Modern Education and the Classics
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[ 337 Modern Education and the Classics1 Questions of education are frequently discussed as if they bore no relation to the social system in which and for which the education is carried on. This is one of the commonest reasons for the unsatisfactoriness of the answers. It is only within a particular social system that a system of education has any meaning. If education today seems to deteriorate, if it seems to become more and more chaotic and meaningless, it is primarily because we have no settled and satisfactory arrangement of society, and because we have both vague and diverse opinions about the kind of society we want. Education is a subject which cannot be discussed in a void: our questions raise other questions, social, economic, financial, political. And the bearings are on more ultimate problems even than these: to know what we want in education we must know what we want in general, we must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life. The problem turns out to be a religious problem. One might almost speak of a crisis of education. There are particular problems for each country, for each civilization, just as there are particular problems for each parent; but there is also a general problem for the whole civilized world, and for the uncivilized so far as it is being taught by its civilized superiors; a problem which may be as acute in Japan, in China or in India as in Britain or Europe or America. The progress (I do not mean the extension) of education for several centuries has been from one aspect a drift, from another aspect a push; for it has tended to be dominated by the idea of getting on. The individual wants more education, not as an aid to the acquisition of wisdom but in order to get on; the nation wants more in order to get the better of other nations, the class wants it to get the better of other classes, or at least to hold its own against them. Education is associated therefore with technical efficiency on the one hand, and with rising in society on the other. Education becomes something to which everybody has a “right,” even irrespective of his capacity; and when everyone gets it – by that time, of course, in a diluted and adulterated form – then we naturally discover that education is no longer an infallible means of getting on, and people turn to another fallacy: that of “education for leisure” – without having revised their notions of “leisure.” As soon as this precious motive of Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1936 338 ] snobbery evaporates, the zest has gone out of education; if it is not going to mean more money, or more power over others, or a better social position, or at least a steady and respectable job, few people are going to take the trouble to acquire education. For deteriorate it as you may, education is still going to demand a good deal of drudgery. And the majority of people are incapable of enjoying leisure – that is, unemployment plus an income and a status of respectability – in any but pretty simple forms – such as balls propelled by hand, by foot, and by engines or tools of various types; in playing cards; or in watching dogs, horses or other men engage in feats of speed or skill. The uneducated man with an empty mind, if he be free from financial anxiety or narrow limitation, and can obtain access to golf-clubs, dance halls, etc., is, for all I can see, as well equipped to fill his leisure contentedly as is the educated man. The inadequacy of most people’s notions of education is revealed whenever there is any public discussion on the subject of raising the school age.2 To dismiss as irrelevant the miserable stop-gap idea that raising the schoolleaving age will diminish unemployment3 – a mere confession of inability to solve a different problem – it is assumed by most people (and there are always a great many people ready to discuss the problem) that more education – that is to say, more years of education – would be a good thing “if the nation could afford it.” Of course the nation could afford it, if it is such a good thing as all that. But no one stops to consider what is this education of which no one can have too much; or whether the society in which more of this education is a...