24 June 2008

Institutionalised opposition

copy of a letter

Further to my previous comments, even if I had not taken up the grammar school scholarship at 10 and had simply worked straight away for degrees, there would still have been the incalculable and ever-present risk of notice being taken of me by the local ‘education’ authority. So far as I can gather, in the 1945 Education Act, local authorities were given powers of inspection and interference over the ‘education’ of everyone, whether at private or state schools, or at home. This would have been a time-bomb for me which might have blown up at any time.

What I found so disgusting at the time (when I was 16) was that I was not only no longer in receipt of a grammar school scholarship but was past school-leaving age, so I do not see that they had any right at all to enquire into my affairs or to discuss them with my father.

Now, not only is the school-leaving age higher than it was then, but it is being proposed that until the age of 18 the local authority should have the power to make everyone do something approved of by them, some kind of officially recognised ‘training’, etc.

This is an absolutely terrible idea, and only compete abolition of the concept of compulsory education, including the concept of the powers (explicit and implicit) of local education authorities could restore an acceptable situation.

As could be seen in my case, they had, even at so early a stage in the development of the Oppressive State, no scruples about uninvited invasion into the life of someone over whom they had no official jurisdiction.

In fact it may very well have been the unprincipled Mother Mary Angela, the nun who taught maths, who set them onto me when I was on the verge of making a bid for freedom. I remember how she reacted when I told her of my plans to get on with taking degrees as fast as possible. Very similar, really, to Sir George Joy’s reaction when I said that if he prevaricated any longer about the Coombe-Tennants buying a house for me I would buy one myself, although a smaller one than they had been planning to buy for me. ‘You can’t do that,’ he said, with something like fear or apprehension, and Mother Mary Angela said something similar on being told that I could get on with taking degrees straight away.

‘Oh but I can,’ I said joyfully to Mother Mary Angela. ‘I have gone into all the regulations and I am perfectly well qualified.’ I knew she wanted to oppose me in everything I wanted but I still had not realised how dangerous it might be to let her have any information about my intentions. In fact, of course, tremendous and widespread opposition arose which obliterated my joyful hopes and condemned me to yet another year of supervised ‘preparation’ for a distant qualification.

Similarly, I suppose that Sir George feared my setting up in Oxford because, on however small a scale I was able to operate, the Oxford location would be sufficient to attract some publicity and hence the possibility of financial support. So the campaign to starve me out began, and when the King money provided partial alleviation for me, Professor Sir Alister Hardy had to be mobilised to stand in my light. Which, of course, he did very effectively, although he had no idea what to do and his ‘projects’ were only superficial and mechanical imitations of mine. I had used punched cards so he would use punched cards – or rather his employees would, when he had some. (Computers were still cumbrous and not easily available.)

It does appear (from my experience of life) that when ability is combined with drive and a strong sense of direction, it arouses opposition. So, paradoxically, although the attacks on my father which obstructed my plans always took the form of allegations that he was pushing me, they were very likely instigated by those who had the clearest perceptions of the fact that he was not doing so, such as my aunt and Mother Mary Angela. Mother Mary Angela clearly disliked the fact that I had found a way to start taking degrees, and probably all the more because it was so clearly my own autonomous idea, into researching which I had put a lot of initiative.

It is possible to imagine a hypothetical society in which my drive and independence would have aroused admiration and support, but clearly this is not a society in which I have ever lived.