yet as this Gove’t seeks to draw the rings ever tighter around state schools it is simultaneously encouraging a totally-unaccountable stratum of state-funded autonomous schools - in the untested hope that by exempting a minority from their own constantly multiplying rules some miracle of transformation will occur. With results seen in Derby!
    In my view what is essential for the sake of true scholarship is a kind of bulwark against this level of constant shortterm political interference - and the only defence I can see is an economic one - and the least corruptible form of this is where there is a strong tradition of public service. Of course tradition is essentially conservative, and of course there are the political /social arguments that more equal societies have better outcomes for all their citizens, and particularly that social mobility is to the benefit of the body politic - but living in a country where no party seems to have the balls to take on the tax-dodging clout of the rightwing press, I have been obliged to study how to best to game the status quo for the longterm advantage of the Art I serve & the benefit of those wish to be apprenticed to it.
    I seriously question whether it is possible for all but a hardy few (with ingenious parents) to reach a conservatoire scholarship level with a proper breadth of musical background within the state sector. In certain localities perhaps, but in general …?

The central problem with ‘the least-worst form of government’ (democracy) is that by&large the majority of any population doesn’t know what the significant issues are, can't see wood for trees, and ultimately doesn’t care so long as they have enough to eat. You are entitled to shout at me for espousing such a cynical viewpoint, but far from thinking they deserve whatever they get I believe (with 19thC reformers) they deserve much better than they know how to ask for.
    I passionately want to see real education, not mere technical education: education that covers both right and left brain. But I do question how the former can be delivered within an environment that is wholly geared to the latter. We reward acquisition of intellectual consciousness, while at the same discounting or, at best, ignoring the acquisition of emotional coherence. Over the 20thC  Gove-rnmental structures have proved themselves effective at delivering broad social improvements, but they consistently prove themselves insensitive to, and destructive of, anything resembling autonomy or authenticity - which are the sine qua non of delivering true education or healing. (I doubt that we’ll see another generation of doctors with the robust independence of thought that all the many medics in my family showed.)
    In education, only where there is sufficient stability for traditions of nurture to survive or be grown can it really reflect the idea of drawing out students’ own authenticity. I don’t defend private education per se, but I do think the presence within a school of a coherent sustainable ethical framework with historical depth actively assists students to assimilate such values and fertilises their learning and uptake of the world.

You will object (as I do) that this inevitably favours the patriarchal & conservative, not to mention that it entrenches privilege, but I would say that the record of alternative ideologies over the last 40 years is patchy at best. I look back in particular at the great hopes of the 70s as embodied by the metropolitan left, of which I was once part, & their legacy in terms of disastrous misjudgments and unmet promises - not least the failure to produce a credible alternative to Thatcher or her successors - until Blair … but that's another story.
    I don’t blame any one party for exammania or examinitis, the frightful descent into the quantification (as opposed to qualification) of education - but it does make me wonder whether, for all their faults, the traditions of scholarship were not safer in the hands of patrons whose concepts of public service were inspired by religious and social obligation.
    I could argue against myself about this, and in particular the role of technology in undermining the status quo ante. I remember how passionately republican & anti-establishment I was, and how I believed that Britain could have the kind of energy Americans have (/had) if we overthrew our social superstructure. But where are all those great iconclasts that led us? Peter Cook died an alcoholic, and few of our 'great hopes' ended well. The 'cultural renaissance' of the 1960s that promised so much ended in smoke-rings and hot air.
    Visiting California cured me of any notion that anyone there had the answer. In general we seem to have imported only Americans' worst characteristics - and I come back to thinking there was much more to be said for the gentler age when people didn’t try to gouge the maximum out of the system & /or demand bonuses simply for doing their jobs properly than I thought at the time! Having spent quite a bit of time in France, I'm convinced that their contrat social worked pretty well; & it isn't their fault that the greedy bankers stole all lolly.

I think Russell Brand has hit the nail on the head. I grieve to say it because he's such a tosser, and also because the last person to nail the issues effectively was Tony Blair – & we all know what happened to him …!

As Pope said
For forms of government let fools contest,
Whate'er is best administered is best.

* My father was in the VIIIth Army & said that the problem in the desert under Auchinlech was not that he had no battleplan but that he had too many, covering all possible eventualities. WTRT everyone was confused as to which they should be following at any given moment. Monty’s genius /courage was to bin the lot & simply tell everyone exactly what he expected them to do & leave them to get on with it.

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