In an essay on education written in 1961, the political theorist Hannah Arendt foresaw the steady erosion of discipline in Western schools. She wrote: "The problem of education in the modern world lies in the fact that by its very nature it cannot forgo either authority or tradition, and yet must proceed in a world that is neither structured by authority nor held together by tradition." If this was a problem in 1961, it is a catastrophe in 2012.
Since Arendt wrote her essay, legions of progressive educators have denied the need for authority in schools. The permissive rhetoric of 1960s radicalism was particularly influential among teachers, and their ideological precepts were applied to classroom culture. The undisputed leader of this "progressive" movement in Britain was A.S. Neill, founder of the revolutionary Summerhill School. Neill documented his philosophy in his 1962 book Summerhill, a runaway success which sold more than two million copies. In it he claimed, "I believe that to impose anything by authority is wrong. The child should not do anything until he comes to the opinion — his own opinion — that it should be done."
After the 1960s, radical educationists who subscribed to this thinking began their long march through the institutions. The idea of child-led learning came to dominate our teacher-training colleges and classrooms. Such thinking claimed that teachers should never coerce pupils to learn against their will, but instead place them in a situation where they can learn for themselves. The favoured description of a teacher's job changed from "teaching" to "facilitating". The rhetoric of child-led education was, and still is, extremely seductive, but it has failed to deliver. It is premised upon a fatally misplaced assumption that pupils can be relied upon to know what is best for them. The practical consequence of this utopian thinking has been the consistent fall in standards of British state education.
Over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, British comprehensive schools gained their reputation for ill-discipline and low expectations. One of the most articulate critics of these developments was the poet, teacher and literary critic, Brian Cox. Born in Grimsby and raised on Milton and Methodism, Cox was a working-class intellectual of the old school. Together with such luminaries as Iris Murdoch, Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest he edited the Black Papers — a series of strident attacks on the changes happening in British education. In his 1992 memoir The Great Betrayal, Cox wrote that "the abdication of authority by teachers has fundamentally damaged our society".
- ONLINE ONLY: Overpopulation and the Reality of Grandchildren
- ONLINE ONLY: Sharia Threatens All Women, Muslim and Non-Muslim
- ONLINE ONLY: The Last Days of the Divvy
- A Party Overrun by Lads and Libertines
- The Myth of Cameron's Etonian 'Chumocracy'
- Here Lie the Remains of Tory Modernisation
- Forget 'Islamophobia'. Let's Tackle Islamism
- Neoconservatism: A Good Idea That Won't Go Away
- Have You Heard the One About Auschwitz?
- Cameron's Too Late To Tame the UKIP Tiger
- ONLINE ONLY: Thoughts from a Hospital Bed
- ONLINE ONLY: Academic Boycotts Teach Us Nothing
- ONLINE ONLY: Send in the Clowns
- ONLINE ONLY: Thatcher, Reagan and the Dictators
- The Resolute Courage of Margaret Thatcher
- America's New Isolationists Are Endangering the West
- An Alternative To Our Reckless Energy Gamble
- The Family is the Key to the Future of Faith
- Persecuted Muslims Who Love Life in England
- They Were the Future of the Tory Party, Once