“Give Up Education As A Bad Mistake”
“Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; person attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” From Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
“‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future; who controls the present controls the past” From Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell
When Walworth, Holyhead County, Tividale, and the other two of the first five ‘experimental’ comprehensive schools were opened in Britain in 1946 by Clement Attlee’s Labour government, the purpose was to offer a National Curriculum or ‘Entitlement’ Curriculum to all children, or as many as possible where applicable without taking academic ability or one’s financial means into consideration. I.e. equal education for those unable to afford the cost of tuition, or the board at one of the more sought-after prep schools. Many things were taught in these schools that might be considered questionable, if not outright incorrect, in contrast to our further understanding and discovery in years since, and modern ethical standards. Corporal punishment is no longer enforced, nor tolerated under the law (despite evidence that children are mistreated in certain Islamic Madrasas, along with being instructed in violent interpretations, much like physical and sexual abuse in certain Christian institutions. All of these in the minority, thankfully). Much of science has moved on, since. English has arguably deteriorated substantially, despite the passage of time only guaranteeing the addition of further works of literature to libraries throughout the world. Political indoctrination is arguably one of the most immediate and indeed the newest threats to the minds of vulnerable children, now that religious indoctrination and scripture studies are no longer compulsory. On that note, I feel I must briefly address the widespread hysteria among many on the right, in regards to Islamic Madrasas, in particular those funded by the state, preaching intolerance and hatred. While this is true to an extent, especially given the insular nature of many conservative Muslims, often amusingly referred to as ‘moderates’, the extent of the issue is often wildly exaggerated, particularly by those of a Christian disposition. In the UK, of roughly twenty thousand state-funded schools, there are currently four thousand, five hundred and ninety-eight Church Of England schools (that’s twenty three per cent of all state schools) thirty-eight Jewish schools, eleven Islamic Madrasas and just over two thousand Roman Catholic schools. All state affiliated academies of religious background (which constitutes approximately a quarter of state academies) are of various Christian denominations only. Slight element of hypocrisy, if I may say so.
I was born in March in the year 1995, making my exit from academia fairly recent. In my mother’s infinite wisdom, I attended no less than two Church Of England schools, St. Augustine’s and St. Peter’s, between the ages of four and nine. They were for the most part typical, comprehensive infancy and primary schools with all the required forms of basic curricular education in the key subjects, to my recollection. Whilst there was something of a focus on biblical teachings and prayer and such, nothing ever struck me as out of the ordinary, even in my immaturity and limited experience of education. It was very much like any other infancy or primary school, even in retrospect. Perhaps a little more disciplined and reserved, but there was certainly no violence or any other sinister behaviour. My favourite musical artist in the world, Morrissey, has a rather jaundiced view of religious education. I shall provide an excerpt from his autobiography, where he reminisces his time at a Catholic school in 1960’s Manchester;
“Vincent Morgan is the Headmaster whose voice is a sigh, whose carriage is militantly empirical, and although a spectacle of suffering, he is mysteriously tuned into God… For five years I witness the monumental loneliness of Vincent Morgan as he busies himself day after day with the beatings of small boys… By 9:40 each morning, we shall all have witnessed several humiliating beatings at St. Mary’s, and this is how we begin our day of knowledge. As Vincent Morgan concludes his morning prayer in assembly – in which he gives thanks – he will then point up to twelve boys seemingly at random, who must step aside and prepare to be lashed, such being the heart of a man of Christian Forgiveness.” – Morrissey, ‘Morrissey’.
By some miscalculation of nature I was fortunate enough to have been spared the leather strap of the sisters or the sickening, sexual exploitation at the hands of monks and priests that some colleagues and other acquaintances of mine were forced to suffer and endure. Sadism and indoctrination played no role. In fact as far as I can recall it was during key stages one and two of the educational establishment that I was the most relaxed and content in my life, it was a safe routine, a safety that anyone’s inner child could benefit from.
The two main issues in education today, at least in my own humble opinion, are those of religious and political indoctrination. No doubt, many of you are by now familiar with the Modern Educayshun video by Australian comedian Neel Kolhatkar. If not, I’m sure it will provide an amusing and slightly disturbing insight into the path the establishments of education have begun to tread. The degree of political correctness is flabberghasting, to say the least. An example of how this is achieved by something so simple as subtle word games, may be observed by searching the definitions of Fascism and Communism via the Google engine. Fascism, up until recently Google defined as “An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organisation. Extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practices.” Communism was and remains defined as “a theory or system of social organisation in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.” It took care to mention that fascism is an exclusively right-wing ideology and attitude, which is arguably not the case, whereas to this day the word ‘left’ or term ‘left-wing’ appear nowhere in the definition of communism, which I think we can all agree, is unique to the left of the spectrum. I use the words “To this day” in reference to the definition of communism, as the definition of fascism has since been removed from the Google dictionary completely, instead directing browsers to alternate sites and sources. I find this somewhat amusing, on a personal level, as the administrators took pains to ensure they criticised fascistic behaviour as authoritarian and totalitarian, then elected to censor the word from their vocabulary entirely. “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone…” John 8:7
Religious miseducation is equally as destructive to developing minds, and slightly more sinister, in my view. For instance, those telling the story of Noah’s Ark will never be found mentioning the fact that the sheer volume of rainfall required to flood the earth in forty days and forty nights would be to the approximate tune of twelve and a half inches per minute, the force of which would’ve been more than enough to dissolve a wooden boat like wet paper towels and kill off the construction crews that weren’t in submarines. The tale of Sodom and Gomorrah is invariably omitted from school assemblies and Bible lessons (except when used to demonise homosexuality and misrepresent it as a form of sexual deviancy and perversion, rather than simply an alternate form of love) because it’s simply too repulsive and morally reprehensible for its God to be afforded any respect by adults, let alone children. Where the townspeople of Sodom demand to be allowed to homosexually gang rape the angels that have visited the home of Lot, who responds by offering his two (presumably pre-pubescent) virgin daughters to be gang raped as an alternative. And upon leaving the city – once the loving and merciful God has had a nice, bloody little slaughter of every man, woman and child there – Lot’s wife is transfigured into a pillar of salt for the heinous crime of looking over her shoulder at the destruction of her home. It makes me wonder how Paul Carrack got away with that one… The mind boggles. Such attempts at ‘soft censorship’ of religious fables is fairly common in the various establishments of religious miseducation, it seems it’s always worth bending and twisting the stories a wee touch to avoid any of that pesky incredulity. I imagine a toddler guffawing hysterically at the sheer ridiculousness and the implausibility of one’s sincerely held fantasies would be at least a little bit embarrassing. Such fables may of course seem perfectly harmless at first glance, and if they weren’t taught as historical facts, this would certainly be the case. The danger here is that it creates both a solipsism and a form of cognitive dissonance in those instructed in it, it’s core message being one of servility, abjection, fear and gratitude to the authority. It teaches children to be prostrate before and angry and jealous God, emulating the serf before the irate dictator, constantly in fear of divine consequences. No less irrational and fanatical than Stalinist’s or Nazi’s, in numerous ways.
This is especially important at a young age, when the brain is yet to lateralise. This is a concept known as neuroplasticity, which typically occurs up until the ages of nine or ten. This is important for learning to walk, language acquisition, etc. The arrangement of the brain at birth is not entirely stable, a vast amount of growth has yet to occur from birth until childhood and even adulthood. This is otherwise known as the maturation of the brain and is a lifelong, complex process which clinicians map out and can investigate using magnetic resonance imaging. To put it simply, as you get older, your brain becomes less flexible. There is a space in time within these ages, referred to by neurologists as the ‘critical period for learning.’ This is usually referenced in respect to language acquisition, such as when neurologists Penfield and Roberts proposed the Critical Period Hypothesis in 1959, and it was extended upon by Lenneburg in ‘67. Lenneburg does suggest that most skills and information registered during this period is specific to the morphology, i.e. the structure or general shape or concept of a thing, as opposed to the semantic values and processes behind them. This takes the form in several neurosis, for instance in religious homosexuals. Two examples would be personal friends, one a Muslim from the Ilford area of London, the other a Jehovah’s Witness from Norfolk. Both of whom live in fear, discomfort and distress, often lamenting on both the consequences should God despise homosexuality, as they have been instructed, and of the consequences should their friends, parents and communities discover their nature. Fearing both rejection and for physical safety, due to the ignorant and fanatical beliefs of other members of their faiths, as bullies and cowards in the name of God. Yet despite my epeated quoting from their holy books, often better than they can, and outlining various ways in which it would make no sense for God to create homosexuality only in order to punish it, as he would otherwise be nothing more than a callous sadist, they each remain unconvinced. This neurotic self-loathing is a direct result of intimidation and indoctrination, the efficacy of which are increased substantially during infancy. The emotional investment is too great for either to be able to free themselves from their imagined shackles. Even in the belief that the master to whom dwell in abjection will torture them upon death, both are still glad of their chains.
One may expand upon this, to the way many Muslims report feelings of nauseousness upon smelling pork as it cooks (This phenomenon may occur similarly with Jews, however I do not personally know enough to speculate reliably). Many religions throughout history have held the flesh of the swine in particular disdain, Judaism and Islam among them. This is nothing more than a simple neurosis, formed from instruction during the aforementioned critical period for learning. ‘Pork is unclean and filthy’. This is drilled in from an early age, forbidden to them as one cannot obtain halal pork (despite the fact that that Sura five, verse five, and Sura two, verse one hundred and seventy three state that if halal slaughtered meat products are not available, for legal or religious reasons, then they are perfectly fine to eat non-halal food. And yes, as a brief disclaimer to any of you dhimmi’s-in-waiting who like to feign a ‘cultured’ status, I am perfectly aware that halal simply translates to ‘that which is permitted’. Please save your angry letters until you have finished reading). I recall working with a woman named Sharon Rushbrooke, along with her husband Maurice. Myself and Maurice were each ophthalmic laboratory technicians, and Sharon worked downstairs in the workshop. Sharon had numerous minor neurosis, including deep superstition, regarding magpies and peacock feathers indoors, placing new shoes on a table, crossing on thee stairs, etc, as bad luck. She was something of a Luddite, deeply mistrustful of new technology or any changing in working methods. But some of her neurotic tendencies came from her own mother. Not as a result of conditioning, as such. Neither of her two older sisters shared any of these traits. But a case of emotional investment. For example, her mother often refused to seek the advice or council of a doctor when she was taken ill. This reluctance to seek medical attention resulted in the late diagnosis of a brain tumour, which led to her death. Sharon was, or rather is now equally as reluctant to seek the council of any medical professional when taken ill or experiencing any unusual symptoms. Her mother also had a strong dislike for the smell of boiling potatoes, or lamb being cooked, and as such Sharon reports feelings of nausea upon catching a waft of either of the two. Of course, neither of these have any religious basis, but the nature and the source are no different. In childhood, one happens across or is instructed to believe a, and as such, a is firmly cemented into that child’s mind for the rest of his or her life, in many cases – i.e., there is no room for b, a is stuck and it isn’t going anywhere. Sharon with her lamb, my friend with his pork. Neither with any rational or logical basis behind them. The same could be said for the terrible mistreatment of dogs in Muslim lands, or the way that our feline companions have historically been regarded as the familiars of witches and Satanists by Christians. None of these people lack education, per se. ‘Tis the ancient issue of people simply being taught what to think rather than how. Education does not work this way. Oscar Wilde remarked that “One can never be over educated or over dressed.” I would like to think (not to paint a vulgar picture) that sitting here in a small coffee shop in south west Norfolk, dressed in flares, Cuban heels, a dagger-collar shirt, complete with quiff and sideburns that I may have disproved Oscar’s second point, but the former point is precisely the point. Over educated’ is an oxymoron. There is always more to learn, about life, people, ideas, whatever. He who sets himself a standard and stops upon reaching it is a fool. He who associates himself with an ideology, rather than forming his own opinion, is an ignoramus. Contrary to the popular theory that one’s perspective is shaped by the class and style of their education, rather than the political agenda of the educational establishment itself is a fallacy. The brilliant socialist writer and essayist Eric Arthur Blake (George Orwell) summarised this very well in reference to his own experience with many publicly enthusiastic yet half-hearted, pseudo-lefty muppets he encountered, particularly anti-establishment, pacifist, anarchist types, in his essay My Country Right or Left, published in 1940;
“I grew up in at atmosphere tinged with militarism, and afterwards I spent five boring years within the sound of bugles. To this day it gives me a faint feeling of sacrilege not to stand to attention during ‘God Save The King’. That is childish, of course, but I would sooner have had that kind of upbringing than be like the left-wing intellectuals who are so ‘enlightened’ that they cannot understand the most ordinary emotions. It is exactly the people whose hearts have never leapt at the sight of a Union Jack who will flinch from revolution when the moment comes.
This almost instinctive need to default to ideology and identity, as opposed to individual thought, particularly political policy, is outlined impressively by PJW Holland in his article Capitalism, Socialism, Libertarianism, Democracy And Other Euphemisms, here at Kipper Central, while some of the more religious elements are covered in a previous essay of my own, Islamism & The Left; A Match Made In Hell.
Many these days can observe with ease the declining literacy levels of younger generations, most notably my own. It is certainly difficult to argue that standards are not in sharp decline, and given the popularity of social media, text speak, the prevalence of spell-checker and auto-correct on computers and mobile phones eliminating the need for people to master their own tongues or read books, it is easy enough to understand why. Despite the abundance of select, religious texts and the availability of educational material, the lack of classical literature is concerning. Even schools with access to extensive libraries and with the world at everyone’s fingertips with access to the internet, interest in literature and reading is almost discouraged, except perhaps a small, specific selection of Shakespeare’s works, which I personally consider quite overrated and to which no adolescent is likely to find particularly interesting or to enjoy or relate to, quite possibly because most cannot understand the language, or more accurately make no real attempt to.
Peter Hitchens, conservative author, journalist and columnist for The Mail on Sunday outlined this sentiment, to some degree, in his book The Abolition Of Britain;
“Until the 1930’s, people with very modest schooling would at least have been familiar with the sweeter parts of English literature and poetry, with the patriotic speeches of Shakespeare, with some versions of the Arthurian legends. Anyone educated up to fifteen or sixteen would have been expected to know a great deal more. This common knowledge was already breaking down before the Second World War, and by the late 1970’s it was obvious that the young were almost entirely cut off from the culture of their parents and grandparents.”
I must confess that I am not versed in much of the older literature Hitchens refers to here, as I am not only a casualty of the modern educational establishment and the popular culture it has nurtured, but I must also confess to finding the likes of Shakespeare irrepressibly drab and awful. I find it ironic however, that while I often complain of the outdated humour and archaic language used by Shakespeare, even the proofreading software used by this site regularly tells me off for using ‘archaic’ language, such as ‘thus’ and ‘alas’, or ‘complex expressions’ such as ‘numerous’ and ‘whereas’. Times and standards seem to shift substantially, even within our own lifetimes. However I do still find it incredibly frustrating, that the selections found in school libraries, including that at my own school, are so limited. Volumes and novels of any interest to anyone with an brain any larger than a boiled egg have been replaced with teen literature and children’s books for ‘slow readers’, when there is such a great deal out there just waiting for people to find it. Even without leaving the borders of Britain, there are countless great authors and poets from whom a well of wisdom, moral teaching, life lessons and even sentimental platitudes for the emotionally and intellectually challenged to post on social media can be drawn. Even simple poems by the likes of Stevie Smith can tell you everything you need to know about your own sorrow, rage and joy, even the simple facts of life, bleak yet pure. For example;
Some are born to peace and joy,
And some are born to sorrow.
But only for a day as we
Shall not be here tomorrow.
Of simple eloquence, it conveys the simple message that life is short and will be gone before you know it, you only get one so make the best of it as life can only be what you make of it. Yet unlike religious instruction it conveys this message with no strings attached, it is there for all to read without all the typically accompanying dogmatic rules and regulations. No pied piper coercing you to follow him away on promises of eternal salvation or threats of eternal torture. No rules or special food or clothing that treads on everyone else’s toes. Easy peasy, Japanesey. Another excellent poem of unusual insight and perhaps lateral perspective, and a favourite of mine is The Skip by James Fenton, written in 1984;
I took my life and threw it on the skip,
Reckoning the next-door neighbours wouldn’t mind
If my life hitched a lift to the council tip
With their dry rot and rubble. What you find
With skips is – the whole community joins in.
Old mattresses appear, doors kind of drift
Along with all that won’t fit in the bin
And what the bin-men can’t be fished to shift.
I threw away my life, and there it lay
And grew quite sodden. `What a dreadful shame,’
Clucked some old bag and sucked her teeth: ‘The way
The young these days … no values … me, I blame…’
But I blamed no one. Quality control
Had loused it up, and that was that.
‘Nough said. I couldn’t stick at home. I took a stroll
And passed the skip, and left my life for dead.
Without my life, the beer was just as foul,
The landlord still as filthy as his wife,
The chicken in the basket was an owl,
And no one said: ‘Ee, Jim-lad, whur’s thee life?’
Well, I got back that night the worse for wear,
But still just capable of single vision;
Looked in the skip; my life – it wasn’t there!
Some bugger’d nicked it – without my permission.
Okay, so I got angry and began
To shout, and woke the street. Okay. Okay!
And I was sick all down the neighbour’s van.
And I disgraced myself on the par-kay.
And then … you know how if you’ve had a few
You’ll wake at dawn, all healthy, like sea breezes,
Raring to go, and thinking: ‘Clever you!
You’ve got away with it.’ And then, oh Jesus, It hits you.
Well, that morning, just at six
I woke, got up and looked down at the skip.
There lay my life, still sodden, on the bricks;
There lay my poor old life, arse over tip.
Or was it mine? Still dressed, I went downstairs
And took a long cool look. The truth was dawning.
Someone had just exchanged my life for theirs.
Poor fool, I thought – I should have left a warning.
Some bastard saw my life and thought it nicer
Than what he had. Yet what he’d had seemed fine.
He’d never caught his fingers in the slicer
The way I’d managed in that life of mine.
His life lay glistening in the rain, neglected,
Yet still a decent, an authentic life.
Some people I can think of, I reflected
Would take that thing as soon as you’d say Knife.
It seemed a shame to miss a chance like that.
I brought the life in, dried it by the stove.
It looked so fetching, stretched out on the mat.
I tried it on. It fitted, like a glove.
And now, when some local bat drops off the twig
And new folk take the house, and pull up floors
And knock down walls and hire some kind of big
Container (say, a skip) for their old doors,
I’ll watch it like a hawk, and every day
I’ll make at least – oh – half a dozen trips.
I’ve furnished an existence in that way.
You’d not believe the things you find on skips.
The sentiment found in such poems is undeniable, if a little optimistic. The trouble with human beings is that we always want more than we have, more often than not, have more than we think, and we’re all stupid enough to think we know what we want. We spend our lives running around like headless chickens, trying our best to reach this goal, buy that car, meet this kind of man or woman. We plan it all out in our heads and spend our lives in self-deprecating reflection on what could be, rather than taking a few moments a day for a little introspection and being satisfied and reasonably content (not grateful) with who we are, and what we have, thus far, managed to accomplish. Never considering, do we wish for success, or simply hope to avoid failure? Are we really afraid? Is fear real? Or we just responding to stimuli on the basis of experience? Do we really need a BMW, when this Fiat gets us from a to b, and we could put this money to much better use elsewhere? Sure, the pipe in the loft burst and is causing a lot of water damage, but it could be sewage, as opposed to clean water. Plus, the insurance will cover this. Are our lives really as dull as we imagine them? Or are we too focused on our ambitions to see what’s going on around us? Would it not be far more constructive to have these questions and sentiments taught in schools, than most of the banal shit, spoon fed to students?
I recall from my own time at school (not so long ago, on reflection) when poets and play writes and novelists we were made to read were, in my opinion, vastly overrated, and perhaps difficult for an adolescent, do full of hormones and angst, to either understand or relate to, or engage with, with any gusto. Men like Tennyson and Shakespeare. Banal, paperback novels like Stone Cold by Robert Swindells. This is not to undermine or discredit Swindells as an author. But I, as almost everyone else of my age I knew who had to study this novel, found it to be irrepressibly drab and awful. There was no way to relate to the characters in such books. Little humour, nothing of note one could say one learned after reading it. For a young person, it just seemed totally wrong. It always seemed a shame to me that the selection was so narrow, not to mention boring. Especially given the poetry I have discovered since. The novels (The Prince Of Tides by Pat Conroy being my most treasured), and the expansive collections of philosophical literature, new and old, which could expand one’s mind and broaden one’s perspective astronomically further than any of the shit given to us in the classroom, or to be found in the school libraries. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is particularly interesting (if a little too focused on pseudo-spiritual nonsense for my comfort) along with Waking Up by Sam Harris. Both of these relatively recent.
In terms of the ancient kind, one of my own personal favourites is the Greek speaking, stoic philosopher named Epictetus, who influenced many historical figures from James Stockdale to Marcus Aurelius with his teachings. Born in 55 AD in Hierapolis (now Pamukkale, Turkey), Epictetus spent much of his youth as a slave in Rome to Epaphroditus, who allowed him to study Stoic philosophy under Musonius Rufus. This allowed him to rise in stature and respectability as he became more and more educated until his eventual emancipation from enslavement. In approximately 93 AD, the Emperor Domitian banished all philosophers from the city of Rome, for obvious reasons (they ask too many questions that make the priests look silly when they can’t provide adequate answers) and so Epictetus migrated to Nicopolis, where he founded his own school to educate others in philosophy. Here, Epictetus taught that philosophy is more than an academic, theoretical discipline, but indeed a state of mind and a way of life; an everyday ideology and a perspective on our place in the universe and the world upon which we are fortunate enough to dwell. He taught that external forces and events are invariably beyond our mortal control, and that rather than wallow in despair for our circumstances or to wage war upon scapegoats we seek to hold responsible, we should instead accept our situations as calmly, rationally and as dispassionately as we can and where applicable, do good and make a difference in our own lives and those of the people around us if we can, because as individuals we are still always responsible for our own actions and behaviour, which can be observed, examined and controlled by the pursuits of meditation and self-discipline. It is a perspective that shares numerous features with Chinese Taoism, and a recently established ‘mock religion’ of sorts known as ‘Dudeism’ which parodies The Great Lebowski’s main character as its deity. His teachings were collected, catalogued and published by his pupil Arrian in the famous Enchiridion and Discourses, which are considered by many to be some of the greatest philosophical works in circulation, and comparable to Socratic literature. My own personal favourite of Epictetus’ teachings is that of individuality, which I favour substantially over the ‘flock’ mentality perpetuated by almost all mainstream faiths and is encouraged in the scripture, alongside mass murder, pedophilia, etc. In book one, chapter two of The Discourses, a conversation is held between the characters Flores and Agrippinus, with Flores inquiring why Agrippinus does not go down and deliberate in Nero’s spectacles along with everyone else, and Agrippinus responds by explaining how calculating the value of external things, simply on the basis of De Rigueur to be “Very near to those who have forgotten their own character.” I feel it rather fitting to end this rather lengthy diatribe with his expansion on this point, and a fine lesson to any reader;
“Because if you consider yourself to be only one thread of those which are in the tunic… well then it is fitting for you to take care how you should be like the rest of men, just as the thread has no design to be anything superior to the other threads. But I wish to be the purple thread, that small part which is bright, and makes all the rest appear graceful and beautiful. Why then do you tell me to make myself like the many, and if I do, how shall I still be purple?”