Tag Archives: education

Empire

The British Empire is, to state the blatantly obvious, a topic of great historical importance, and a sensative subject capable of arousing strong emotions. The British Labour Party has announced, in it’s “Race and Faith Manifesto” that, if elected, it will investigate the impact of British colonialism:

“Labour will conduct an audit of
the impact of Britain’s colonial legacies
to understand our contribution to the
dynamics of violence and insecurity
across regions previously under British
colonial rule.
We will also:
· Create an Emancipation Educational
Trust to ensure the historical injustices
of colonialism, and the role of the
British Empire is properly integrated
into the National Curriculum, to teach
powerful Black history which is also
British history”, https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Race-and-Faith-Manifesto-2019.pdf.

As a historian, Labour’s “pledge” to carry out an audit of British colonialism causes me great concern. Whilst there where (undoubtedly) injustices committed by the British Empire, and its impossible to deny that many of those involved in colonial administration believed in the superiority of white (and, in particular British rule, which would, by today’s standards make them “racists), this is not the whole story. As pointed out by Jeremy Paxman in this article, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9085936/Jeremy-Paxman-Our-empire-was-an-amazing-thing.html, Britain played a leading role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, it stamped out the practice of widow burning in India, it built infrastructure in the form of roads and rail, and left a legacy of incorupt administration.

I am left wondering who will conduct this audit of British colonialism. Will it be a cross section of highly respected historians (of differing perspectives), or historians who are (from the outset of their investigations) convinced that the British Empire was a wholly bad thing with few (if any) redeeming features? From the wording of Labour’s Manifesto, I suspect that the latter will be the case, with left-wing (perhaps Marxist) historians carrying out “research” which will (when published) be hottly contested by other academics.

In education its vital that children learn about the British Empire, warts and all. If, however they only learn about the warts (with no acknowledgement of the positive role Britain played in the world), what they will be receiving will be indoctrination rather than education.

Racism is an evil (and also deeply stupid for there is no evidence whatsoever that the colour of one’s skin plays any role in determining intelligence). We share a common humanity and its right that the role of black people in this country’s history is acknowledged and celebrated. However I do not believe that what Labour is proposing is the right way to go about it.

As always I would be interested in the views of my readers.

Kevin

If Gandhi Was A Racist, Who Then Shall We Honour?

Back in 2016, Oxford University announced that it would not bow to the demands of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, and the statue of Cecil Rhodes would remain, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-35435805.

The Rhodes scholarship enables students to benefit from funds left in the will of the late Cecil Rhodes, irrespective of skin colour. However, the Rhodes Must Fall campaign contend that Rhodes was an “imperialist” and a “racist” and his statue has no place on the campus of Oriel College, Oxford.

I smiled with wry humour when I learned that radical students at Manchester University are objecting to the erection of a statue of Gandhi on the grounds that he described black people as “savages” and “dirty (amongst other offensive terms of abuse), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/17/manchester-council-urged-reject-mahatma-gandhi-statue-racism.

Let me be crystal clear. I did not smile at the offensive words used by Gandhi. Racism is wrong and should be condemned in the strongest possible manner. We all share a common humanity and skin colour does not define the value of a person, as value inheres in us all by virtue of our common humanity. Why then the reason for my wry smile? If Gandi can be attacked, who, then deserves a statue erected in their name? Please, someone show me the individual (living or dead) who is so saintly that they deserve a statue.

Both Rhodes and Gandhi where products of their time as, indeed are we all. In times to come those of us (including myself) who enjoy eating meat may be viewed by posterity as uncivilised, cruel individuals who predated on the inocent animal kingdom. Who, then will erect a statue to one of the meat eaters of today, irrespective of their charitable deeds, literary talent or whatever?

Will the vegetarians of today (or the future) be considered worthy of statues? What about the non meat eater who is a serial adulterer and treats his wives with utter contempt. If he is a great artist will his poor treatment of his wife be overlooked and a statue be erected in his name? Or will the policers of morals jump up and down and say “over my dead body”?

As Hamlet remarks, “treat every man after his desert, and who shall scape whipping”. I answer few, if any of us, for we are all imperfect humans, living in a complex and imperfect world. So, no, Rhodes statue should not fall and those agitating for it to do so should find something more useful to do with their time.

Kevin

Should We Abolish Private (fee paying) schools?

At the recently held conference of the UK Labour Party, delegates voted to abolish private (I.E. fee-paying schools), https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/sep/22/labour-delegates-vote-in-favour-of-abolishing-private-schools.

The above decision strikes me as iliberal and an attack on the freedom of the individual to spend their own money as they see fit.

The philosophical underpinning of the decision is the belief in equality. Why (proponents of a ban on private schools argue) should a tiny minority (a privileged one to boot) be able to avail themselves of private education when the vast majority of the population do not possess the resources to do so. They further argue that many leading positions in society (for example the judiciary) is packed full of individuals who enjoyed the advantages of private schooling, whilst only a small proportion of top judicial appointments are held by those who attended state (non-fee paying) institutions. Private education does, they contend assist in perpetuating and widening the “class divide” in the UK.

If one accepts the logic of the position outlined above, why stop at the abolition of private schools? Should not parents who possess the resources to buy a home in an area with good state (I.E. non-fee paying schools) be prevented from doing so, and if not, why not, for it is surely unfair that some people can aford to move to areas with good schools whilst others can not? And what about parents who (whilst they do not send their children to private school) do pay for private tuition in music, maths, literature etc? Such tuition may well give the ofspring of such parents an advantage. Is not such an advantage unfair and as such should a prohibition not be placed on parents paying for private tuition? If the answer given to the last question by those delegates who voted for the ban on private schools is “no”, on what logic do they base their opposition to private schools, whilst accepting the right of parents to pay for private tuition often (but not always) in their own homes?

I myself do tutor a friend’s son most Saturdays in poetry. Whilst no money is paid (I wouldn’t accept it even where it to be offered) it is, nonetheless private tuition. If I can provide tuition to a friend’s son free of charge why then should not those (if any exist) wishing to pay me for the provision of said tuition be entitled to do so?

I was incredibly lucky and grew up in a house full of books. From a young age I experienced the delight of being read to by my grandfather and other family members. If we follow the extreme Socialist logic to it’s logical conclusion should we not take away some of the books from those households lucky enough to possess them and redistribute them to families with no (or few) books? And if not, why not?

Life is, in the final analysis unfair. Whilst its surely right that proper funding is provided to the state education sector (which is not always the case), that is not an argument in favour of abolishing the right of those who can aford to pay for private education to do so.
Variety is the spice of life and both private and state sectors can learn from one another, with the best aspects of both systems being incorporated (on a voluntary basis) by both institutions. Its also surely right that private schools who enjoy charitable status should prove their commitment to the local community by, for example opening up their facilities (such as swimming pools and playing fields) to local state schools.

I myself was lucky enough to attend a school part funded by the Catholic Blind Institute and part funded by the state. The largest class I remember consisted of perhaps 10-12 children, with other classes being smaller. The ethos of that school (which catered for both boarders and day pupils) was excellent and yes, I do feel privileged to have attended it.

As always I would be interested in the views of my readers.

Kevin

GCSE English

Tomorrow, a friend’s son will visit me and we will discuss W. B. Yeat’s poem “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death”, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57311/an-irish-airman-foresees-his-death

A’s son is preparing for his GCSE in english. Part of the exam will entail him analysing a poem he has not previously seen, on the theme of power and conflict. He will need to analyse the techniques used and make an evaluative judgement on the poem.

I am, of course delighted to help, and hope that our time together will be productive in terms of A’s son being able to develop the skills enabling him to analyse poetry. I will ask my friend’s son to say what he thinks of the poem in general terms, and then go on to ascertain his views on the techniques being utilised.

Although I write poetry, my degree is in history and politics and I hold no formal qualification in either creative writing or English Literature (other than an A-Level in the latter subject). Tomorrow will therefore be something of a learning curve for both my friend’s teenage son and myself.

(Note: I have no idea as to what poem will be set when A’s son sits his GCSE English. It could, so far as I am aware, be any poem concerning power and conflict).

The British Library Explores The History Of Writing

From tomorrow (Friday 26 April), the British Library will be hosting an exhibition concerning the history of writing. The exhibits include an ancient egyptian tablet which demonstrates that concerns about the quality of homework are far from being new! It also shows that worries regarding the decline in hand-writing are not confined to the 21st century. For more information please visit, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/apr/24/living-by-the-pen-british-library-explores-history-of-writing.

Kevin

Men Mowing

As I at lessons sat
In school
(Generally obeying the rule),
I oft did hear,
Sometimes far, at others near,
A sound clear,
That of men mowing,
Knowing where they where going.

On my way home tonight
I had the delight
Of smelling new mown grass,
Which brought to mind
A more settled time
When I at lessons sat
Reading rhyme,
And men were amowing
Knowing where they where going.
Sometimes I almost weep,
When I think on what my country may reap.

Learning Poetry By Rote

An amusing article concerning the merits of learning poetry by rote, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2260419/Ill-vote-learning-poetry-rote.html. (The author is not in favour of said practice). As one of the commenters states, in the comments following on from the piece, much of the poetry I can recall is that from which I derived pleasure, for example Dowson’s “They Are Not Long The Weeping And The Laughter” and Beloc’s “On An Election”.

As someone or other once wrote:
There was a young Man called Moat
Who learned a poem by rote.
It was somewhat long
And concerned a thong
Or perhaps it was a goat!