Rod Liddle

In defence of a liberal education

9 March 2019

9:00 AM

9 March 2019

9:00 AM

A good decade or so ago I wrote a fairly vituperative article in response to a piece by the writer James Bartholomew in this magazine, who had announced that he intended to home-school his daughter Alex, aged nine. James had explained in great detail how he would inculcate his charge in the liberal arts: ‘I don’t want to give the impression that I will be a Gradgrind. We will have some fun, too. Alex loves to paint. We will go to the major Cézanne exhibition in Aix and see his paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire. Then we will see the mountain itself from the same viewpoint that he used. I hope we will settle down to paint it ourselves — perhaps copying Cézanne’s technique.’

Ever the class warrior, I was annoyed by this paragraph in particular. I could visualise the two of them at that exhibition and I had an immediate acid reflux. I think the gist of my rebuttal was that no matter how bloody clever and well-read middle-class people might think they are, the job of educating children should be left to the teachers, the professionals.

So this piece is a fervent apology to Mr Bartholomew and indeed the now adult Alex. He was absolutely right, I was absolutely wrong. If you possibly can, get your kid out of its state school right now. You don’t have to go to Aix. You could just leave them alone, playing on their phones all day. It couldn’t be worse than the crap being shoved down their throats on a daily basis.

Here’s what happened in one week at a well-regarded state school in my area for the second-year pupils (as I still call them — year eight if you’re up to date). The geography homework invited the child to explain why a 14-year-old Eritrean boy, Emir, and his family must be granted citizenship in this country. The kids were given some background information. For example, they were told that immigrants — all immigrants — give more to the country than they take out. Yes indeed. And they were told that the boy’s father was a brain surgeon — as is so very often the case — and the mother an official in a bank. They were also told that Eritrea is a foul country and that the family felt persecuted and there was an Eritrean community ready for them in London.

In other words, they were given no choice whatsoever in the matter, and when one student said ‘Why do they have to come to England?’ he was told that wasn’t the point of the exercise. My suggestion to him would have been to complete the task allotted and allow the Eritrean lad in. And then to add a couple of others, in the hope of getting extra marks. So Mohammed, aged 14, from Somalia, whose father is a foot soldier for the Al-Shabaab militia and has the IQ of pre-set concrete, and whose mother recently narrowly failed to blow up a hotel in Nairobi. There is a Somalian community waiting for them in London too, with an unemployment rate of more than 50 per cent. Or Dimitru, a 14-year-old Romanian Roma boy whose father last worked when Ceausescu was looking youthful but who is able to play the accordion badly on the Tube with a note hanging round his neck saying ‘Money Give Now’. Come on teacher, let ’em think outside your narrow, partisan box.

That was geography, which was once about oxbow lakes, convection and the cultivation of cassava, but which is now the provisional wing of Marxist sociology. In English, in the same week, the kids were learning about ‘identity’. This involved reading a series of poems from black and minority ethnic writers who had come to the UK and discovered it to be ghastly because their own identities were denied freedom of expression, somehow, by the hideous white majority. Sheesh, someone tell Emir.

In history, the kids are studying the evil impact of UK colonialism and slavery upon the other-wise vibrant and over–achieving continent of Africa. In religious education, the children were told to write an essay explaining why Islam is a peaceable religion — not to query the thesis, simply to write it down. It is, and that’s that.

And then there’s PSHE. I’ve forgotten what that stands for, but it is always unmitigated drivel about resilience and inclusivity and other meaningless but fashionable shibboleths. Last week the children watched an Australian video. As it was reported to me, this consisted of couples hugging and kissing as seen through an X-ray machine, so all you could see were successive pairs of skeletons canoodling. Then they came out from behind the machine and were revealed to be, one after the other: two gay black men with an adopted baby, two women, two disabled people, a Down’s syndrome woman with a non-Down’s syndrome man. ‘Love has no labels’ was the message of this cringefest.

I haven’t heard what they were up to in maths or chemistry. ‘The commonest isotope of hydrogen is an atom with one proton and no neutron. But it’s perfectly OK for an atom with several protons and a whole bunch of neutrons to identify as hydrogen, if it really feels that it is.’

The propaganda, then, is utterly relentless across pretty much every subject. And it seems to be in direct contradiction of modern liberal educational methods, in that the children are not remotely allowed to think for themselves. There are no open-ended questions; the propaganda is spewed out and the students are there to lap it up and then regurgitate it, and any deviation from correct opinion will bring censure. There is no notion that there are two sides to the debate, no acceptance that these are opinions at all. They are facts, and that’s that.

So my apologies to James Bartholomew — he was well ahead of the game on this one.

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