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Not in front of the students

Nol in fronl
of Ihe sludenls
‘Because of the Welfare State’, wrote one of our
first year students, ‘there has been a great increase in participation.’

(She had been reading
a textbook). I asked her: ‘On what public issue or
what public debate have you personally ever participated, even just by writing a letter to the
editor?’ Answer: never.

This is surely ‘the student problem’ – the
depressing fact that so many of the top 4 per cent
of the generation are political eunuchs, with no
conception at all that public issues are their
business; that they have a right so to define them;
and that this right carries with it the concomitant
obligation to ensure that, in the words of C. Wright
Mills, they equip themselves with ‘the disciplined
and informed mind that cannot be overwhelmed. ,1
It is said that it is difficult to involve ‘the
poor’ in public issues. It is even more difficult
to involve the bulk of the student body (even by
proxy in seminar arguments) and this is surely
astonishing as they, a predominantly middle class
group, are the major beneficiaries of the post-war
era of free education, free orange juice, freedom
to travel, freedom from poverty and insecurity and
yet like ‘the poor’ they have a clear image of
society as divided into ‘Them’ – the proper wielders
of power and influence – and ‘Us’ – the passive
well-fed semi-detached people, with no sense of
history or conflict, operating mainly in the middlerange slots of the middle-range ‘referee’ bureaucracies of the Welfare state or private corporate
structures and regarding politics and public issues
as a spectator sport. This, not long-haired revolutionaries, or neurotic drop-outs and pregnant
sophomores is what is terrifying about the endproduct of our educational system: why do we get
such large numbers of students who are, as David
Willings says, ‘conditioned to a lack of interest
in what they are doing,?2
My answer is that this ‘lack of interest’ is
precisely what the educational system, as at present
organised, is both most likely to inculcate and that
such an attitude is positively (if latently) functional both for that system and for the occupational
system into which so many of our students go. I
know that I can be accused of over-generalising
from limited data – if twenty five years of British
education can be called limited – but it seems
clear to me, as student and lecturer, that there
are elective affinities between certain facets of
the education sy;tem and a range of rather pathetiC
attitudes which characterise too many of our
students. Briefly, my argument is that prolonged
experience by pupils of the educational system
results in a lowering of self-esteem and selfconfidence and a consequent ‘failure of nerve. ,3
This in turn leads to a refusal – or inability to risk oneself in ventures into public argument
and debate, to the internalisation of a sense of
impotence and inadequacy and to the acceptance of
the dichotomy of the world into ‘the public sector’,
in.which, both in the education system and later
on at work, one accepts frustration and manipulation by others, and ‘the private sector’, the
source of satisfaction and fulfilment to be sure,
but a devalued fulfilment because it is a refuge
from the endless humiliations in the public sector
This article first appeared in the Journal of
the Institutes of Education of the Universities
of Newcastle upon Tyne and Durham, Vol.24, No.

123, May 1973. We are grateful to the editor
and author for permission to reprint.

rather than a decent and autonomous pleasure in its
own right.

For too many ‘ordinary’ students, therefore, the
experience of education is an introductory course
to second-class citizenship, the mass manufacture
of other-directed people. The basic mechanism
whereby students’ self-confidence is undermined in
the continuous demonstration to them of the fact
-of their own lack ,of power, lack of competence and
lack of authority. Conversely, of course, the
demonstration proclaims very clearly that the staff
– as schools and universities – have a monopoly of
power, competence and authority, and that this can
– and sometimes is – used to deny the pupil or
student access to the desired end (‘A’ levels,
University entrance, degrees). Educational institutions are perpetual proclamations of’the dependency
of the pupil or student on the staff. The cumUlative effect of such proclamation is the attrition
of the pupil’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

This – as Morris Rosenberg has pointed out, results
in an inability to operate effectively in the
public sector. In the main, our schools and
universities produce people who have neither the
self confidence of intellectuals nor the weighty
authority of the scholar. The destruction of the
student is accomplished by the following mechanisms.

1. The principle

of perpetual I apprenticeship

‘Social order’, as H. Dalziel Duncan says, ‘ .•. is
a drama of social hierarchy in which we enact roles
as superiors, inferiors and equals ••• Status is
won by successful appeals to others who ••• determine our success and failure.’S All institutions
structure the distribution of power and authority.

Schools and Universities are almost totally autocratic, with Headmasters and Staff in complete
control of the definition of the institution’s
goals (‘Learning’) and of the assessment of each
individual’s success in attaining those goals
(Examinations, references).

(See, for example,
Anne Corbett, ‘The School Bosses,6 ). The
relationship is fundamentally non-reciprocai – ‘the
performance of staff in relation to goals is never
effectively assessed by the student: all he has
is grumbles, an early version of the retreat to
privacy, an abandonment of the right to criticise.

The student or p’upil is permanently on his knees,
placed there initially perhaps by parental pressure
and self-induced anxiety, but certainly kept there
by the clear revelation of the power of those in
control, (see e.g. F. Musgrove 7 .) Schools and
universities are, to use Dahrendorf’s phrase,S
characterised by ‘dichotomous authority’ as opposed
to the ‘continuous authority’ demonstrated in the
hierarchical arrangements of classical bureaucracies.

Schools and universities are like industrial organisations – a line divides the aggregates of those
who dominate and the aggregates of those in subjection. There is no natural mobility upwards. This
makes ‘partiCipation’ extremely difficult, (for
this see the question of ‘Pseudo Gemeinschaft’

below). Here just note that, both as far as the
goals of schools and universities are concerned,
and as far as the power system in them is concerned,
pupils or students have virtually no chance of upward mobility: they are perpetual apprentices.

Graduation means leaving – still in a position of
inferiority – the social system within which they
interact with staff: B.A. means Goodbye.

2. The principle

of inevitable incompetence
This attack on the self-confidence of the pupil and
student is reinforced by another device which turns
what could be a temporary and even necessary form
of apprenticeship – a status which does, after all,
carry a very proper sense of inferiority – into a
permanent form of self-degradation.

‘The authorities’, having defined the goal of the institution
then proceed to organise the system in such a way
as to make it impossible for any pupil to attain


that goal. Ends and means are in fundamental dissociation (see R. K. Merton, ‘Social Structure and
Anomie,9). The devices employed are the timetable
and the exams. Certainly at school, with the
insistence on three or more ‘A’ levels, but also
at many Universities, with an even wider range of
subjects, the pupil-student is kept in a state of
Inevitable Incompetence.

Some time ago I carried
out a survey into the working week of students who
were doing five subjects in their first year. The
total number of hours worked was, on average and
including contact time with staff, 32.3. The
average number of works worked per subject was
as follows.

Subject A, 10.1: Subject B, 5:

Subject C, 4.3: Subject D, 8: and Subject E, 5.1.

Even if these students worked an extra 20 hours
a week (and for some reasons why they won’t, see
Cynicism The Highest Virtue, Enthusiasm The
Greatest Vice, below) I they would still be putting
in only 10 hours per subject per week. An earlier
survey, carried out at another university, showed
that even if students did nothing other than eat,
sleep and study for 7 days a week, they would
still be able to put in no more than 4 hours’ reading time per hour of contact time. Sunday, for
example, would look like this: 8-9 a.m., getting
up, washing, eating: 9-1 p.m., reading: 1-2 p.m.,
eating: 2.7 p.m., reading: 7-8.30 p.m., eating:

8.30-12 reading.

It must surely be clear that under-specialisation
leads to Inevitable Incompetence.

In the latter
case, of course, with reading in fact coming out
at 1.75 hours per hour of contact time, the
lecturer or seminar becomes the major source of
information. This further emphasises the authority
of the lecturer and also inhibits acquaintanceship
with alternative facts and interpretations. There
are ways of ‘dealing with’ the timetable – e.g.

skewing one’s reading to establish a de facto
‘~pecialisation, and, at the same time, increased
and punished Incompetence in the neglected subjects.

The point here though is that at no time is it
possible for any pupil or student to know as much
as – never mind more than – a member of staff, and
this inevitably reinforces the super-subordinate
role system, and further undermines the self-confidence of the pupil or student.

~nd don’t say: ‘Ah,
but I went through this very necessary phase of
being inferior, and then I did my M.A., then my
Ph.D., and now I’m a lecturer’ ••• Remember! for
the bulk of pupils and students, B.A. means
Goodbye) •

3. All things hypothetical and

4.Know-nothing morality
There is, pupils are told, a distinction between
facts and values. Each discipline has a great body
of facts, and essays or statements must be based
on them. Very true – but see the Principle of
Inevitable Incompetence, which, now allied with the
idea of the existence of a ‘body of facts’, merely
reinforces the position of the pupil as one of
of perpetual ignorance, and re-emphasises the
authority of the staff, who are assumed to possess
large sacks full of these important facts.

is not always true: I remember stories – accurate
ones – of a junior member of staff forced, at short
notice to give a course about ~hich he knew very

He ensured that he stayed wise i.e. wiser
than the students, which is what matters – by taking
all the relevant books out of the library).

Deprived then, by under-specialisation and lack
of time, of the opportunity of arguing from the
facts, pupils may attempt to argue from moral or
value premises: these efforts are usually introduced by ‘but I think that .•• ‘ or ‘when I was
at … ‘

Sympathetic members of staff (though for
more on such members, see ‘Pseudo Gemeinschaft’

below) may encourage these faltering efforts: but
too often the staff member, tending to regard an
incursion into moral arguments as a flirtation


with propaganda, has come to regard the distinction
between facts and values as a reason for ignoring
values altogether. Moral premises are only too
easily described as ‘opinions’ – i.e. chatter
‘unsupported by the facts’, and as the pupil,
according to the Principle of Inevitable Incompetence, has very few facts to present, that is the
end of the argument. The pupil who over the years
has come to have a grossly exaggerated respect for
the facts, is left with the feeling – highly necessary in the occupational world – that his ‘opinions’

are irrelevant, suspect and even – horror of
horrors! – subjective. How many schools, allegedly
on grounds of style, put a veto on the use of the
first person pronoun ‘I think that’? Opinions
introduced in this matter may elicit a relatively
sympathetic response: ‘Well, that is quite interesting, Mr Jones, but you’re scarcely a rep~esent­
ative sample are you, and you might perhaps car,e to
think about it from this point of view or perhaps
go and read Furstwanger’s (900) page book, not to
mention Katzipsky’s article in Zer Archive Der
Sozienwisseschafte .•• ‘ The tentative comfort of
a long-cherished opinion is demolished by the revelation of a bewildering relativity in values and
the terrible paucity’of one’s own bibliography.

From being wrongly sure, one becomes passively

The ensuing refusal on the part of the pupil to
identify himself with his essays and the statements
they contain also reflects a very sensible awareness that, as a second best option, it is indeed
advisable to keep himself priVate, for he is being
asked to reveal himself in a situation in which he
has no power to control what happens after the
revelation. As Bernstein says,’ (When) more of the
pupil (is) made public ••• more of the pupil is
available for control. As a result the socialisation may be more intensive, more penetrating,.lO
In addition to all this, even such facts as the
pupil may have been able to scrabble together are
bound to be only a small part of what is – allegedly
the great mountain of slowly accumulating data, and
he has therefore to face the realisation that his
views are always ••• and inevitably contingent and
questionable – the ‘All Things Hypothetical’

Principle. Indeed, it becomes reasonable to be
diffident and to avoid making any decision or
adopting any stand-point for only those who know
all the facts (where are these creatures?) are entitled to have opinions. As C. Wright Mills says
of our self-effacing students: ‘They are acting as
if they were disinterested judges, but they do not
have the power of judges. Hence their reasonableness, tolerance and open-mindedness do not often
count for much in the shaping of human affairs. ,11
The above four Principles of Education have an
elective affinity with a fifth, that of

5. Cynicism the highest virtue,

enthusiasm the greatest vice
‘What was the point’, said one of my, (my?) students,
‘of doing the geography of the Urals for my ‘A’

levels? – I wasn’t interested in it and I still
don’t see the relevance’.

‘That’, I replied, ‘is
the whole point. You were not interested but you
did it, and by so doing prove the efficacy of the
institution which requires you merely to do what
you’re told, not to be interested in it.

the greater your distaste, the more successful your
school can claim to be, as you reluctantly spent
days of your life dutifully boring yourself. You
were – and are – being trained in the occupational
style to which you will become accustomed, trained, that is, to separate your private interests from your public actions and to allow the
latter to be controlled by other people – the mass
manufacture of the other-directed personality. Be
cynical. Pretend, by writing essays, sitting
examinations and by taking us seriously, that our
ways of doing things are what.interest you.


exchange, you will be allowed to have legitimate
personal problems – as long as you ignore C. Wright
Mills and refrain from turning them ‘into social
issues and rationally open problems. ,12 We realise
that pupils do not easily accept perpetual humiliation, whether in schools or universities, and we
realise you will have problems. But we insist,
they will be private, psychological problems, to
which you are entitled and for which we will provide
help – University Health Centres now, mortgages
when you go to work. Just keep those problems
private, that’s all’.

(See, e.g. Student Casualties, by Anthony Ryle,
The Penguin Press, 1969. Nine Chapter Headings
are: How many fall ill? Who fails and why? Psychiatric Illness in Students. Psychotic Illness.

Neuroses and Personality Differences. How does
psychiatric jistrubances interfere with Academic
Work? Suicide and self-injury. Illegal drug use.

Student sex and student pregnancy. A comment on
Student protest and politics) .18
cynicism – defined as doing something (such as
writing an essay) not because one is interested
but because one has been told to be interested by
someone in a position to penalise lack of interest
– becomes the highest virtue, the necessar¥ condition of survival. How else to describe the mentality of students who, finishing one essay turn
hurriedly to the next – and have forgotten what’s
in the first one within’five minutes of its completion? And what value can the student indeed
place on such work, produced on demand, based on
inadequate reading of the standard text, immune to
personal experience, untutored in tone or purpose,
an endless offering of junk? The only way out is
to minimise the pain and humiliation by minimising
the personal importance of these public performances; enthusiasm is bad for you. Small wonder
that subjects ‘learnt’ for ‘A’ levels or essays are
so readily forgotten the minute the degradation
ceremony of public presentation has been undergone.

There is a fast and sensible self-abstraction from
‘the community of scholars’, for this in itself has
been transformed, from a group based (ideally) on
a decently distributed and reciprocal flow of power,
information and respect into a branch of the mass
society, with a few talkers wearing the uniform of
authority and using it to impress upon their many
listeners that scholarship is not for them and that
passivity in public matters is their proper role in
life. A hundred other tricks proclaim authority.

There is the business of Gracious Dispensation
leading to Compulsory Gratitude. Staff devise, or
at any rate operate within a system which humiliates
and elicits dependence. ‘Students who react by, for
example, getting upset about exams are then reassured
and given help – personal sympathy and support,
gratefully received! Giving is controlling: and
what a gift! First, I chop your leg off. You fall
down. I ‘help’ you up. You’re grateful. I win.

Next please. In addition, in cases like this,
there is the additional statement of the power of
the staff to effect a l{ttle ‘personalisation’ of
the rules: never mind, we’ll see if we can get you
a re-sit on grounds of illness ••• Dependency
graciously offered and gratefully received. The
‘help’, of course, is not to change the system
which made the student need help in the first place,
but, by defining the problem as a personal and
psychological one, to leave that system very much
intact and to stress’and perpetuate the pupils’

need of staff help in order to deal with it.

often amazes·me h9W enthusiastic are the ‘rescue
teams’ of our educational establishments. It is
becoming increasingly more difficult to drop out
as the first sign of dissidence rapidly mobilises
a very efficient and well-intentioned group of
rescuers – tutors, counsellors, psychiatrists – all
of whom frenetically attempt to re-recruit the
would-be farewell-sayer. Successful rescue attempts
‘become part of the folk mythology of the school or
university, trophies proudly displayed, the most
difficult material graciously and grimly socialised.)

Then there is the business of Pseudo Gemeinschaft the surface statement of common interests and mutual friendliness, the underlying statement that
you’d better believe it. In face-to-face encounters
in schools and universities, as in other places,
, interaction can only persist when well lubricated
by the ordinary canons of courtesy and friendliness.

Such expressions are doubly necessary – and doubly
false – when the genuine bases of the interaction
are in fact the almost total subordination and
dependency of one of the partners, and when institutionally-induced anxiety is the dominant emotion
in the minds of the subordinate partner. In such
an atmosphere, relatively minor expressions of
friendship – the occasional (and non-reciprocal)
use of a Christian name – achieve the status of
major proofs of decency and interest: crumbs
become a feast, and gratitude – and the.subservience it denotes – knows no bounds. Often the
expressions of concern are tied to specific anxietyprovoking devices, such as exams: ‘Look don’t worry
about exams, everyone passes and there’s nothing
in them that we haven’t covered in class ••• ‘ Once
again, the revelation is of the manipulative power
of the teacher or lecturer, the insubstantial
nature of the worries and thoughts of the pupil,
and hierarchy of ‘the community’.

There we have it then: Perpetual Apprenticeship,
Inevitable Incompetence, All things Hypothetical,
Know Nothing Morality, Cynicism the Highest Virtue,
Enthusiasm the Greatest Vice, Gracious Dispensation,
I Compulsory Gratitude and the Pseudo Gemeinschaft all of them combining to produce students with
minimal levels of self-esteem and self confidence
but students with self-;onceptions and values well
! suited to promote their careers in the midd le-range
slots of the public and private corporate bureaucracies in which most of them will find employment.

They will accept frustration in their work and will
find satisfaction not in their jobs or in the public
sphere, but in the private and defensive sector:

they will not question the ultimate goals or purpose
of the system for which they work, but will let such
matters be settled by ‘Them’, and will confine themselves to the unquestioning and efficient execution
of their own specific task – and referee the system
in its impact on recipients: ‘Look Lady, I don’t
make the rules, I just administer them. sorry.’

(This stance, of course, equates reasonableness with
conformity.) Politics will be experienced vicariously
via television or – see, e.g. Jackson & Marsden’s
Education and the Working Class 14 , via the autobiographies and biographies of ‘great men’.

‘Extremism’ (i.e. any form of argument) will be avoided
and all views will be tentative.

There is no doubt that the English educational
system is the most efficient in the world.





C. Wright Mills, ‘Mass Society and Liberal
Education’, in Power Politics and People,
O.U.P., 1963


David Willings, ‘What Jobs are Worth’, New
Society , 18 March 1971


David Riesman, Individualism Reconsidered,
The Free Press, 1954


Morris Rosenberg, Society and the Adolescent
Self-Image, Princeton University Press, 1965


H. Dalziel Duncan, Communication and the Social
Order, New York Bedminster Press, 1962


Anne Corbett, ‘The School Bosses’, New Society,
15 April 1971


Frank Musgrove, Patterns of Power and Authority
in English Education, Methuen and Co, 1971



Ralf Dahendorf, quoted in Musgrove, op. cit.


R. K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure
The Free Press, 1968


Basil Bernstein, ‘Sociological Aspects of
Classifying and Framing Educational Knowledge’,
quoted in Musgrove, op. cit.


C. Wright Mills, op. cit.




Anthony Ryle, Student Casualties, The Penguin
Press, 1969.


Brian Jackson and Denis Marsden, Education and
The Working Class, Routledge and Kegan Paul,

aDd Ihe malle__
George Berkeley and the Prevention
of Ruin in Great Britain

Thus did one of the great architects of Tory
Anglicanism respond to any who might harbour
anarchistical doubts.

Sensible that Obedience without Industry does not
suffice to render a nation prosperous, the good
Berkeley enjoins both civil and religious authorit~es
to so move (in their respective ways) their flocks to
promote industry among them. Thus, in the Essay
Toward Preventing the Ruin of Great Britain (1721)
he urges on governments the work-house as an alternative to the wasteful and corrupting influence of poorrelief. Thus, in his Exhortation to the Roman Catholic
Clergy of Ireland (as Anglican Bishop of,~loyne, in
1749), he vividly impresses on Catholic priests the
need to convert their slothful parishioners to industry.

To illustrate the Bishop’s wisdom and concern is perhaps
a better means of communicating it than to describe it.

Indolence in dirt is a terrible symptom whi~h
shows itself in our lower Irish more, perhaps,
than in any people on this side of the Cape of
Good Hope … our poor Irish are wedded to dirt
on principle.

Mark an Irishman at work in the field; of a
coach or horseman go by, he is sure to suspend
his labour and stand staring until they are
out of sight. A neighbour of mine made it his
remark in a journey from London to Bristol that
all the labourers of whom he enquired the road
constantly answered without looking up, or
interrupting their work, except one who stood
staring and leaning on his spade and him he
found to be an Irishman.

Anthony Tremblington-Sporus Lusty
From Ulster to Grenada, Britain and her colonies are
plagued with unhappiness and strife. It is therefore
all the more regrettable that few are alive today
possessed of the charitable wisdom of George Berkeley,
to whom Alexander Pope himself ascribed ‘every virtue
under heaven’. Nonetheless, although the good bishop
is no longer able to address himself aloud to the
times, his deathless (though in no way abstract)
prescriptions are with us in written form, such that
one would earnestly wish that every British subject,
whether Englishman or Ulsterman or Bermudan, would
purchase Volume IV of Mr Fraser’s Works of George

Berkeley’s non-medical remedies for our troubled
times are as simple as they are today ignored. They
are: Industry, Obedience, and Piety.

While philosophers today peddle the whiggish wares
of a Locke or a Mill, it would be wise for them to
peruse and promulgate the doctrine of Passive Obedience as the young Berkeley in his 1712
Trinity College address. There Berkeley proves, to
any who can follow a deductive procedure, the
absolute and unconditional obligation of subjects to
obey the supreme power of the land on pain of disobeying the Supreme Power of the universe itself.

Patiently, Berkeley deals with any objection that
might be brought to bear against his doctrine:

But (it will be urged), though it should be
acknowledged that; in the main, submission
and patience ought to be recommended, yet,
men will be apt to demand whether extraordinary cases may not require extraordinary
measures; and therefore, in case the oppression
be insupportable and the prospect of
deliverance sure, whether rebellion may not
be allowed of? I answer, by no means.’



It is a shameful thing, and peculiar to this
nation, to see lusty vagabonds strolling about
the country, and begging without any pretence
to beg ••• A sore leg is an estate to such a
fellow .•.

In England, when the labour of the field is
over, it is usual for men to betake themselves
to some other labour of a different kind •••
instead of closing the day with a game of
greasy cards or lying stretched before the
fire •..

It will be alleged in excuse of their idleness
that the country people want encouragement to
labour, as not having property in the lands.

There is small encouragement, say you, for them
to build or plant upon another’s land wherein
they have only a temporary interest. To which
I answer that life itself is but temporary •.•
Raise your voices, Reverend Sirs, exert your
influence, shew your authority over the
multitude, by engaging them to the practice of
honest industry •.• inveigh against the crying
sin of your country .•. co-operating with the
public spirit of the legislature and the men
of power.

Can it be denied today that these diseases
of irreligion, sloth and rebellion are choking the
heart, not only of our Irish offspring but of our
very mother England herself? Can it be denied today,
even by those who mock the power of tar-water, that
were George Berkeley’s advice heeded our nation would
not be in decay? Certainly our present Government
has acted to limit the rewards of idleness; but can
any claim that their actions have been sufficient?

Certainly our present governments have made some use
of the Roman Church’s authority over its Irish

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