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New Left Review I/11, September-October 1961

David Holbrook

Education for Maturity

there seem to me to be important conclusions about the nature of social change to be drawn from our experience of the secondary modern school. This kind of school has been created, from democratic impulses: parity of esteem. Such schools are often housed in handsome buildings, and appear to all intents and purposes to be working, to be a new kind of education. Yet essentially the secondary modern school is a failure, and the acceptance of an examination for these schools puts the cap on the failure. As a social experiment the secondary modern school has been abandoned, because it failed to find aims for itself. This reflects the lack of aims in our society, and the prevailing absence of adequate concepts of what education is or should be. If there is a lesson it is that mere organisational change by itself is not enough—it needs to be informed by substantial notions of purpose and value. I do not myself find adequate notions of what education should be either on the right or the left of the political scene. I consequently distrust political action, and would hope for a gradual development of a different perspective—in terms of a better understanding of what the growing animula of the child requires from education. Of course, this problem becomes political as soon as one asks how any such adequate intention is to be implemented: it cannot be implemented while schools are overcrowded, staff short, untrained, ill-paid, and while expenditure is liable from time to time to be mean and limited, by local or national pressure groups. But the first thing to do is to ask ourselves what education should give the child.

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David Holbrook, ‘Education for Maturity’, NLR I/11: £3

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