From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
When it became clear that Industrial Capitalism was to be the road along which Britain was to travel in the future it became equally necessary that it should lay down plans for the education of its citizens. So we had the Education Act of 1870 where for the first time education for the working class was to be provided free and was to be compulsory. And so whilst the ruling class continued to be educated for leadership in industry, government, the Church and the armed forces, a basic education was visualized for those whose future lay as machine operators in the factories. This was the first stage in the evolution of our modern educational system under capitalism.
Karl Mannheim’s view of traditional education is “Education is rightly understood if we consider it as one of the techniques of influencing human behaviour and as a means of social control.” This is true in general of education throughout the history of class societies, but mass education comes about in co-relation with mass production of commodities and the act of 1870 brought in the era of “mass education”. In his work Diagnosis of our Time Mannheim, again, says:
I think it was the great merit of the Marxist approach as compared with the Idealistic one, that it realized once and for all that the life of culture and the sphere of valuations within it depend on the existence of certain social conditions among which . . . the class structure is of primary importance.
Despite advances in teaching techniques, the introduction of new subjects and the growing attention towards aestheticism (freedom of expression in art etc.) one agrees that Mannheim’s statement, i.e. social control, is still the underlying motive. Unwittingly he foreshadowed the advent and intention of the latest innovation—the Comprehensive School—when he advocated the introduction of an educational system which would mean “. . . the improvement of opportunities for the people to train themselves for leadership . . . and the selection of the best in the various fields of social life”. This, we may look upon as the second stage; one that has been forced upon the capitalist class by means of the rapid growth of technological science.
The capitalist world in general and perhaps the USA in particular has hardly yet got over the shock of the USSR being the first in the race to send a man up into space. Such was the blow to America’s educationists that when a book What Ivan Knows that Janie Doesn't was printed and distributed to American schools, a complete revision of American educational techniques was implemented. Russia’s success was of course the result of her implementing the Khrushchev Thesis of 1955 wherein he advocated the emergence of “the new man” who was to be educated to the fundamentals of technology and production. This new-type education (the Polytechnic school) is being hastily copied in Britain and elsewhere outside the Soviet Union. Russia’s educational system then like all others is geared among other things to provide a new meritocracy of scientists, technologists, artists and athletes etc. who will compete and if possible surpass those of the West.
Capitalism cannot allow talent to slip through the net. It is a far cry from 1871 when, at the passing of Forster’s Education Act, a sum of money was allocated which was roughly the amount spent on the annual upkeep of the Royal stables, to the present-day figure which comprises the biggest public expenditure next to that of the armed forces. As Michael Young says, we are witnessing a meritocracy of talent (which is nothing more than saying that clever working-class children are looked upon more than ever as being vital for the furtherance of capitalist technology and the maintenance of its ideology.)
Lord Butler, former politician and an academic, is clear on the role of education. He stated (in relation to students) “. . . the type of capital investment that will accrue with every year . . . and which has enormous value.” The American educationist Gardener states clearly the advantage accruing from education based on “contest mobility” when he says: - “A society like ours has no choice but to seek the development of human potentialities at all levels. It takes more than an educated élite to run a complex technological system”.
Education and élitism in general has hitherto looked to the “genius” as the summit of our culture. Modem capitalism has been forced to abandon this view. Future Socialist society will come about and will be sustained —as present-day capitalism is sustained—by “ordinary” men and women. The only difference will be that their education will be fitting for a free people in a free world.
Education is looked upon as a means of integrating the young into the logic of the prevailing system and the means of bringing about conformity to it. Socialist society will see to it that all will discover how to participate in the transformation of the world for the benefit of all.
John Berger, art critic, stated at a recent lecture sponsored by the Schools Council:
As soon as the young are encouraged to look and to analyse what they see, the inhumanity in our society is clear. The visual evidence of what is wrong is overwhelming . . . and I’m not here thinking of badly designed teapots or vulgar linoleum.
Berger was obviously concerned with the deplorable standards of aestheticism and the shoddy artifacts produced by capitalism, and he is right of course. Socialists are concerned with these, naturally, but are more concerned with the shoddy lives that the vast majority of the world’s people are forced to lead.
Socialists have a great regard for education knowing that it is only an educated working class that can bring about Socialism. Despite the state education afforded to children and adults today, despite the mass of capitalist propaganda, Socialists strive to educate and propagate the knowledge that will finally oust that which in the past and up to the present has helped to subjugate and exploit the world’s workers.