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International Socialism, Winter 1963/4


Peter Ibbotson

Platonic Leavisite


From International Socialism, No.15, Winter 1963/4, p.40.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Education in an Industrial Society
G.H. Bantock
Faber & Faber; 35s.

Any educational philosopher must start with two basic questions: who shall be educated? and what shall be taught? From Plato onwards the controversy has raged: education for an elite trained to rule, as he proposed, or education for all. The dilemma has still not been resolved. We can put it in at least four ways: knowledge for power or for its own sake; for the specialist or for the polymath; for the ruler versus the ruled; for culture or for a vocation. Today we are trying, most of us, to get adequate educational provision for all, access to its different forms being based on particular aptitudes. We believe in the social function of education; we agree with Dewey and Durkheim that it is the key to social progress and reform. We believe that given the right educational and social environment, the capacity of our children to use and develop their intellect is far greater than the ‘pool of ability’ theory laid down as proven.

Not so Mr, Bantock. He emerges as an out-and-out Platonist and Leavisite. Culture is for the minority; ‘for any high state of culture, continuity of experience is essential, hence the need for classes’ he says. Tradition, not merit, should determine upward social mobility; he fears ‘the too rapid assimilation of the culturally impoverished who have high IQs into sections of the community which carry a good deal of social and economic prestige; the rise of the merely clever in these terms to positions of social influence is a culturally doubtful manifestation.’ Veblen it was who noted that a relatively small and influential group rested its culture on the surplus labour of the majority. One can imagine Bantock’s retort, ‘And rightly so.’ To Karl Mannheim, who wondered if this refined culture could be spread, if humanism could be extended from the upper to the middle and working class, he would doubtless answer, emphatically, ‘No.’

Last-ditch educational backwoodsmen like Bantock are fortunately few though, alas!, disproportionately influential. Acceptance of the Robbins Report (education for a meritocratic elite) was rapidly signified; but the Newsom Report is already gathering dust in its pigeonhole. Yet, in seeking to improve the potential of the average and below average pupil, Newsom is of far more importance to us educational environmentalists who believe that education cannot be considered in vacuo, cannot be separated from social conditions. The Bantocks of the educational world must be resisted, however persuasively they peddle their misguided philosophy of educational restrictive-ness and a cultural elite.

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