27 August 2014

Educational ideology and the loss of clarity

One of my colleagues has a book that was given as a school prize in a State primary school 50 years ago, and which shows how the dominant ideology has developed since then. The book is entitled The Living World of History, the author Gareth H. Browning, and it was published by Collins in 1963. Evidently the book was regarded as respectable at the time, but it expresses an unfashionable world view by today’s standards. It is implied that the value of compulsory education is not unquestionable.
The Factory Act of 1833 (one of a long series to come) prohibited the employment of children under nine and limited the hours of those under thirteen to forty-eight per week. Then, as a doubtful treat, the latter group were given schooling for two hours a day. The government also made a money grant for educational purposes. These were the first effective steps made by the State towards the free, compulsory, universal education that children “enjoy” to-day. (p. 112)
Then again, the goodness and rightness of socialism, as opposed to capitalism, is also questionable.
In Britain, in the general election of 1945, the Socialists swept the country. There was an urgent feeling that society must be created anew on truly democratic lines. The State must ensure a higher standard of living for ordinary people. All the political parties were pledged to social reform. But, while the Socialists sought it through State ownership and control in industry and the public services, the Conservatives believed in private ownership, free competition and individual enterprise. (pp. 155-6)
Another sign of the changing times is the clarity with which the book expresses what it says. The attitudes described may or may not seem convincing to the reader, but it is clear what they are.

As the modern ideology became more dominant, although presented as unquestionable it was expressed with a certain vagueness or blurriness, which had the effect of making it difficult to criticise. This kind of blurriness, after a certain date, became fairly universal in academic productions. It became a feature, not just of subjects such as history or sociology, but also of ostensibly objective subjects such as physics.