This issue of Radical Philosophy contains sev· ral
articles on education. We are particularly glad
about this because we feel that although most
radical intellectuals spend their working lives in
education they have rarely considered what the
significance of this is.
It is part of the cunning of bourgeois culture
that it has confined knowledge to special institutions. It has made knowledge the property of an
exclusive scholarly gui~d; and has thus been able
to congratulate itself on allowing knowledge to
develop free from external distortions, at least
in so-called ‘higher’ education.
These institutions of higher education, of
course, also take students, whom the guardians of
knowledge are supposed to educate. A hundred, or
even fifty years ago, most of the students were
males from the aristocracy and bourgeoisie.
Higher education was partly a playground for young
gentlemen; but it was also a nursery for aspiring
scholars who hoped to gain admission to the academic
elite themselves. They would have to assimilate the
language and manners of the inmates – just as many
students still do today.
(For discussion of this
in relation to philosophy, see any issue of Radical
Philosophy, and in particular Trevor Pateman’s article
printed below). In order to gain admission to the
academic citadel, they would have to survive a trial
by exams. The examination system served to regulate
admission to the scholarly elite.
The publicly stated purpose of exams seems not to
have changed since the days of the gentlemen scholars.
Modern academics may worry about the efficiency of
various methods of assessment (and perhaps they
should get more worried – see George Molnar’s article
in this issue), and they may disapprove of exams on
humanitarian grounds, but they still tend to think
that exams are educationally indispensable. From
their point of view, exams encourage students to
study and they give students objective estimates of
their progress towards mastery of the scholarly
skills. This attitude is reactionary and unfounded.
It assumes that exclusive institutions where scholars
pass on their mystery to students are the natural
means for the production and reproduction of knowledge
and that this is the function which actual educational
institutions fulfil. It assumes that the real
function of higher education corresponss to its
Sainsb~ry’s understand graduates.They
kn~w. they v~ ~pent some of the best years of
theIr lives tral.nmg their minds and looking for
the OpportUOfty to apply their hard won
• It is the Graduate’s very need to expand his
mmd, plus his application and appetite for
sheer .hard wo~k, which makes him the right
matenal for Samsbury’s. Right away at
a key role in our food
_aWUII.1H;larlCara which has made
Over the last twenty years, higher education has
become the natural destiny of large numbers of
eighteen year old school leavers, Who do not seek, or
get, much in the way of serious intellectual training
and who have no ambition to join the academic elite.
The ma ….. thing they want is a paper qualification:
‘BA means goodbye’.
(See Jon Davies’ article in
RP7). such education as they get probably comes
from living away from home with very little money,
rather than from their teachers. Knowledge, for
them, is a pointless syllabus to be mastered before
the final exams come and the grant runs ~ut; and
then to be forgotten. Exams are not so much
mechanisms for regulating the affairs of the
academic elite, as devices for grading and degrading
students for the benefit of future employers.
Educational institutions become agencies of social
control rather than institutions for the production
A degree is now a condition of entry into many
management posts. Some employers ray lip service to
the idea that higher education fits people for
management because it gives them intellectual training. Sainsbury’s mysteriously promise graduates
‘the opportunity to apply their hard won knowledge’;
and the Inland Revenue entices (honours) graduates
with ‘a career that appeals to reason’. But in March
a full page advertisement appeared in the national
press which had no truck with this pretence.
Thirty ‘top industrialists’ gave their names to a
declaration that people got as much from three years
in the army as from three years at college. Higher
education, they implied, had much the same effect on
people as military discipline. It did not occur to
them to make the familiar complaint about the subversive effects of education; and they dtd not
mention knowledge – the ostensible content of
education – at all.
Some radicals would say that since the obje~ti~e
function of education is social control, there is no
point in struggling inside educational institutions;
and they may even end up lamenting the expansion of
higher education as bitterly as any student-bashing
Tory. This seems to us to be dangerously wrong.
The conflict between knowledge, which is the ostensible content of education, and the opjective function of the institutions which provide it, needs to
be developed and directed, not abandoned or ignored.
seem to be no place
for a philosopher. And, to be honest, gunnery officers musing
in Greek in the middle of joint NATO exercises is not a
famous Naval tradition.
But the Royal Navy is interested in any graduate
who’s interested in us. With a degree in either Science or the