Tuesday, November 21, 2023

50 Years Ago: Trouble in school (2005)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Few of us have seen a jungle but all of us know, from the adventure stories we read in childhood, what a jungle is like. It is a dark, dangerous agglomeration of weird flora and horrid fauna, where the natives are permanently hostile. Fang, claw and poisoned dart lie in wait and savage, malignant creatures leap, crawl and slither everywhere, all the accompaniment of war-whoops and gibberings.

And that, according to recent accounts, is how things are in school these days. At the same time as "The Blackboard Jungle" was first shown in this country, the News Chronicle (early in September) published "Jungle in the Classroom," a series of three articles in which Dr. John Laird reported on London's secondary modern schools. Five of these schools comprised Dr. Laird's jungle: they are, he claims, typical of the rest. In them children run amok; teachers are resisted, ridiculed, even assaulted; educational standards are almost incredibly low. About 30 per cent of the children leave school "unable to read much beyond the level of an eight-year-old child, and unable to write a letter that would be easily deciphered."

Not surprisingly, there were indignant denials. "Sensational and one-sided," wrote Sir Ronald Gould, of the National Union of Teachers; "fantastically distorted . . . absurdly untrue." The Secretary of the London Head Teachers' Association. An official of the London County Council affirmed their view; so did most of the teachers who sent letters to the News Chronicle. Few, however, dealt with the facts, and certainly none mentioned that Dr. Laird is not the first to have said all those things: little more than a year ago a novel called "Spare the Rod" painted a similar picture of secondary modern schooling and wrung from the Times an admission that "it probably has some truth in it."

The secondary modern school is the lowest, most prolific unit in the State educational system of this country. It looks after the children between 11 and 15 who have not passed scholarship examinations, whose parents cannot afford private school fees or don't care anyway. It sets out to impart the minimum of necessary knowledge and inculcate a number of basic social attitudes. To say that is not to accuse the ruling class of conspiracy, but simply to point to what education means in any society: the equipment and adjustment of the young for what they have to do.

(From an article by R. Coster, Socialist Standard, November 1955)

Correction (2005)

From the November 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two mistakes found their way into the article "Why They Dropped the Bombs" in the October issue. The date of the Potsdam ultimatum to Japan was 26 July not 21 July as stated and there was a reference to a comment of the Joint Intelligence Committee in "March 1940". Readers will have realised that this cannot have been since the US and Japan were not even at war at that point. It should of course have read "March 1944".