Reflections on parents, teachers and schools

WHAT ANARCHISTS ARE AFTER is personal and social autonomy—the idea that individuals and their organisations should be self-regulating autonomous bodies. It is this which makes us advocates of workers’ control in industry and which makes us enthusiastic about such examples as we find of social organisations spring up from below, from people’s urge to satisfy their own needs, as opposed to those which depend on a structure of hierarchy, power and authority in which one set of people give instructions and another set of people carry them out.

The theoretical application of our ideas to the organisation of education is clear enough. The autonomous self-governing school is the aim, and in view of the obvious limits within which children may be said to govern themselves, this means in practice a school controlled by teachers by virtue of their functional responsibility to children, and by parents because of their biological responsibility for them. But the issue is more complicated, for in both primitive and complex communities it is recognised that all adults have a responsibility towards children, which because of the vagaries and vicissitudes of individual parentage, may have to be exercised on its behalf or on the child’s behalf. Once this is admitted, we have of course admitted that education is the concern of the community. But what community? The state as in France, the local authority as in the United States, or a mixture of the two as in Britain? And where does the responsibility of the community begin and end?

Should education be compulsory anyway? (And is the compulsion to be applied to the child or to the parent?) Bakunin saw the question dialectically:

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The principle of authority, in the education of children, constitutes the natural point of departure; it is legitimate, necessary, when applied to children of a tender age, whose intelligence has not yet openly developed itself. But as the development of everything, and consequently of education, implies the gradual negation of the point of departure, this principle must diminish as fast as education and instruction advance, giving place to increasing liberty. All rational education is at bottom nothing but this progressive immolation of authority for the benefit of liberty, the final object of education necessarily being the formation of free men full of respect and love for the liberty of others. Therefore the first day of the pupil’s life, if the school takes infants scarcely able as yet to stammer a few words, should be that of the greatest authority and an almost entire absence of liberty: but its last day should be that of the greatest liberty and the absolute abolition of every vestige of the animal or divine principle of authority.

Eighty-five years later, Ethel Mannin in her utopian survey Bread and Roses took a more absolutely “libertarian” line:

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At this point you perhaps protest, “But if there is no compulsion, what happens if a child does not want to attend school of any kind, and the parents are not concerned to persuade him?” It is quite simple. In that case the child does not attend any school. As he becomes adolescent he may wish to acquire some learning. Or he may develop school-going friends and wish to attend school because they do. But if he doesn’t he is nevertheless learning all the time, his natural child’s creativeness working in happy alliance with his freedom. No Utopian parent would think of using that moral coercion we call ‘persuasion’. By the time he reaches adolescence the child grows tired of running wild, and begins to identify himself with grown-ups; be perceives the usefulness of knowing how to read and write and add, and there is probably some special thing he wants to learn—such as how to drive a train or build a bridge or a house. It is all very much simpler than our professional educationists would have us believe.

Some of us think it is not that simple. But the point is academic, for in practice the decision is that of the parents. Nowadays it is only highly sophisticated and educated people who bother to argue about whether or not it is desirable that children should learn the three Rs. The law in this country does not in fact require parents to send their children to school; it imposes an obligation on them to see that their children while within the compulsory age, are receiving “an appropriate education”. The occasional prosecutions of recalcitrant parents usually reveal a degree of apathy, indifference or parental incompetence that hardly provides a good case for the opponents of compulsion, though they do sometimes rope in highly conscientious parents whose views on education do not happen to coincide with those of the local authority. (Mrs. Joy Baker’s account of her long and in the end successful struggle with the authorities will be reviewed in a coming issue of ANARCHY). Usually, apart from a few of the rich, with their governesses and tutors, there are not many parents with the time or skill to teach their children at home, and of those who could, many must feel it unfair to deprive their children of the pleasures and social experience of belonging to a community of their peers, or may cherish the right of parents to have the kids out of their way for some of the time-and the reciprocal right of their children to be outside the parental atmosphere.

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Historically, in this country, the struggle to make education free, compulsory and universal, and out of the exclusive control of religious organisations. was long and bitter, and the opposition to it came, not from libertarian objectors, but from the upholders of privilege and dogma, and from those (both parents and employers) who had an economic interest in the labour of children or a vested interest in ignorance. The very reason why it had to be made compulsory ninety-four years ago was because children were an economic asset. Readers of chapters 8 and 12 of Marx’s Capital will not dissent from the assertion that the industrial revolution was made by the children of the poor. As late as 1935 Lord Halifax, as President of the Board of Education, opposing the proposal to raise the school leaving age from fourteen to fifteen, declared that “public opinion would not tolerate an unconditional raising of the age” and the Bradford textile manufacturers assured him that “there was work for little fingers there.”

The notion that primary education should be free, compulsory and universal is very much older than the English Act of 1870. It grew up with the printing press and the rise of protestantism. The rich had been educated by the Church and the sons of the rising bourgeoisie in the grammar schools of the Middle Ages. From the 16th century on arose· a gradual demand that all should be taught. Martin Luther appealed “To the Councilmen of all Cities in Germany that they establish and maintain Christian Schools”, observing that the training children get at home “attempts to make us wise through our experience” a task for which life itself is too short, and which could be accelerated by systematic instruction by means of books. Compulsory universal education was founded in Calvinist Geneva in 1536, and Calvin’s Scottish disciple John Knox “planted a school as well as a kirk in every parish.” In puritan Massachusetts free compulsory primary education was introduced in 1647. The common school, writes Lewis Mumford in The Condition of Man:

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…contrary to popular belief, is no belated product of 19th century democracy: I have pointed out that it played a necessary part in the absolutist-mechanical formula. Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, following Luther’s precept, made primary education compulsory in his realm in 1717, and founded 1,700 schools to meet the needs of the poor. Two ordinances of Louis XIV in 1694 and 1698 and one of Louis XV in 1724 required regular attendance at school. Even England, a straggler in such matters, had hundreds of private charity schools, some of them founded by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, which had been incorporated in 1699. Vergerious, one of the earliest renaissance schoolmasters, had thought education an essential function of the State: and centralised authority was now belatedly taking up the work that had been neglected with the wiping out of municipal freedom in the greater part of Europe.

All the rationalist philosophers of the 18th century thought about the problems of education, and of them, the two acutest educational thinkers ranged themselves on opposite sides on the question of the organisation of education: Rousseau for the State, Godwin against it. Rousseau, whose Emile postulates a completely individual education (human society is ignored, the tutor’s entire life is devoted to poor Emile), did nevertheless concern himself with the social aspect, arguing, in his Discourse on Political Economy (1758) for public education, “under regulations prescribed by the government”, for

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If children are brought up in common in the bosom of equality; if they are imbued with the laws of the State and the precepts of the General Will … we cannot doubt that they will cherish one another mutually as brothers … to become in time defenders and fathers of the country of which they will have been so long the children.

William Godwin, who, in his Enquirer attacks the concealed authoritarianism of Rousseau’s educational theories, criticises in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1792), the idea of national education. He summarises the arguments in favour, which are those of Rousseau, adding to them the question:

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If the education of our youth be entirely confined to the prudence of their parents or the accidental benevolence of private individuals, will it not be a necessary consequence, that some will be educated to virtue, others to vice, and others again entirely neglected?

Godwin’s answer is:

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The injuries that result from a system of national education are, in the first place, that all public establishments include in them the idea of permanence. They endeavour, it may be, to secure and to diffuse whatever of advantage to society is already known, but they forget that more remains to be known … But public education has always expended its energies in the support of prejudice; it teaches its pupils not the fortitude that shall bring every proposition to the test of examination, but the art of vindicating such tenets as may chance to be previously established … This feature runs through every species of public establishment; and, even in the petty institution of Sunday schools, the chief lessons that are taught are a superstitious veneration for the Church of England, and to bow to every man in a handsome coat … Refer them to reading, to conversation, to meditation, but teach them neither creeds nor catechisms, neither moral nor political …
Secondly, the idea of national education is founded in an inattention to the nature of mind. Whatever each man does for himself is done well; whatever his neighbours or his country undertake to do for him is done ill. It is our wisdom to incite men to act for themselves, not to retain them in a state of perpetual pupillage. He that learns because he desires to learn will listen to the instructions he receives and apprehend their meaning. He that teaches because he desires to teach will discharge his occupation with enthusiasm and energy. But the moment political institution undertakes to assign to every man his place, the functions of all will be discharged with supineness and indifference …
Thirdly, the project of a national education ought uniformly to be discouraged on account of its obvious alliance with national government. This is an alliance of a more formidable nature than the old and much contested alliance of church and state. Before we put so powerful a machine under the direction of so ambitious an agent, it behoves us to consider well what we do. Government will not fail to employ it to strengthen its hands and perpetuate its institutions … Their view as instigator of a system of education will not fail to be analogous to their views in their political capacity: the data upon which their conduct as statesmen is vindicated will be the data upon which their institutions are founded. It is not true that our youth ought to be instructed to venerate the constitution, however excellent: they should be instructed to venerate truth … (Even) in the countries where liberty chiefly prevails, it is reasonably to be assumed that there are important errors, and a national education has the most direct tendency to perpetuate those errors and to form all minds upon one model.

Godwin’s arguments are worth quoting at this length, not only as the classic statement of an anarchist position on this issue, but because they have had such ample subsequent justification. On the other hand he does not really answer the question of how we can ensure that every child can have free access to whatever educational facilities will suit its individual needs.

In practice, in this country today people who want to try an anarchist approach to education have two possible courses of action: to work in the private sector—independent schools of one kind or another, a minority of which are progressive, or to work in the normal school system and try to influence it in a “progressive” direction. These two courses are by no means mutually exclusive, and there is plenty of evidence of the influence of the former on the latter.

It is surprising, and certainly saddening, considering the number of people interested in “progressive” schools, how few of them there are and how they seldom inspire other people to start them. For example, the publication of Summerhill, a compilation of the writings of A. S. Neill, brought about a great deal of interest in his school and his ideas in America; there was an embarrassing procession of overseas visitors to Neill’s little school in Suffolk, but how few of the admirers and visitors set about starting more schools on similar lines. A few did: one of the contributions in this issue of ANARCHY comes from people who are trying to.

Why shouldn’t the parents of a group of babies in the same age group get together and plan a school for them well in advance, so as to accumulate the funds required before they are needed? They could as several groups of parents do, run their own nursery school when their children reach the appropriate age and then develop from the primary stage onward. The wealthy who are also intent on educating their children in independent schools, have found a variety of ways for financing them by way of Deeds of Covenant, endowment policies and so on. (John Vaizey estimates that at present something like £60 million a year is spent on school fees and £15-£20 million of this is found by tax-avoidance).

Many of us on the other hand, are more concerned with changing the ordinary primary and secondary schools which the vast majority of children attend, changing the teaching methods and changing parental and social attitudes. Some will simply say that this cannot be done—this would be the view of the secondary modern school-teacher who contributes an honest account of his problems elsewhere in this issue. But others will say that it would be foolish not to try to take advantage of the present wave of interest in education and in the state of the schools.

The anarchist, seeking functional, as opposed to political, answers to social needs, and contrasting the social principle with the political principle, sees in the state’s control of education a usurpation of a social function. (Historically of course, the Education Act of 1870 didn’t “usurp” anybody’s function, but if you accept the conception of an inverse relationship between the state and society—the strength of one resulting from the weakness of the other—you can see how the social organisation of popular education was, so to speak, atrophied in advance, by its political organisation. That this has not been the disaster—though some would say it has—that anarchist thinkers like Godwin predicted, has been due to the local diffusion of control, the divergent aims of teachers and the resilience of children).

Functionally, the administration of the school is the concern of parents and teachers, and if we really seek a society of autonomous free associations we must see such bodies as parent-teacher associations as the kind of organisation whose eventual and “natural” function is to take over the schools from the Ministry, the County Councils, the Directors, Inspectors, Managers and Governors who, in a society dominated by the political principle are inevitably their controllers. I don’t know whether schools so administered would be any better or any worse than they are at present, but I do believe that a “self-regulating” society would run its schools that way. Among independent schools in this country which exemplify this kind of organisation, there used to be Burgess Hill School (described by one of the parents in this issue of ANARCHY) which was owned by a Friendly Society of parents and teachers and there still is King Alfred School, governed by a society of people interested in modern educational methods and “administered by an advisory council of pupils and staff”. I have not heard of any parent-teacher associations in the ordinary school system which aspire to such functions, though with the development of a variety of organisations in the last few years concerned with interesting parents in education, one can imagine the members reflecting after a time on whether their own intense “participation” had not rendered the usual complicated and expensive bureaucracy of school administration superfluous.

The mention of parent-teacher associations—in theory an epitome of the kind of social organisation which anarchists envisage—reminds us of their greater development in America, and the fact that this has not had exactly the results that we as anarchists would find desirable. In his book On Being Human, writing about the school as “a most important agency in the teaching of the art and science of human relations”, the anthropologist and biologist Ashley Montagu declares:

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We must shift the emphasis from the three Rs to the fourth R, human relations, and place it first, foremost, and always in that order of importance as the principal reason for the existence of the school. It must be clearly understood, once and for all time, that human relations are the most important of all relations. Upon this understanding must be based all our educational policies … Our teachers must, therefore. be specially qualified to teach human relations …

But the kind of thing that happens when this point of view filters into the school system is discussed by David Riesman in his “Thoughts on Teachers and Schools”. The teaching function, he observes, “has been extended to include training in group co-operation, manners, the arts, and self-understanding, as well as large residues of the traditional curriculum”. For Human Relations has in fact already become a classroom subject, but somehow not in Montagu’s sense. “The school is implicated and embroiled”, says Riesman, “in the changing forms of America’s preoccupation with success—the patina of success now being defined by such terms as “group co-operation”,“self-understanding”, “personal adjustment” and “getting along with people”. The progressive education movement, spreading in a distorted fashion through the state school systems, has, he feels, dovetailed with the “mindless pragmatism and vocationalism” which the schools absorb from their social surroundings, from parents, supervisors, taxpayers and the variety of pressure groups, great and small which surround the American school boards. Meanwhile the teachers lead lives of harried desperation fighting a “losing battle in defence of the traditional intellectual values”. And he evolves, on the analogy of Keynesian economics a counter-cyclical theory of education. Just as Keynes recommended spending in times of depression, so Riesman recommends that “teachers, in selecting among the expectations held out to them, have some modest opportunities to oppose life in its momentary excesses”. He wants “to encourage some of them to give up trying to be psychiatrists, mothers and moralists, to give up making citizens, democrats, and tolerant children. Could they not be persuaded to concentrate more than many now feel justified in doing, on their roles as teachers of specific subjects? This is, after all, a job no one else is assigned or trained to do.”

Montagu writes that “A society such as ours, in which human relations are submerged in the economic system, can rescue itself only by submerging its economy in the matrix of human relations … And this is the task that the schools must assist in undertaking, no less that the rescue of man from his debasing enslavement to the principles and practices of an acquisitive society”. But how does the attempt work out? We may gain a clue from the book Crestwood Heights: A North American Suburb by Seeley, Sim and Loosley. Crestwood Heights is built around its modern, well-equipped and enlightened schools. It is particularly “child-oriented” and the Crestwood Heights parents “appear to have accepted nearly all the values which the humanists, the liberals, and the psychiatrically oriented speakers and writers have advocated over the last fifty years.” All the right adjectives are used. “In the city”, writes William J. Newman, “competition is open, acknowledged, and brutal; in the suburb toleration, permissiveness, and individual choice are the rule. The child is brought up as an autonomous spontaneous individual: thus the open glass school. The suburb will provide the arena in which the family and especially the children can emerge as ‘free’ and ‘responsible’, ready to take their place in the world.” But the well-meaning parents of Crestwood Heights are pursuing for their children two contradictory goals, “success” and “psychological maturity”. The authors observe that:

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The child must be free in accordance with democratic ideology; but he must, by no means, become free to the point of renouncing either the material success goals or the engineered co-operation integral to the adequate functioning of an industrial civilisation.

And Newman comments:

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But it is not only the functioning of an industrial civilisation which provides the drive behind the overmastering of individual choice; it is the urge to go from status to status. for one generation to achieve in the eyes of their peers what the other could not, which is the motive force of American life in the suburb. The child ‘is forced into the position of having to choose those means which will assure his ultimate entrance into an appropriate adult occupational status’. Since it is a choice made on the sly through an omnipresent culture, the child sees no authority figures against which to rebel, should he feel the desire to do so … The child has therefore, only one recourse—to turn his attacks against himself.’ A pleasant society this, a new society, in which freedom is institutionalised, where choice is dictated.

So this “free and progressive” education becomes, with the best of intentions, no better than Rousseau’s system which Godwin described as “a puppet-show exhibition, of which the master holds the wires, and the scholar is never to suspect in what manner they are moved.”

Ashley Montagu, in another book, The Direction of Human Development writes of the coming together of parents and teachers in the complementary task of developing the potentialities of the child:

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The parents would contribute what the teachers ought to know, and the teachers would contribute what the parents ought to know, for the benefit of the child as well as for the benefit of all concerned. The teaching the child receives at home and the teaching it receives at school must be joined and unified. The teaching of the elementary skills of reading, writing and arithmetic is important, but not nearly as important as the most important of all skills—human relations.

But David Riesman again, in his book Individualism Reconsidered makes this observation on the children of Crestwood Heights:

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Their parents want to know how they have fared at school: they are constantly comparing them, judging them in school aptitude, popularity, what part they have in the school play; are the boys sissies? the girls too fat? All the school anxieties are transferred to the home and vice versa, partly because the parents, college graduates mostly, are intelligent and concerned with education. After school there are music lessons, skating lessons, riding lessons, with mother as chauffeur and scheduler. In the evening, the children go to a dance at school for which the parents have groomed them, while the parents go to a Parent-Teacher Association meeting for which the children, directly or indirectly, have groomed them, where they are addressed by a psychiatrist who advises them to be warm and relaxed in handling their children! They go home and eagerly and warmly ask their returning children to tell them everything that happened at the dance, making it clear by their manner that they are sophisticated and cannot be easily shocked. As Professor Seeley describes matters, the school in this community operates a “gigantic factory for the production of relationships”.

This really frightening description pulls us up with a jerk. Accustomed to think of parent-teacher co-operation as a Good Thing, we seldom consider its possibilities as a tender trap, a well-intentioned conspiracy against the child. For where home and school are two separate worlds a child unhappy at home might find a means of escape in the different life of school, and a child who is miserable at school might find consolation in the atmosphere of home. But if home and school are “joined and united”, all avenues of escape are closed. After all, how many children of your acquaintance enjoy discussing their school life with their parents or their home life with their teachers? Is not the plurality of environment one of the child’s means of defending itself against the paying omnipotence of the adult world?

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In this country the pioneer of parent-teacher co-operation was the Home and School Committee of the New Education Fellowship. Another body, the National Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations was founded in 1956, linking together many existing bodies. Some of these associations have sprung up in a negative way to resist, and in some cases successfully avert “closing-down” orders for schools. In the case of one independent school in London (St. Paul’s Junior School, Hammersmith) due to be closed down because the existing building could not economically be kept in repair while the trustees could not find the money for a new building, the parents successfully raised loans for it, announcing that they “would accept financial and educational responsibility for a new school”. Other associations connected with both primary and secondary schools have provided their schools with swimming baths, or have seen their function in improving the school’s equipment-providing such equipment as record-players, film-projectors, stage-lighting and so on. On the pitfalls and possibilities of this kind of organisation, the staff at one school reported that:

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…the progress of several children in arithmetic was being impeded by well-intentioned efforts to help them at home. At a series of evening meetings, the staff worked through specimen arithmetic papers with the fathers and mothers, explaining the particular methods in use at the school. Similarly, the headmistress of a village school introduced italic handwriting, a move which appeared to perturb some parents. As a result of discussion several mothers became interested and asked her to arrange evening classes so that they might learn it for themselves.

Formal association between parents and teachers does face certain difficulties. on occasion it may provide a hunting-ground for the committee-minded man or woman. and a trap for the excellent teacher who may be less adept at committee work. Another criticism is that it does not necessarily bring in the type of parent with whom contact it most needed: for example those whose children present particularly difficult problems, perhaps because of their home background.

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Another of the difficulties frequently met in the relations of parents and teachers is the narrow concern displayed so frequently by the anxious middle-class parents in little Johnny’s 11-plus or GCE prospects, to the exclusion of an interest in the class or the school or the age-group as a whole. The attitude may be understandable, but it is nevertheless primitive to those who see as one of the pleasures of parenthood an enlargement of sympathy and concern from one’s own biological offspring to children in general. Two other more recent developments in educational organisations may help to bring about this wider view which is certainly a prerequisite for the parent-teacher control of education which we see as an eventual aim.

The first of these is ACE, the Advisory Centre for Education founded in 1960. This is another brain-child of Michael Young who started the Institute of Community Studies and the Consumers’ Association, and just as the latter organisation and its journal Which seeks to improve the quality of our consumption of goods and services, so ACE and its journal Where? (subscription £1 a year) seeks to give the same kind of independent, unbiased assessment and advice for the consumers of education. The consumer approach with its implied philosophy of “he who pays the piper calls the tune” could be the vehicle of a narrow philistinism, but in practice it is sound and sensible. Michael Young returns to the theme in the annual report of the Consumers Association, published last month. The attitude of regarding parents as intruders in the schools is ruinous to good education, be declares, “How can parents take an interest if they are barely allowed inside the schools? The sooner parents play a part in our schools, the sooner will the money be found for their improvement.” In fact, ACE, as readers of Where? will agree, is an invaluable medium for closing the gap between parents and teachers.

The second of these new trends is the springing-up of Associations for the Advancement of State Education. This movement again began in Cambridge in 1960, when a group of parents tried to hurry along improvements to a Newnham primary school. They found that the poor conditions were more widespread than they had realised and that restrictions in educational expenditure prevented anything from being done, From the original pressure group, others sprang up in different parts of the country and today there are about 90 such associations with a total of 10,000 members federated in CASE, the Confederation of Associations for the Advancement of State Education, which has been conducting national enquiries on a variety of educational topics. Undoubtedly this movement-co-existing, not competing, with Parent-Teacher Associations, has helped to widen people’s field of concern from one child in one school, to the schools of the city or county and of the country.

Before getting too excited about this trend of course, we should attend an association meeting, to discover, once again, the solidly middle-class attendance and the disconcertingly vocational attitudes to education expressed from the floor. However, what better forum could there be for the education of parents? And is it inconceivable that some, without adopting an attitude of patronage or superiority, could devote themselves to bringing others in?

Certainly the phrase “Advancement of State Education” is unfortunate from our point of view (and is an indication of the middle-class origins of this movement since it is people who normally think in terms of private education who most frequently refer to the “council” schools as “state” schools). Continual use of the phrase in The Observer led to a protest recently from Mr. Terence Kelly who wrote:

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I am sorry to see references to State education in your columns from time to time. In less happy lands the Minister of Education (or of Public Instructions) determines what is taught in every school. In this country the State—thank God—does not own or run a single school. Those which are not independent of direct grant are maintained by local education authorities, who, with their various sub-committees and divisional executives on which teachers are represented, run an education system which is the envy of the world.
I understand that there are even societies for the advancement of State education. Do these good people know what they are asking for? Do they really want a State system on the Communist or Fascist model?
In case anyone should think this is an idle quibble on words, I ask you to consider, Sir, what the view of your readers would be if you began referring to the State police.

It is not an idle quibble from another point of view: because we tend to be hypnotised by the idea of an educational monolith we take far too little advantage of the local autonomy that does exist, nor of that degree of autonomy (differing widely from place to place) which individual head teachers have, or could demand. Informed local pressure from parents and teachers is a weapon which we have hardly learned to exercise.

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Are there ways in which parents can push further into the decision-making bodies on education. The original Cambridge Association for the Advancement of State Education put up two members as independent candidates for the county council elections. One was elected and is, now on the education committee. This is hardly a procedure which fits into an anarchist approach to the problem, although one of our frequent contributors, Paul Goodman is proud to be a School Board member in New York. But what about parents as school governors or school managers? (Readers interested will find an article on what their functions are and how they are appointed in Where? No. 10). Discussing parent-teacher relations in a letter to the New Statesman in March this year, Mr. John McCann made an interesting point which most of us never knew and which should provide useful ammunition in arguments with local authorities: that back in 1944 the government gave a pledge that parents would be properly represented on the managing bodies of the schools attended by their children. Mr. McCann says:

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At the Committee stage of the 1944 Education Act the government gave an undertaking to see that parents would be properly represented on the managing bodies of primary schools. It was stated that they were not to be “drawn from a different social stratum from that in which the pupils of the schools are found, but that some, at least, of the Managers will be people who live the daily life of the village or town, who are in close association with the parents, and can make the wishes of the parents known to the Managers and to the teachers.” This admirable principle was laid down in the form of an undertaking which is binding—for it was on that assurance that a Member of Parliament withdrew an amendment he had proposed.
This undertaking has not been implemented. Some authorities try to see that parents are genuinely represented, some pay lip service to the principle, some regard the principle with suspicion. The bodies which appoint Foundation Managers of voluntary schools often come into the last category. Hundreds of years of strife over electoral representation have shown that there is only one way to achieve adequate representation; that is for the people concerned to elect their own representative. No nomination from above is going to work or to satisfy the people who want to be represented.
The government undertaking could be honoured very simply, without any change in the law, if the Minister of Education would ask local authorities to appoint one Manager who had been elected at a meeting of parents convened by the headmaster. The parents should have the right to elect one of themselves or any other person (other than those already disqualified—teachers at the school, tradesmen supplying the school, etc.). Local education authorities appoint one, two or four Managers according to whether it is an Aided, Controlled or County school. I am suggesting in all cases that this election procedure be applied to the appointment of one LEA Manager.
It is sometimes said that School Managers have no powers. At Aided schools they have very real powers, at all schools they have duties. Managing bodies vary greatly in the extent to which they fulfil their duties, but in the most successful schools they perform a valuable service particularly in the field of parent-school relationships.

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And how do teachers react to all this? Many of course are delighted to make contact with the parents of their pupils and to feel that they have a shared concern. Their only regret is that the parents whom they most need to meet are the very ones they never see at open-days, parent-teacher functions and so on. Relations are closest in the infants’ school and seem to dwindle away later. “What happens then” asks Jean Rintoul, “that this close parent-teacher relationship should be broken as the child gets older until, in the later secondary years, it is worse than non-existent? Is the teacher to blame and, if the teacher is, will a brief talk with a parent at an appropriately-spaced ‘surgery’ suffice? The answer to that is in the answer to another question: ‘Who are the parents who are going to attend the surgery?’ That’s an easy question and every teacher can answer it. They will be the same parents who attend the parent-teacher association meetings, the school prize-givings, the school concert or play; the same parents whose children are readily identifiable in every class because such children exhibit all the well-being and confidence that a privileged home provides.” This is one of the problems of parent-teacher relations for which a solution has not been found.

There are teachers too, who have a deep suspicion of parental encroachment on their functions and their autonomy. Their point of view was put with more-than-usual frankness by Mr. G. B. Corrin in a letter to the Times Educational Supplement (10/4/64). Commenting on a proposal by an AASE secretary that time for evening meetings with parents should be written into the teacher’s conditions of service, Mr. Corrin asked:

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When the child of one of these parents goes into hospital for an operation, do they demand a meeting with the surgeon at a time convenient to themselves and then criticise his methods? I consider myself as highly trained and as experienced in my work as any surgeon, and I resent this intrusion by the ignorant, who apparently have no faith in my ability to do the job for which I am paid. Parent-teacher associations and such-like may be useful for raising money which the government is too parsimonious to provide and arranging social activities for those who have nothing better to do, but, in my experience, they in no way benefit the education of the children and can become a positive nuisance because of their inability to resist the temptation to interfere. Certainly, many parents are ignorant about education, but is it the teachers’ business to instruct them? If so, let classes be arranged and the teachers remunerated. But parents cannot plead ignorance and at the same time demand the right to interfere with those who have been properly trained to carry out the education of their children.

Obviously the writer of this letter would be not only hostile, but derisory about our view that the form of educational organisation which we should see as our aim is one in which control of the schools is in the hands of associations of parents and teachers. For teachers, as Sir Ronald Gould once put it, “neither love nor trust the parish pump.” The vehemence with which London teachers opposed the intended break-up of the LCC’s education service shows how strongly they prefer the remote and impersonal control of County Hall to the near-at-hand interfering bureaucracy of “the office” which teachers in many other parts of the country suffer and resent. We can certainly understand, in view of the sheer number of bosses which the organisation of education has set over them, why they regard encroachment by parents beyond a certain point and beyond certain topics, with suspicion. And when you see some of those self-confident high-income consumers in some of the AASEs, who quite obviously regard the teachers as their servants and not as their partners, you can see the point of this suspicion.
Nor would it be wise to assume that it is a question of progressive parents and reactionary or time-serving teachers. It is much more often the other way round, as everyone who has tried in humble ways to introduce progressive methods into the schools has found. When Teddy O’Neill was headmaster of Prestolee School in Lancashire and set about transforming it, it was with the support of the local education authority and of the Inspectorate, and against the hostility and abuse of local parents—and it took him years to win them over.

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In looking for the roots in our existing society for a different kind of organisation, we have found pitfalls and dangers everywhere—for children, for parents and for teachers. This is not surprising, for our society is riddled with these problems of status and hierarchy, and the concept of social organisation which most of our fellow-citizens understand, is one in which one lot of people order another lot of people around. But somehow, somewhere we have to develop the germs of a non-authoritarian method of co-operative social organisation. Where better to make the attempt than in the schools?

Posted By

Reddebrek
Feb 27 2019 18:12

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Anarchy: a journal of anarchist ideas

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