Anarchy Number 1

Education, equality, opportunity

Education, equality, opportunity

John Ellerby

ULTIMATELY THE SOCIAL FUNCTION of education is to perpetuate society: it is the socialising function. Society guarantees its future by rearing its children in its own image. In traditional society the peasant rears his sons to cultivate the soil, the man of power rears his to wield power, and the priest instructs them all in the necessity of maintaining a priesthood. In modern governmental society, as Frank MacKinnon put it in The Politics of Education:

“The educational system is the largest instrument in the modern state for telling people what to do. It enrols five-year-olds and tries to direct their mental, and much of their physical, social and moral development for twelve or more of the most formative years of their lives.”

To find a historical parallel to this situation you would have to go back to ancient Sparta, the principal difference being that the only education we hear of in the ancient world is that of ruling classes. Spartan education was simply training for infantry warfare and for instructing the citizens in the techniques of subduing the slave class, the helots, who did the daily work of the state and greatly outnumbered the citizens. In the modern world the helots have to be educated too, and the equivalent of Spartan warfare is the industrial and technical competition between nations which is sometimes the product of war and sometimes its prelude. The year in which Britain’s initial advantage in the world’s industrial markets began to wane, was the year in which, after generations of bickering about its religious content, universal compulsory education was introduced, and every significant development since the Act of 1870, had a close relation to the experience, not merely of commercial rivalry, but of war itself. The Acts of 1902, 1918 and 1944 were all born of war, and every new international conflict, whether in rivalry for markets or in military techniques, has been the signal for a new burst of concern in different countries over the scale and scope of technical education among the rival powers. Thus the explosion by America of the first atomic bombs was a signal to Russia to hasten the pace of technical and scientific education, and Russia’s success in putting the first sputnik into space, led to an outburst of self-criticism in America about the shortcomings of the American educational system, and to a concern about the quality and availability of technical education in both Britain and America which is still in full swing. Continue reading

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Rescuing Galbraith from the conventional wisdom

Rescuing Galbraith from the conventional wisdom

Colin Ward

John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society is the only modern book on economics to become a best-seller. Comparisons have been made with Tawney’s Acquisitive Society and with Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, and praise has been lavished on the book from the political right, left and centre. The Financial Times found it “a stringent and stimulating piece of social analysis”, the Daily Telegraph thought it might provide the ‘sixties with “the popular tools of thought for handling the unfamiliar problems of our already rich society”. Even the warring factions in the Labour Party were united in praise of it, from Mr. Crosland who declared that “I am wholeheartedly a Galbraith man” to Mr. Crossman, who believed it to be “the most entertaining and profound exposure of post-war Western society that has yet been published”, and Tribune which saw in it a “magnificently iconoclastic assault on economic illusions”. It even has its admirers on the other side of the iron curtain, where Galbraith himself is the only leading Western economist to have lectured on the economics of capitalism, and one of the only ones to seek an exchange of professional and personal views with his opposite numbers in Moscow, Warsaw and Belgrade. Continue reading

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