25 May 2022

The evolution of education

There is a sense in which the authoritarian figures of a socialist society are far more authoritarian than those of a capitalist one. To illustrate this, let us consider the development of authority in the educational system, and the state of affairs regarded as acceptable at the present time.

In a primitive society there is no education in the modern sense. The child joins in activities designed to produce food and so on more or less as soon as he is able, and acquires practical skills from his elders as he goes along.

Education starts to arise when some individuals become rich enough to release their children in their early years from attending to physical necessities, and are either free enough themselves to teach them such things as languages and arithmetic, or can pay for someone to devote his time to doing so. So when teachers arise in the course of a developing civilisation they do so first as paid employees, or even slaves, of the parents.

As civilisation develops further, various charitable and communal efforts may be made to provide an education for at least some of those whose parents are not providing it for them, but this is clearly an imitation of what the parents who do provide for their children’s education see fit to provide.

Finally it is recognised that the amount of effort people are prepared to make to educate other people’s children voluntarily is incommensurate with people’s ability to produce children to be educated; and the task of supplementing the private educational system is passed to the state, with its unlimited power to confiscate money from individuals.

This causes a great change in the status of the persons in roles of authority within the educational system. They are no longer the servants of the parents, they are agents of the collective, and they will feel free to assume a position of superior wisdom where parents are concerned, and even to interfere at will between parents and children.

The final stage in this process is not quite with us at the time of writing. The private educational system, shrunken by taxation and restrictive legislation as it is, is still present and provides a standard of comparison. By this standard it may be perceived that state schools may be very good at generating the right social attitudes and at interfering in people’s lives, but private schools are still better at setting people up to succeed in life, with a higher standard of academic attainment and possibly certain psychological characteristics which result from a less degraded environment. It is therefore regarded as desirable that this standard of comparison should be eliminated altogether, and whatever is provided as education in state schools should be the only standard of what education can be.

12 March 2022

The Romany Rye

George Borrow (1803-1881) was an English author who was contemporary with novelists such as Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Well-known in his day, and celebrated for several decades after his death, he is now somewhat neglected.

Borrow is best known for two semi-autobiographical novels (Lavengro and its sequel The Romany Rye) which feature, among many encounters with colourful characters, his relationships with members of the Romany folk, whose language he learnt. I read these two books when I was eight and was very struck by them.

The passage below, taken from the Appendix to The Romany Rye and written by Borrow, may convey some of the flavour of the books.
Lavengro is the history up to a certain period of one of rather a peculiar mind and system of nerves, with an exterior shy and cold, under which lurk much curiosity, especially with regard to what is wild and extraordinary, a considerable quantity of energy and industry, and an unconquerable love of independence.

It narrates [the hero’s] earliest dreams and feelings [...] his successive struggles, after his family and himself have settled down in a small local capital, to obtain knowledge of every kind, but more particularly philological lore; his visits to the tent of the Romany chat and the parlour of the Anglo-German philosopher; the effect produced upon his character by his flinging himself into contact with people all widely differing from each other, but all extraordinary; his reluctance to settle down to the ordinary pursuits of life; his struggles after moral truth; his glimpses of God and the obscuration of the Divine Being to his mind’s eye; and his being cast upon the world of London, by the death of his father, at the age of nineteen. [...]

In the country it shows him leading a life of roving adventure, becoming tinker, gypsy, postillion, ostler; associating with various kinds of people, chiefly of the lower classes, whose ways and habits are described; but, though leading this erratic life, we gather from the book that his habits are neither vulgar nor vicious, that he still follows to a certain extent his favourite pursuits — hunting after strange characters, or analyzing strange words and names.
Illustration from Lavengro
(by E.J. Sullivan)
Those who read this book with attention — and the author begs to observe that it would be of little utility to read it hurriedly — may derive much information with respect to matters of philology and literature [... The book] is particularly minute with regard to the ways, manners, and speech of the English section of the most extraordinary and mysterious clan or tribe of people to be found in the whole world — the children of Roma.