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.
The failure to give adequate aims to the secondary modern school may perhaps be linked with the fact that those who influence thought and
A young creature is not inferior because it cannot perform the tricks demanded by examinations, though we all tend to carry with us somewhere an unconscious assumption that this is so. The implications of being in a “C” stream—or an “H” or “J” stream—are too terribly inhuman at times. We need to consider children in the old Christian sense of being “equal
But we need to look at children as creatures requiring to be given in school well developed capacities to deal with life. These capacities they will develop from their inheritance—from the wisdom and experience of their forebears. This is embodied in “learning”: but too much of it has been conceived of as being embodied in academic learning. Most children need from their education not the capacity to multiply, or to know facts about historical events—or to work a lathe, or to sell packets of soap-powder. They need to be equipped to deal with sex, love, marriage, being a parent, setting up a home, finding satisfaction (if it can be found) in work and service, enduring the assaults of circumstance (pain, loss by death, poverty, the torments of aimless affluence). They need to be trained to use their leisure to the fullest satisfaction, to contribute to the community and to social and political life. And this kind of equipment comes best from a liberal education—through the arts subjects, through the experience of community life in the school, and through some experience of disciplines of learning, but not necessarily those of formal, abstract learning.
Because administrators and those who make policy have so little experience of the “unacademic” child—so little knowledge of the ordinary person of the majority in immaturity—an unfortunate situation has, however, arisen. All children are subjected to a kind of academic education which does not provide adequately for such needs as I have outlined above. The grammar schools themselves, of course, in which in fact only a few children are really capable of the more formal and abstract processes of academic learning, have too academic a syllabus, allowing insufficient time for general culture and civilising processes, through the arts and liberal pursuits. They reflect too much the antiquated values and superficial assumptions of the public school tradition (see for instance the pathetic acceptance of the traditional public school codes and values revealed by teachers in Frances Stevens’ book The Living Tradition). But because most teachers and administrators were themselves educated in grammar schools making this kind of mistake they assume that when we say “education” we must mean what we received in the grammar school. They can only assume this because they have not come to terms with the kind of child we teach in the lower streams of the secondary modern school. The latter are delightful, valuable, fine creatures, capable of imagination, deep feeling, often full of great energy, capable of a great sense of responsibility, and often very humane, because they have suffered. But they are not, by any standard, “intelligent” in the way examinations measure intelligence, and they have been selected for their kind of school because they are not capable of the more abstract mental processes.
Yet they are given a too-academic education, a watered-down form of grammar school education, on the whole. It seems too difficult for the teachers and administrators to conceive of an education for the majority based on their difference from the academic few. Of course, the academic few require to be “civilised” too, by a liberal education—at present this is left too much to chance by the grammar schools. But the secondary modern school has had the chance to give over everything to a truly liberal, freely ranging, education, of the sensibility and of the general intelligence which, while not so capable of academic intellectual abstraction, is yet capable of working in different ways—ways often closer to first-hand experience—towards personal integration and the development of potentialities in the individual. This opportunity has been thrown away. An examination is now to be introduced to regularise the semi-grammarschool mill. And a large element at the “bottom” of these schools, aggrieved and neglected, will become disbalanced underdogs in our society.