Grammar schools, education and the radical perspective

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cactus9
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Sep 9 2016 21:13
Grammar schools, education and the radical perspective

It's been in the news in the UK this week that grammar schools are back on the agenda. I'm interested in radical, particularly communist or anarchist approaches to education especially any reading recommendations. How would a just education system contribute to a just society after the revolution? I think education (formal or informal) is one of the building blocks of society and I think it's underdiscussed. Thanks.

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Auld-bod
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Sep 10 2016 08:22

In libcom there are several pieces on education. It is a big subject.

I like this quote from Ivan Illich, an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, who has been described as a ‘maverick social critic’, and was among the first to help define the difference between schooling and education. He concluded that there was a need to scrap any form of schooling in favour of general, lifetime non-institutional education.

‘Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is ‘schooled’ to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.’
Ivan Illich Deschooling Society

I think it is important to differentiate between schooling and education, as much of what happens in school is not educational in the sense of developing a child’s abilities, instead much effort is expended on inducting children into the organisational system of the school - on matters of organisation, discipline and behaviour, etc. This is a pre-ordained system into which an individual child is expected to conform – to allow the school to function in the prescribed manner.

In other words they are being conditioned. Of course if the desired end product is compliant individuals then schooling works rather well. Given the regimentation in many schools and the obsession with testing it is surprising how little indiscipline there is. However in countries like Japan the result is a high suicide rate among students. In the UK it is reported that children are suffering more stress and unhappiness.

Today politicians introduce policies which they believe will help meet the needs of our modern capitalist economy. When their plans fall short they claim it is the fault of the educationalists or some mythical ‘liberal’ education system (or even ‘deviant’ parents).

This failure is inevitable for a number of reasons and not simply that it is impossible to imagine what will be needed five, ten or twenty years from now in terms of specific abilities or skills. The valuable attributes of children to have the confidence to take the initiative, to think creatively and the ability to work collaboratively rarely survive our system of schooling. This is not surprising, as it was never developed to foster these potentially destabilising abilities.

So more political intervention is the only card the politicians can play. How about more grammar schools? Just another political gesture to be seen to do something about ‘inequality’ and at ‘best’ it may cream off some working class brain power to share in the goodies of capitalism.

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Steven.
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Sep 10 2016 10:51

Great post, AB

In terms of this bit:

Quote:
How about more grammar schools? Just another political gesture to be seen to do something about ‘inequality’ and at ‘best’ it may cream off some working class brain power to share in the goodies of capitalism.

it won't do anything about inequality: in fact it will make inequality worse by introducing more selection to the state schooling system. Why the Tories are into it is that it could help with social mobility, i.e. letting more people from working class backgrounds into the elite

cactus9
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Sep 10 2016 11:57
Auld-bod wrote:
In libcom there are several pieces on education. It is a big subject.

I like this quote from Ivan Illich, an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, who has been described as a ‘maverick social critic’, and was among the first to help define the difference between schooling and education. He concluded that there was a need to scrap any form of schooling in favour of general, lifetime non-institutional education.

‘Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is ‘schooled’ to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.’
Ivan Illich Deschooling Society

I think it is important to differentiate between schooling and education, as much of what happens in school is not educational in the sense of developing a child’s abilities, instead much effort is expended on inducting children into the organisational system of the school - on matters of organisation, discipline and behaviour, etc. This is a pre-ordained system into which an individual child is expected to conform – to allow the school to function in the prescribed manner.

In other words they are being conditioned. Of course if the desired end product is compliant individuals then schooling works rather well. Given the regimentation in many schools and the obsession with testing it is surprising how little indiscipline there is. However in countries like Japan the result is a high suicide rate among students. In the UK it is reported that children are suffering more stress and unhappiness.

Today politicians introduce policies which they believe will help meet the needs of our modern capitalist economy. When their plans fall short they claim it is the fault of the educationalists or some mythical ‘liberal’ education system (or even ‘deviant’ parents).

This failure is inevitable for a number of reasons and not simply that it is impossible to imagine what will be needed five, ten or twenty years from now in terms of specific abilities or skills. The valuable attributes of children to have the confidence to take the initiative, to think creatively and the ability to work collaboratively rarely survive our system of schooling. This is not surprising, as it was never developed to foster these potentially destabilising abilities.

So more political intervention is the only card the politicians can play. How about more grammar schools? Just another political gesture to be seen to do something about ‘inequality’ and at ‘best’ it may cream off some working class brain power to share in the goodies of capitalism.

A very interesting post.

However there is no tag education for articles so I'm struggling to find them.

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Sep 10 2016 12:19
Quote:
However there is no tag education for articles so I'm struggling to find them.

The best tags to browse would probably be these:

https://libcom.org/tags/education
https://libcom.org/tags/free-schools
https://libcom.org/tags/schools
https://libcom.org/tags/libertarian-education

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Auld-bod
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Sep 10 2016 12:26

Steven #3

Yes, you put it more accurately.

potrokin
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Sep 10 2016 14:09

De-schooling Society by Ivan Illich is a great read.

Scallywag
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Sep 10 2016 23:07

Simon Springer (an anarchist geographer) has an article on deschooling

http://www.academia.edu/15550214/Learning_through_the_soles_of_our_feet_...

"Learning through the soles of our feet" is a great concept too, being free to learn and explore the natural world outside rather than stuck in a classroom or lecture

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Sep 11 2016 11:01
Steven. wrote:
it won't do anything about inequality: in fact it will make inequality worse by introducing more selection to the state schooling system. Why the Tories are into it is that it could help with social mobility, i.e. letting more people from working class backgrounds into the elite

They certainly claim that it does.
I've spoken to a lot of parents who talk about bringing back gramar schools to raise standards, I always point out that teaching them is how you raise standards. A bit like my colleagues who think that making exams harder makes kids smarter.

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fingers malone
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Sep 11 2016 12:17

They always try to make the debate about grammar schools all about going to grammar school, and not about experience of the majority of kids who will have to go to secondary moderns, that is obscured. I remember when I was a teenager my boyfriend's dad telling me about his secondary modern and that they were 'just factory fodder'.

Spikymike
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Sep 11 2016 14:01

fingers....Not sure we have Secondary Moderns anymore. I went to one and they weren't all about producing 'factory fodder' but grading everyone for the hierarchy of jobs outside. I eventually managed GCE 'O' Levels, Technical Collage and years later via day release a 'professional career'.

Today in the UK it's an even bigger muddle with state funded - LA authority Grammar's and Comprehensives, Faith Schools, 'Independent' Academies, 'Free Schools' , and 6th Form collages as well as privately funded Independents all at both primary and secondary levels. (probably missed out some more in that list).
The new government is now proposing to extend the Grammar schools and remove restrictions on faith school selection. All this apparently to increase 'parent choice' and of course the mantra of competition between schools.
It's a horrible mess even by capitalist standards.

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Sep 11 2016 22:25

I know we don't have secondary moderns any more [I am a teacher after all] what I mean is that if you have selective schools then the other schools will suffer as a consequence, and all the media discussion about grammar schools is full of successful people saying 'well I went to grammar school and it gave me all these opportunities.' You very rarely hear anyone in the debate coming on R4 and talking about their experience of going to secondary modern. What grammar schools mean for the kids who don't get into them is being ignored.

The quote about factory fodder, that was Bob, my boyfriend's dad's phrase not mine. He left at 15 without any qualifications and that was how he felt about it.

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Sep 11 2016 22:40

Aye in NI we did the 11+ back in the day, and they still maintain selection, albeit not called 11+ since 2008 (it's worse, the Catholic schools do their own exam, protestant schools theirs)

I passed my 11+, my brother didn't, and from them we were on different railroads. The anxiety that exam caused was horrific, and as a 10/11 yr old preparing for it yer none the wiser as to what to do except that passing is "better" than not passing. It really is inhuman way to treat way to treat children. It's not just the educational impact but the social one, separating friends and so on, as well as the fact that if he have a bit more money ye can pay for coaching/tutoring which wasn't uncommon among aspirational working class families. I don't see why it'd be much different in boroughs that maintain selection now.

Of course the argument would be good community schools for all kids serving community needs with a wide and varied curriculum and so on.

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Sep 11 2016 22:45

You have grammar schools, then the rest, though they may be comprehensives in name, will end up as same old secondary moderns in practice. Heavily coached "winners" will get their place at grammar schools, the less effectively coached "losers" meanwhile will go to whatever incarnation of secondary modern we have. The chutzpah of May's Orwellian attempts to dress all this up as providing greater opportunity to the less privileged is stunning.

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Sep 12 2016 11:17
jef costello wrote:
Steven. wrote:
it won't do anything about inequality: in fact it will make inequality worse by introducing more selection to the state schooling system. Why the Tories are into it is that it could help with social mobility, i.e. letting more people from working class backgrounds into the elite

They certainly claim that it does.

I'm sure that's what they will probably claim, because in Tory-speak, "equality" means "equality of opportunity". Which is fictional anyway but even if it weren't all it would mean is the equal opportunity to get to the top of the pile, even if the gap between bottom and top is constantly widening and conditions at the bottom continually worsen.

Fingers is completely correct that most of the talk of grammar schools completely leaves out the main problem, which is the deterioration of standards elsewhere for the big majority.

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Sep 12 2016 15:28

From a research standpoint (it's been a while so I can't actually cite anything) Streaming kids accoridng to ability has little effect on the top, a tiny effect on the middle and absolutely destroys the bottom. You're absolutely right about the other 90%, people who want grammar schools seem to assume that their kids would get into them (a bit like primitivists who assume that they'd be the sexy leather clad alpha rather than dead in a ditch).
I know someone who failed the 11+ on purpose just to get out from under the pressure. Like has been said it's an illusion of equality, the kid who has to pick up siblings from school, look after them and make them dinner and then share a room with them is going to have a much tougher time than the kids with a bedroom with a desk a nice selection of books, a decent computer and a tutor. I think it's a fairly standard way of the state subsidising the bourgeoisie. It happens in France, here all civil service jobs are based on exams, so those who can take a year off to prepare etc.

Spikymike
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Sep 12 2016 16:13

Well it's all about selection and grading to fit us into the capitalist jobs market whether between Independents and Grammars and the rest or within the rest of the system, but there is still selection by 'faith' as well as supposed 'ability' which doesn't necessarily fit into the narrowly determined requirements of the modern capitalist economy. Removal of the previous Labour governments cap on 'faith' selection is supposedly aimed in particular at the Catholic Schools which has stirred up some controversy with the other 'faith' schools, at least with those in the more 'liberal' traditions. Presumably others attached to more conservative traditions will be as pleased as the Catholic Church about this. Maybe this aspect fits in more with capitalism's need for social control than purely economic needs?

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Sep 12 2016 17:45

I have to admit as an american, I've always found it incredibly difficult to understand how UK education is organized, and feel like i need a glossary just to attempt to understand this conversation

Rachel
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Sep 12 2016 19:10

It’s very different from America, but headed in exactly the same direction - deregulation via free schools and academies (charters) , ‘parent choice’, huge inequalities.

The heartbreaking thing is that for awhile here there were some really positive things in education. For example, In London, schools serving working class kids bucked the rule that ‘achievement’ is related most to social class. I understand the limits of ‘achievement’, but it’s great to see how well kids from very difficult backgrounds can thrive when they are given plenty of resources, in schools with a good ethos.

After seeing all the lovely things that schools can do, and the incredible commitment of many individual teachers and teaching assistants and others who work in schools, personally I changed from a radical de-schooling sort of person into one who really believed in and wanted to support local community schools.

Every new reform is designed to destroy this beautiful thing.

Spikymike
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Sep 12 2016 19:46

The principles of Deschooling seem ideally suited to libertarian communism as part of a process of communisation, but attempts to de-school, (beyond perhaps some loosening of the current imprisonment of children within the physical architecture of the average school in the UK), could not work whilst the rest of society was subject to the capitalist need to accumulate and it's associated division of labour. Some poorer version of the same which attempted to fit it into such might make matters even worse for the majority. Maybe the 'Community Schools' Rachel refers to are the best of whats available just now I don't know but they presumably still function at a basic level as for the rest of the system of schooling in capitalism. Certainly things aren't getting any better just now.

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Sep 12 2016 19:58

I agree with Rachel, good experience of education can be a life changer and although I still have a critique of the role of the education system, the kids will spend minimum 13 years at school and even within the boundaries of how a normal school is (and there are many, many things I would change) what your school experience is actually like is a massive big deal.

We might have to live out our entire lives under capitalism so then it really, really matters what kind of life under capitalism you have, we will all experience a mix of good and bad things but the potential range of experience is huge.

The grammar school system also told lots of working class kids (often quite explicitly) that their home culture was inferior and that they would have to leave their culture behind to get on at the school.

Rachel
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Sep 12 2016 20:09

Of course it's not an either/or - schools still do kill children (as a radical education person put it) but there are better and worse systems while we're still in this society, and it's painful to see something that's a bit better being dismantled.

Rachel
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Sep 12 2016 20:10

yes I think what Fingers said in 3rd paragraph is really important.

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fingers malone
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Sep 12 2016 20:16

As well as me and Rachel being right, Jeff and Choccy are also right. Serge Forward is also right even though I think he's not actually a teacher but he's still right.

[Edit - user's name]

Rachel
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Sep 12 2016 20:26

Yup

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Sep 13 2016 15:22
fingers malone wrote:
As well as me and Rachel being right, Jeff and Choccy are also right. Serge Forward is also right even though I think he's not actually a teacher but he's still right.

[Edit - user's name]

Oops, sorry about that

factvalue
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Sep 14 2016 22:55
Rachel wrote:
yes I think what Fingers said in 3rd paragraph is really important.

fingers malone wrote:
The grammar school system also told lots of working class kids (often quite explicitly) that their home culture was inferior and that they would have to leave their culture behind to get on at the school.

This is what they tried on me. My primary school was fantastically disorganised and on the day of the 11+ one minute we were all playing football and then we were sat down at desks in the assembly hall and given papers to complete, then we went home. We didn't know what the fucking 11+ was.

I really wanted to go to the secondary school with my mates and then work in the shipyard with my old fella but my family seemed to think something about throwing away an opportunity or something. Being from a poor area I was badly bullied by big, well-fed and ugly middle class kids who seemed very at home at the place - one of those terrible shitholes that try to ape the English public school system in ethos and appearance - for the first few weeks until I flipped out after someone hit me with a rugby boot, and then went and got a mop and bucket to clean up the blood, having given the much larger culprit an uncontrollable drubbing, after which I was left alone but I still wasn't one of them.

I did well academically but my main memories are of repeatedly having to walk past my mates from primary school as they played football carrying a clarinet case and taking a fair amount stick, and the utter, almost existential levels of apartness, isolation, and class consciousness I felt, and then the exhilaration of finally getting the fuck out of there on the last day.

Spikymike
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Jun 24 2020 10:03

Here is a more recent re-consideration of the usefulness of Ivan Illich's ideas about deschooling society in terms of libertarian communism. Much still of value to us but this text in the end still falls too close into the illusion that there can be some kind of easy evolution into some kind of ill-defined 'post-capitalist' society by our taking advantage through a mixture of small scale self organising and political reform in the current unusual corona virus pandemic conditions. Even some of the best radical ideas are prone to accommodation within capitalism and used against our best interests.
See here:
https://freedomnews.org.uk/deschooling-society-why-ivan-illich-matters-n...