Tuesday 21 November 2023

The failure of education


The biggest change in the past thirty years is the politicisation of education. It explains everything that is happening at the moment.

I can remember a very long time ago taking part in a debate on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Each team of debaters was assigned the side of the argument when we arrived. I was on the Pro Palestinian side.

The debate proceeded with points made about history, points made about UN resolutions, points made about morality and points made about international law.

The result was that people who might privately support Israel had to argue the Palestinian cause and vice vera.

This sort of thing was commonplace back then.

My school education involved no politics at all. There was no mention of equality, let alone equity. I learned the basic facts of human reproduction with nothing whatsoever about homosexuality let alone transgender.

I learned nothing about slavery, nor did I learn anything about Mary Seacole who hadn’t been discovered yet. There was almost nothing about the British empire. No one was encouraged to feel guilty about the past.

There was nothing taught about race or racism, not least because in neither my primary nor secondary school were there any black people.

School involved mainly being taught facts. Later at university there was more scope for argument, but at no point was the correct answer governed by politics. Often there was no correct answer, just good arguments and poor arguments.

By the time I was coming to the end of my university studies there were the beginnings of politicisation of certain subjects, but it was still possible to avoid it. I could argue for anything I wanted, but the arguments rarely if ever touched on politics even in the vaguest sense. I was usually unaware of what tutors or lecturers thought of current affairs or political issues in general. It didn’t come up.

Education used to involve almost complete freedom of thought. People were rarely if ever banned from speaking. Each topic could be approached in a multitude of ways. It was necessary to doubt everything, criticise everything and assume nothing.

All of this has been overthrown.

Education today from primary school right through to the highest levels has become almost entirely political. There are still a few sciences and some aspects of other subjects which can escape, but nearly everything else is viewed through a left-wing prism. Worse its not the left-wing that existed decades ago, which was based on reason, and which tried to use argument to persuade everyone else. No. Unreason has completely triumphed.

It’s hard to get across how stupid, boring and pointless it all is. If you study literature, it invariably involves the study of either race, homosexuality, gender, disability or some other form of progressive politics.

If you study history, it invariably involves some aspect of colonialism, slavery, race and decolonisation.

If you study philosophy, you no longer explore everything from Plato to John Stuart Mill, but rather have to read philosophy that a few decades ago would not have been called philosophy in the western tradition at all. Hindu philosophy or Taoist philosophy may be interesting. It may be worthy of study. But it is a different subject to Kant and Hume, Berkeley and Locke.

Subjects today are studied because of the race, gender, sexuality or some other characteristic of the person rather than because they have the intrinsic merit to be studied. You end up having to read bad books.

The standard of study today is incomparably lower. If you wanted to study German as an undergraduate, it was assumed that you spoke the language fluently and you would begin reading German literature from day one.  Now many require a language course.

If I needed to read an author who wrote in a foreign language it was assumed I would learn that language by myself. Now French poetry is read in translation. What’s the point? Poetry is what is lost in translation.

Expanding access has lowered the standard for everyone, but worse it has been combined with an enormous expansion of the subjects for which the correct answer is determined politically.

If you are doing a course on colonisation and slavery, try arguing for the benefits of empire or that every country has at one time had slavery . If you are doing a course on critical race theory, try arguing for another way of understanding race. If you are doing a course involving discussion of sexuality and transgender, try doubting any of the letters or numbers in LGBTQIA2S. If you are doing a course on the Middle East conflict, try arguing for Zionism.

When we are in primary school there is little scope for original thought. We just repeat what the teacher tells us. But this has become the model for the whole of education. It is not only worthless as education, it is positively harmful because it teaches ignorance and dogmatism.

When the Osama bin Laden’s letter to America went viral and huge numbers of educated young people found themselves agreeing, we reached the reductio ad absurdum of education. When people in their twenties shout “From the river to the sea” without knowing what river, they are shouting about and without knowing that it involves the removal of the Jews living there we find that education has given them opinions without knowledge. Worse it has deprived them of the ability to think critically and for themselves. They repeat after the teacher like infants on their first day of school.

The perniciousness reaches its peak when vast numbers across the world can be antisemitic because they think it is impossible to be racist about Jews. If a black man cannot be racist about a white woman, even if he is raping and murdering her because she is white while using the worst insults he can come up with about her skin colour, then it follows on the same logic that when brown Palestinians attacked Jews (some of whom are white) that isn’t racist either, but rather an act of decolonisation.

This leaves us with. “The brown Palestinians are powerless, the Israelis have the power. The Palestinians are justified in doing anything. The Israelis are unjustified in responding in any way. The only thing the Israelis can do is go away, or preferably cease to exist.”

I am concerned about the conflict in Gaza. I hope there is a solution that gives both sides some of what they want. But I am also concerned now about the reaction to the conflict here.

There is enormous ignorance about the history of Israel. There are grotesque comparisons with the Holocaust. There is an unwillingness to believe anything the Israelis say while believing everything Hamas says. There is unbelievably widespread antisemitism and hatred of Israel with zero understanding of the nature of warfare or an understanding of the present conflict in its historical context. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1948 is in historical terms a small war with relatively low casualties. There are any number of wars with less than 20,000 deaths that most of us have never heard of.

If we continue to allow children to be educated from primary school onwards in the way that they are without knowledge and without critical thinking, while teaching them to believe without question things that are impossible such as a man can become a woman, the next irrationality won’t be about Israel or about Jews, it will be about us.

Twenty or thirty years from now someone who is incapable of debating or even understanding both sides of the argument, who knows nothing and who believes in logical contradictions will be in charge.


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