Tuesday, 12 December 2017

A QUESTION OF DEGREE



Do your children need these?
Or lectures on transgenderism?





School's out completely.

Alice Cooper




I went to university at Sussex, in the pretty hills of East Sussex, England, arriving in 1981 at the age of 20, with Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy and a framed painting of Lord Byron – ooh, and some Joy division recordings - and finally graduating in 1994, with a doctorate in philosophy.

Philosophy has never earned me a penny – or a ‘red cent’, for my north American chums - and yet I consider myself a successful product of the British education system. The benefits of my university education are not, alas, of much use to the society that largely funded it. But it has served me.

I was fortunate in that my degree, my MA, and the first two years of my PhD were paid for by the state. Now, of course, the encouragement of vast swathes of youth to attend ‘uni’ as they call it, is also a ruse to produced tenured debtors, always owing the state money and, with it, a strange type of loyalty.

I was fortunate in another respect also. My university career taught me how to think, not what to think. This process, which should be self-explanatorily obvious, has been exactly reversed now, another unsavoury product of north American culture imported by Britain.

I have strolled the labyrinths of memory many times looking for evidence, chez alma mater, of indoctrination, propaganda, political correctness, and all the other methods by which cultural Marxism closes down debate, stifles thought, and criminalises viewpoints with which it does not agree. I can’t find any.

Yes, there were few bolshy tutors, but they tended to act like pop stars at lectures rather than grim and embittered ideologues. There was a smattering of finger-wagging by some of the girl students if an off-colour joke was made, but none of the screeching harpies infesting the modern campus. I was once hissed during my presentation of a seminar paper on Martin Heidegger, but that is hardly the wholesale barracking and no-platforming that passes for debate today.

What happened? In just 35 years, what the hell happened?

The only answer can be that cultural Marxism upped its game. Universities like mine were churning out students who could think for themselves, and that is not part of the modern way. Universities today are to provide a tightly orchestrated script. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor. The state obviously wasted its money after all.)

It was the man Peter Hitchens refers to as ‘the Blair creature’ who is largely responsible for the current state of affairs in British academia. When he bleated his famous mantra that his priority on taking power was ‘education, education, education’, he wasn’t lying. He merely neglected to mention what he intended to do to education. Now that the sacred grove of academe has been asphalted over, we can see what he really had in mind.

Education is possibly the most important resource a society has at its disposal. Control that, and you control the society. It is glaringly obvious to those of us of a conservative nature that children should be taught some type of baccalaureate-style curriculum using the main disciplines.

As a broad guide, the classical quadrivium and trivium – which combined make up the ‘seven liberal arts’ - were as follows:



Arithmetic

Geometry

Astronomy

Music

Grammar

Logic

Rhetoric



Yes, I appreciate that your five-year-old child is probably not suited to studying astronomy and logic, but bear with me and, like a good chef, we will try to reduce the sauce.

Arithmetic is essential, but not for the reasons the elites think. It is typical of technocrats to believe that the calculator is a good thing because it speeds up the arithmetical process. It is more efficient, you see. However, getting the right answer is not the aim, or not the only aim, of the exercise.

Cogitation, as it was classically known, is the process by which we think and assess and reject wrong answers while retrieving the correct ones. I well remember answering mathematical questions in school examinations, and it being required to leave my ‘workings’ in the margin. A calculator rather does away with all that. It is a little like going to the gymnasium to make your muscles bulge that little bit more, and having a pal do the heavy lifting for you while you doodle.

Geometry has a similar function, but is more of a side-show, and mensuration will probably only be any use if you become a carpet-layer. Modern children are, once they have selected their gender for the week, more likely to learn about menstruation. If you can teach a child why the triangle has the same properties in Paris, Myanmar and Gambia, and that it had the same properties the day Julius Caesar was born as it does today, that  would kick-start the engine of thought.

I think we can give the little ones a pass on astronomy. The only stars in their galaxy today are reality TV, pop and film stars. Besides, astronomy is probably riddled with racism.

But, laying the comfortable cloak of humour aside, what are the other essentials for a rounded education of the type which would be anathema to the cultural Marxist?

Finally, the trivium, and a little unpacking is required.

In the classical world, again daubing with a broad brush, logic told you what it was possible to say that had meaning, grammar taught you how you could say it, and rhetoric told you, more or less, when and in what style to say. But we aren’t going to give the flower of our youth Horace’s Ars rhetorics. Oh no.

 The answer? Literature. Dickens. Hardy. Conrad. Austen. Melville. Cervantes. Waugh. Powell. You can write your own list. Good literature teaches while entertaining, unlike television, which leeches while enervating.

The great literature of one’s nation and language is the best schooling a child could have. And that is exactly why the new apparatchiks and kommissars are coming after it with all guns blazing. I don’t know if you are familiar with Sweden’s little cartoon girl heroine, Pippi Longstocking, who has a pony which she carries if the going gets too tough. Anyway, Pippi is being phased out as assiduous weevils comb the text with the zeal of a deconstructionist, the better to detect racism or one of the other badthink noms de guerre. They will always find it. Their latest wheeze in the USA is to post ‘trigger warnings-  so that some books may be avoided to avoid upsetting the sensitive plant that is the modern student.

Reading is not television or a computer screen. Yes, yes, I know. Please pay attention. TV and its analogue in the computer screen are passive information providers. What you see is what you get. You sit there and it does all the work. Books, even in electronic form, are active information providers. The child – indeed, the adult – has to make a conscious effort to translate the words on the page into images and concepts, which means the interpretative part of the mind is doing some work, rather than being a peasant lying on the floor with his mouth gaping while his fellow peasant pours in wine. Again, the mind is being sharpened and honed rather than dulled and fed with moron-food like a foie gras goose.

Time is pressing, as it will, and I will make this a two-parter. Tune in again tomorrow, fellow dissidents. And you, officer.

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