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International Socialism, Summer 1964

Mike Coggins

Letter from a reader

From International Socialism (1st series), No.17, Summer 1964, p.28.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The Winter issue of IS contained a good deal of interesting material but I would like to take you to task over the Editorial Against Robbins.

You, correctly in my opinion, represent the Robbins Report as “an essentially conservative and niggardly document.” You also delve into the socialist implications of education and here I feel you have come unstuck.

Firstly, you are, of course, quite right when you speak of “greater emphasis upon the kind of social studies which will help children to understand their place in society.” However, what you or I regard as people’s place in society is not in accord with the ideas held by, say, Sir Edward Boyle, Robbins or Newsom. The plain fact which you appear to have overlooked is that the concepts of democracy and liberty which are taught in schools and colleges are of the bourgeois capitalist kind. Thus democracy is represented as universal franchise and anti-democracy as the one-party state. Indeed this is perfectly logical since “democracy” in this country is of a bourgeois nature and naturally our leaders wish to perpetuate this state of affairs.

Take the teaching of subjects such as economics and government. In neither case is the average student likely to come across Marx (or, say, G.D.H. Cole, for that matter) until a relatively late stage. This may mean during the second year of a degree course. Quite apart from the fact that most students have terminated their education before this stage, even those who are still studying have by this time developed so many prejudices and anti-progressive notions that revolutionary doctrine is anathema to them.

Thus I think your suggestion of expanding social studies, although excellent in theory, is likely to run up against a number of dangerous reversals in practice. It would be excellent if the educational system was controlled by socialists or progressives of a definite nature. Unfortunately it is not. All would be fine if young people were taught by more teachers of the ilk of Alasdair MacIntyre and Tony Cliff (and this may be an argument for more of those on the Left entering the teaching profession). However, they are not, and this must be a very weighty consideration when viewing educational perspectives.

It is rather surprising to find a paper of the militant left seemingly dismissing the Socialist objection that the State is hardly going to provide an educational system that is going to impart revolutionary fervour to its youth. Will it not obviously seek to achieve the reverse? It is also rather alarming to see your naive expectation of action from the next Labour Government. Since when has IS been reliant on the Labour hierarchy and their bureaucratic friends?

You come a deal nearer to realism in raising the issue of a comprehensive system. In this we are shooting at the correct target by dismissing the class hoodoos from education at an early stage. This will do much to break down the artificially created barriers and feelings of superiority and inferiority created by the present system. However, here again I feel it is far too ambitious to rely absolutely on what a Labour Government would do. We should be continually pushing this as one issue at least to which Labour is ostensibly committed.

Of course, as you say, we cannot in this country have both a nuclear-oriented defence system and a vastly extended educational system. But just in the same way Labour cannot hope to introduce its proposed social services expansion and maintain its militaristic ambitions. However, this is surely part of our whole reasoning, so tell that one to the soggy left. Your whole mistake in Against Robbins lies in regarding the problem in a capitalist context. I don’t follow your line of reasoning at all when you appear to imply that we (i.e. the mass of ordinary people) are in a position to accept or reject Robbins. If this were so it would obviously mean that we were determining policy and if that situation existed there would really be little need for a publication such as IS. Of course, what we can do in practice is to apply pressure, which is something you very mistakenly failed to raise.

If we are honest with ourselves we can see that in essence we are back at the same old problem—that most people just don’t accept our conclusions. This is also, in all probability, a question of education, but this time of a different nature, i.e. of the rank and file outside the normal academic sphere. And that is a different story.

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