Anarchy 43/Reflections on parents, teachers and schools

From Anarchy
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Reflections on
parents, teachers
and schools


What anarch­ists are after is per­sonal and so­cial auto­nomy—the idea that in­di­viduals and their organ­isa­tions should be self-reg­u­lat­ing auto­no­mous bodies. It is this which makes us ad­voc­ates of workers’ control in in­dus­try and which makes us en­thusi­astic about such ex­amples as we find of so­cial organ­isa­tions spring up from below, from people’s urge to sat­isfy their own needs, as op­posed to those which depend on a struc­ture of hier­archy, power and au­thor­ity in which one set of people give in­struc­tions and another set of people carry them out.

  The the­or­et­ical ap­pli­ca­tion of our ideas to the organ­isa­tion of edu­ca­tion is clear enough. The auto­nom­ous self-govern­ing school is the aim, and in view of the ob­vi­ous limits within which chil­dren may be said to govern them­selves, this means in prac­tice a school con­trolled by teach­ers by virtue of their func­tional re­spons­ibil­ity to chil­dren, and by parents because of their bio­lo­gical re­spons­ibil­ity for them. But the issue is more com­pli­ca­ted, for in both prim­it­ive and com­plex com­mun­it­ies it is recog­nised that all adults have a re­spons­ibil­ity towards chil­dren, which because of the vagar­ies and vicis­si­tudes of in­di­vidual parent­age, may have to be exer­cised on its behalf or on the child’s behalf. Once that is ad­mit­ted, we have of course ad­mit­ted that edu­ca­tion is the con­cern of the com­mun­ity. But what com­mun­ity? The state as in France, the local au­thor­ity as in the United States, or a mix­ture of the two as in Britain? And where does the re­spons­ibil­ity of the com­mun­ity begin and end?

  Should edu­ca­tion be com­puls­ory anyway? (And is the com­pul­sion to be ap­plied to the child or to the parent?) Bakunin saw the ques­tion dia­lect­ic­ally:

  The prin­ciple of au­thor­ity, in the edu­ca­tion of chil­dren, con­sti­tutes the natural point of de­par­ture; it is leg­itim­ate, neces­sary, when ap­plied to chil­dren of a tender age, whose intel­li­gence has not yet openly de­veloped itself. But as the de­velop­ment of every­thing, and con­sequently of edu­ca­tion, im­plies the gradual nega­tion of the point of de­par­ture, this prin­ciple must dimin­ish as fast as edu­ca­tion and in­struc­tion ad­vance, giving place to in­creas­ing liberty. All ra­tional edu­ca­tion is at bottom nothing but this pro­gres­sive im­mola­tion of au­thor­ity for the benefit of liberty, the final ob­ject of edu­ca­tion neces­sarily

being the form­a­tion of free men full of re­spect and love for the liberty of others. There­fore the first day of the pupil’s life, if the school takes infants scarcely able as yet to stam­mer a few words, should be that of the great­est au­thor­ity and an almost entire ab­sence of liberty; but its last day should be that of the great­est liberty and the ab­solute aboli­tion of every vestige of the animal or divine prin­ciple of au­thor­ity.

  Eighty-five years later, Ethel Mannin in her utopian survey Bread and Roses took a more ab­solutely “liber­tarian” line:

  At this point you per­haps pro­test, “But if there is no com­pul­sion, what hap­pens if a child does not want to at­tend school of any kind, and the parents are not con­cerned to per­suade him?” It is quite simple. In that case the child does not at­tend any school. As he becomes adoles­cent he may wish to ac­quire some learn­ing. Or he may de­velop school-going friends and wish to at­tend school because they do. But if he doesn’t he is never­the­less learn­ing all the time, his natural child’s creat­ive­ness work­ing in happy alli­ance with his free­dom. No Utopian parent would think of using that moral coer­cion we call ‘per­sua­sion’. By the time he reaches adoles­cence the child grows tired of run­ning wild, and begins to ident­ify himself with grown-ups; he per­ceives the use­ful­ness of know­ing how to read and write and add, and there is prob­ably some special thing he wants to learn—such as how to drive a train or build a bridge or a house. It is all very much simpler than our pro­fes­sional edu­ca­tion­ists would have us believe.

  Some of us think it is not that simple. But the point is aca­demic, for in prac­tice the deci­sion is that of the parents. Nowadays it is only highly soph­ist­ic­ated and edu­ca­ted people who bother to argue about whether or not it is desir­able that chil­dren should learn the three Rs. The law in this country does not in fact re­quire parents to send their chil­dren to school; it im­poses an obli­ga­tion on them to see that their chil­dren while within the com­puls­ory age, are re­ceiv­ing “an ap­propri­ate edu­ca­tion”. The oc­ca­sional pro­secu­tions of re­calcit­rant parents usually reveal a degree of apathy, in­dif­fer­ence or parental in­com­pet­ence that hardly pro­vides a good case for the op­ponents of com­pul­sion, though they do some­times rope in highly con­scien­tious parents whose views on edu­ca­tion do not hap­pen to co­incide with those of the local au­thor­ity. (Mrs. Joy Baker’s ac­count of her long and in the end suc­cess­ful struggle with the au­thor­it­ies will be re­viewed in a coming issue of anarchy). Usually, apart from a few of the rich, with their gover­nesses and tutors, there are not many parents with the time or skill to teach their chil­dren at home, and of those who could, many must feel it unfair to de­prive their chil­dren of the pleasures and so­cial ex­peri­ence of be­long­ing to a com­mun­ity of their peers, or may cherish the right of parents to have the kids out of their way for some of the time—and the recip­rocal right of their children to be outside the parental at­mo­sphere.

*   *   *

  Histor­ic­ally, in this country, the strug­gle to make edu­ca­tion free, com­puls­ory and uni­versal, and out of the ex­clus­ive con­trol of reli­gious organ­isa­tions, was long and bitter, and the op­po­si­tion to it came, not from liber­tarian ob­jectors, but from the up­hold­ers of priv­ilege and dogma, and from those (both parents and em­ploy­ers) who had an eco­nomic inter­est in the labour of chil­dren or a vested inter­est in ignor­ance. The very reason why it had to be made com­puls­ory ninety-four
years ago was because chil­dren were an eco­nomic asset. Read­ers of chap­ters 8 and 12 of Marx’s Capital will not dis­sent from the as­ser­tion that the in­dus­trial re­volu­tion was made by the chil­dren of the poor. As late as 1935 Lord Halifax, as Pres­id­ent of the Board of Edu­ca­tion, op­pos­ing the pro­posal to raise the school leaving age from four­teen to fif­teen, de­clared that “public opinion would not toler­ate an un­con­di­tional raising of the age” and the Bradford tex­tile manu­fac­turers as­sured him that “there was work for little fingers there.”

  The no­tion that primary ecu­ca­tion should be free, com­puls­ory and uni­versal is very much older than the English Act of 1870. It grew up with the print­ing press and the rise of prot­est­ant­ism. The rich had been edu­cated by the Church and the sons of the rising bour­geoisie in the grammar schools of the Middle Ages. From the 16th century on arose a grad­ual demand that all should be taught. Martin Luther ap­pealed “To the Coun­cil­men of all Cities in Germany that they estab­lish and main­tain Christian Schools”, ob­serv­ing that the train­ing chil­dren get at home “at­tempts to make us wise through our ex­peri­ence” a task for which life itself is too short, and which could be ac­cel­er­ated by sys­tema­tic in­struc­tion by means of books. Com­puls­ory uni­versal edu­ca­tion was founded in Calvin­ist Geneva in 1536, and Calvin’s Scottish dis­ciple John Knox “planted a school as well as a kirk in every parish.” In puritan Mas­sachu­setts free com­puls­ory primary edu­ca­tion was intro­duced in 1647. The common school, writes Lewis Mumford in The Condi­tion of Man:

  . . . con­trary to popular belief, is no be­lated pro­duct of 19th century demo­cracy: I have pointed out that it played a neces­sary part in the ab­solu­tist-mech­an­ical form­ula. Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, fol­lowing Luther’s pre­cept, made primary edu­ca­tion com­puls­ory in his realm in 1717, and foun­ded 1,700 schools to meet the needs of the poor. Two ordin­ances of Louis XIV in 1694 and 1698 and one of Louis XV in 1724 re­quired regular at­tend­ance at school. Even England, a strag­gler in such mat­ters, had hun­dreds of private char­ity schools, some of them foun­ded by the So­ci­ety for Pro­moting Chris­tian Know­ledge, which had been in­cor­por­ated in 1699. Vergerious, one of the earliest renais­sance school­masters, had thought edu­ca­tion an es­sen­tial func­tion of the State; and cen­tral­ised au­thor­ity was now be­lat­edly taking up the work that had been neg­lected with the wiping out of mu­ni­cipal free­dom in the greater part of Europe.

  All the ra­tion­al­ist philo­sophers of the 18th century thought about the prob­lems of edu­ca­tion, and of them, the two acutest edu­ca­tional think­ers ranged them­selves on op­pos­ite sides on the ques­tion of the organ­isa­tion of edu­ca­tion: Rousseau for the State, Godwin against it. Rousseau, whose Emile pos­tu­lates a com­pletely in­di­vidual edu­ca­tion (human so­ciety is ig­nored, the tutor’s entire life is de­voted to poor Emile), did never­the­less con­cern himself with the so­cial aspect, argu­ing, in his Dis­course on Polit­ical Eco­nomy (1755) for public edu­ca­tion “under regu­la­tions pre­scribed by the govern­ment”, for

  If chil­dren are brought up in com­mon in the bosom of equal­ity; if they are im­bued with the laws of the State and the pre­cepts of the General Will . . . we can­not doubt that they will cher­ish one another mu­tually as broth­ers . . . to become in time de­fenders and fath­ers of the country of which they will have been so long the chil­dren.

  William Godwin, who, in his En­quirer at­tacks the con­cealed au­thor­it­ar­ian­ism of Rousseau’s edu­ca­tional theor­ies, criti­cises in his En­quiry Con­cern­ing Polit­ical Justice (1793), the idea of na­tional edu­ca­tion. He sum­mar­ises the argu­ments in favour, which are those of Rousseau, adding to them the ques­tion:

  If the edu­ca­tion of our youth be en­tirely con­fined to the pru­dence of their parents, or the ac­cid­ental be­ne­vol­ence of private in­di­viduals, will it not be a neces­sary con­se­quence, that some will be edu­cated to virtue, others to vice, and others again en­tirely neg­lected?

  Godwin’s answer is:

  The injur­ies that re­sult from a system of na­tional edu­ca­tion are, in the first place, that all public estab­lish­ments in­clude in them the idea of per­man­ence. They en­deavour, it may be, to se­cure and to dif­fuse what­ever of ad­vant­age to so­ciety is already known, but they forget that more re­mains to be known . . . But public edu­ca­tion has always ex­pended its en­er­gies in the sup­port of pre­jud­ice; it teaches its pupils not the fort­i­tude that shall bring every pro­pos­i­tion to the test of exam­ina­tion, but the art of vin­dic­at­ing such tenets as may chance to be previ­ously estab­lished . . . This feature runs through every spe­cies of public estab­lish­ment; and, even in the petty in­sti­tu­tion of Sunday schools, the chief les­sons that are taught are a super­sti­tious vener­a­tion for the Church of England, and to bow to every man in a hand­some coat . . . Refer them to read­ing, to con­ver­sa­tion, to medi­ta­tion, but teach them neither creeds nor cat­ech­isms, neither moral nor polit­ical . . .

  Secondly, the idea of na­tional edu­ca­tion is foun­ded in an in­at­ten­tion to the nature of mind. What­ever each man does for him­self is done well; what­ever his neigh­bours or his country under­take to do for him is done ill. It is our wisdom to in­cite men to act for them­selves, not to retain them in a state of per­petual pupil­lage. He that learns because he desires to learn will listen to the in­struc­tions he re­ceives and ap­pre­hend their mean­ing. He that teaches because he desires to teach will dis­charge his oc­cupa­tion with en­thusi­asm and energy. But the moment polit­ical in­sti­tu­tion under­takes to as­sign to every man his place, the func­tions of all will be dis­charged with supine­ness and in­dif­fer­ence . . .

  Thirdly, the pro­ject of a na­tional edu­ca­tion ought uni­formly to be dis­cour­aged on ac­count of its ob­vious al­li­ance with na­tional govern­ment. This is an al­li­ance of a more for­mid­able nature than the old and much con­tested al­li­ance of church and state. Before we put so power­ful a ma­chine under the direc­tion of so ambi­tious an agent, it be­hoves us to con­sider well what we do. Govern­ment will not fail to em­ploy it to strengthen its hands and per­pet­u­ate its in­sti­tu­tions . . . Their view as in­sti­gator of a system of edu­ca­tion will not fail to be ana­log­ous to their views in their polit­ical cap­acity: the data upon which their con­duct as states­men is vin­dic­ated will be the data upon which their in­sti­tu­tions are foun­ded. It is not true that our youth ought to be in­struc­ted to vener­ate the con­sti­tu­tion, however ex­cel­lent; they should be in­struc­ted to vener­ate truth . . . (Even) in the coun­tries where liberty chiefly pre­vails, it is reason­ably to be as­sumed that there are im­port­ant errors, and a na­tional edu­ca­tion has the most direct tend­ency to per­pet­u­ate those errors and to form all minds upon one model.

  Godwin’s argu­ments are worth quoting at this length, not only as the classic state­ment of an anarch­ist posi­tion on this issue, but because they have had such ample sub­se­quent just­ifi­ca­tion. On the other hand he does not really answer the ques­tion of how we can en­sure that every child can have free ac­cess to what­ever edu­ca­tional facil­it­ies will suit its in­di­vidual needs.

  In practice, in this country today people who want to try an anarch­ist ap­proach to edu­ca­tion have two pos­sible courses of action: to work in the private sector—in­de­pend­ent schools of one kind or an­other, a minor­ity of which are pro­gres­sive, or to work in the normal school system and try to in­flu­ence it in a “pro­gres­sive” direc­tion. These two courses are by no means mu­tu­ally ex­clus­ive, and there is plenty of evid­ence of the in­flu­ence of the former on the latter.

  It is sur­pris­ing, and cer­tainly sad­den­ing, con­sider­ing the number of people in­ter­ested in “pro­gres­sive” schools, how few of them there are and how they seldom in­spire other people to start them. For ex­ample, the pub­lica­tion of Summer­hill a com­pil­a­tion of the writ­ings of A. S. Neill brought about a great deal of in­ter­est in his school and his ideas in America; there was an embar­ras­sing pro­ces­sion of over­seas vis­it­ors to Neill’s little school in Suffolk, but how few of the ad­mirers and vis­it­ors set about start­ing more schools on similar lines. A few did: one of the con­trib­u­tions in this issue of anarchy comes from people who are trying to.

  Why shouldn’t the parents of a group of babies in the same age-group get together and plan a school for them well in ad­vance, so as to ac­cum­ul­ate the funds re­quired before they are needed? They could as several groups of parents do, run their own nurs­ery school when their chil­dren reach the ap­pro­pri­ate age and then de­velop from the primary stage onward. The wealthy who are also in­tent on edu­ca­ting their chil­dren in in­de­pend­ent schools, have found a vari­ety of ways for fin­ancing them by way of Deeds and Coven­ant, en­dow­ment pol­icies and so on. (John Vaizey es­tim­ates that at present some­thing like £60 mil­lion a year is spent on school fees and £15-£20 mil­lion of this is found by tax-avoid­ance).

  Many of us on the other hand, are more con­cerned with changing the ordin­ary primary and second­ary schools which the vast ma­jor­ity of chil­dren at­tend, changing the teach­ing methods and changing parental and so­cial at­ti­tudes. Some will simply say that this can­not be done—this would be the view of the second­ary modern school-teacher who con­trib­utes an honest ac­count of his prob­lems else­where in this issue. But others will say that it would be fool­ish not to try to take ad­vant­age of the present wave of in­ter­est in edu­ca­tion and in the state of the schools.

  The anarch­ist, seek­ing func­tional, as op­posed to polit­ical, answers to so­cial needs, and con­trast­ing the so­cial prin­ciple with the polit­ical prin­ciple, sees in the state’s con­trol of edu­ca­tion a usurp­a­tion of a so­cial func­tion. (His­tor­ic­ally of course, the Edu­ca­tion Act of 1870 didn’t “usurp” any­body’s func­tion, but if you ac­cept the con­cep­tion of an in­verse rela­tion­ship between the state and so­ciety—the strength of one re­sult­ing from the weak­ness of the other—you can see how the so­cial organ­isa­tion of popular edu­ca­tion was, so to speak, at­rophied in ad­vance, by its polit­ical organ­isa­tion. That this has not been the dis­aster—though some would say it has—that anarch­ist think­ers like
Godwin pre­dic­ted, has been due to the local dif­fu­sion of con­trol, the di­ver­gent aims of teach­ers and the re­sili­ence of chil­dren).

  Func­tion­ally, the ad­min­istra­tion of the school is the con­cern of parents and teach­ers, and if we really seek a so­ciety of auto­nom­ous free as­so­ci­a­tions we must see such bodies as parent-teacher as­so­ci­a­tions as the kind of organ­isa­tion whose even­tual and “natural” func­tion is to take over the schools from the Ministry, the County Coun­cils, the Dir­ect­ors, In­spect­ors, Managers and Gov­ern­ors who, in a so­ciety domi­nated by the polit­ical prin­ciple are in­evit­ably their con­trol­lers. I don’t know whether schools so ad­min­istered would be any better or any wrose than they are at present, but I do believe that a “self-regula­ting” so­ciety would run its schools that way. Among in­de­pend­ent schools in this country which ex­em­plify this kind of organ­isa­tion, there used to be Burgess Hill School (de­scribed by one of the parents in this issue of anarchy) which was owned by a Friendly So­ciety of parents and teach­ers and there still is King Alfred School, governed by a so­ciety of people in­ter­ested in modern edu­ca­tional methods and “ad­min­istered by an ad­vis­ory coun­cil of pupils and staff”. I have not heard of any parent-teacher as­so­ci­a­tions in the ordin­ary school system which aspire to such func­tions, though with the de­velop­ment of a vari­ety of organ­isa­tions in the last few years con­cerned with in­ter­est­ing parents in edu­ca­tion, one can imagine the mem­bers re­flect­ing after a time on whether their own in­tense “par­ti­cip­a­tion” had not rendered the usual com­plic­ated and ex­pens­ive bureau­cracy of school ad­min­istra­tion super­flu­ous.

  The men­tion of parent-teacher as­so­ci­a­tions—in theory an epitome of the kind of so­cial organ­isa­tion which anarch­ists en­vis­age—re­minds us of their greater de­velop­ment in America, and the fact that this has not had ex­actly the re­sults that we as anarch­ists would find de­sir­able. In his book On Being Human, writing about the school as “a most im­port­ant agency in the teach­ing of the art and sci­ence of human rela­tions”, the an­thro­po­lo­gist and bio­lo­gist Ashley Montagu de­clares:

  We must shift the em­phasis from the three Rs to the fourth R, human rela­tions, and place it first, fore­most, and always in that order of im­port­ance as the prin­cipal reason for the ex­ist­ence of the school. It must be clearly under­stood, once and for all time, that human rela­tions are the most im­port­ant of all rela­tions. Upon this under­stand­ing must be based all our edu­ca­tional poli­cies . . . Our teach­ers must, there­fore, be spe­cially quali­fied to teach human rela­tions . . .

  But the kind of thing that hap­pens when this point of view filters into the school system is dis­cussed by David Riesman in his “Thoughts on Teach­ers and Schools”. The teach­ing func­tion, he ob­serves, “has been ex­tended to in­clude train­ing in group co-opera­tion, manners, the arts, and self-under­stand­ing, as well as large residues of the tradi­tional cur­ricu­lum”. For Human Rela­tions has in fact already become a class­room sub­ject, but some­how not in Montagu’s sense. “The school is im­plica­ted and em­broiled”, says Riesman, “in the changing forms
of America’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with suc­cess—the patina of suc­cess now being de­fined by such terms as ‘group co-opera­tion’, ‘self-under­stand­ing’, ‘per­sonal ad­just­ment’ and ‘get­ting along with people’.” The pro­gres­sive edu­ca­tion move­ment, spread­ing in a dis­torted fashion through the state school systems, has, he feels, dove­tailed with the “mind­less prag­mat­ism and voca­tion­al­ism” which the schools ab­sorb from their so­cial sur­round­ings, from parents, super­vis­ors, tax­payers and the vari­ety of pres­sure groups, great and small which sur­round the American school boards. Mean­while the teach­ers lead lives of harried des­per­a­tion fight­ing a “losing battle in de­fence of the tradi­tional intel­lec­tual values”. And he evolves, on the ana­logy of Keynes­ian eco­nomics a counter-cyc­lical theory of edu­ca­tion. Just as Keynes re­com­mended spend­ing in times of de­pres­sion, so Riesman re­com­mends that “teach­ers, in se­lect­ing among the ex­pecta­tions held out to them, have some modest op­por­tun­ities to op­pose life in its moment­ary ex­cesses”. He wants “to en­courage some of them to give up trying to be psy­chi­at­rists, mothers and moral­ists, to give up making cit­izens, demo­crats, and toler­ant chil­dren. Could they not be per­suaded to con­cen­trate more than many now feel justi­fied in doing, on their roles as teach­ers of spe­cific sub­jects? This is, after all, a job no one else is as­signed or trained to do.”

  Montagu writes that “A so­ciety such as ours, in which human rela­tions are sub­merged in the eco­nomic system, can rescue itself only by sub­merging its eco­nomy in the matrix of human rela­tions . . . And this is the task that the schools must assist in under­taking, no less that the rescue of man from his de­basing en­slave­ment to the prin­ciples and prac­tices of an aquis­it­ive so­ciety”. But how does the at­tempt work out? We may gain a clue from the book Crestwood Heights: A North American Suburb by Seeley, Sim and Loosley. Crest­wood Heights is built around its modern, well-equipped and en­light­ened schools. It is par­ticu­larly “child-ori­ented” and the Crest­wood Heights parents “ap­pear to have ac­cepted nearly all the values which the human­ists, the liber­als, and the psy­chi­atric­ally ori­ented speak­ers and writers have ad­voc­ated over the last fifty years.” All the right ad­ject­ives are used. “In the city”, writes William J. Newman, “com­peti­tion is open, ac­know­ledged, and brutal; in the suburb toler­a­tion, per­mis­sive­ness, and in­di­vidual choice are the rule. The child is brought up as an auto­no­mous spon­tan­eous in­di­vidual: thus the open glass school. The suburb will pro­vide the arena in which the family and espe­cially the chil­dren can emerge as ‘free’ and ‘re­spons­ible’, ready to take their place in the world.” But the well-meaning parents of Crest­wood Heights are pur­su­ing for their chil­dren two contra­dict­ory goals, “suc­cess” and “psy­cho­logical matur­ity”. The authors ob­serve that:

  The child must be free in ac­cord­ance with demo­cratic ideo­logy; but he must, by no means, become free to the point of re­noun­cing either the ma­terial suc­cess goals or the en­gin­eered co-opera­tion in­tegral to the ad­equate func­tion­ing of an in­dus­trial civil­isa­tion.

And Newman com­ments:

  But it is not only the func­tion­ing of an in­dus­trial civil­isa­tion which pro­vides the drive behind the over­master­ing of in­di­vidual choice; it is the urge to go from status to status, for one gener­a­tion to achieve in the eyes of their peers what the other could not, which is the mot­ive force of Amer­ican life in the suburb. The child ‘is forced into the posi­tion of having to choose those means which will as­sure his ul­ti­mate en­trance into an ap­pro­pri­ate adult oc­cu­pa­tional status’. Since it is a choice made on the sly through an omni­present cul­ture, the child ‘sees no au­thor­ity figures against which to rebel, should he feel the desire to do so . . . The child has there­fore, only one re­course—to turn his at­tacks against himself.’ A pleas­ant so­ciety this, a new so­ciety, in which free­dom is in­sti­tu­tion­alised, where choice is dic­tated.

  So this “free and pro­gres­sive” edu­ca­tion becomes, with the best of in­ten­tions, no better than Rousseau’s system which Godwin de­scribed as “a puppet-show ex­hib­i­tion, of which the master holds the wires, and the scholar is never to suspect in what man­ner they are moved.”

  Ashley Montagu, in another book, The Direc­tion of Human De­velop­ment writes of the coming together of parents and teach­ers in the com­ple­ment­ary task of de­velop­ing the poten­tial­it­ies of the child:

  The parents would con­trib­ute what the teach­ers ought to know, and the teach­ers would con­trib­ute what the parents ought to know, for the be­ne­fit of the child as well as for the be­ne­fit of all con­cerned. The teach­ing the child re­ceives at home and the teach­ing it re­ceives at school must be joined and uni­fied. The teach­ing of the ele­ment­ary skills of read­ing, writing and arith­metic is im­port­ant, but not nearly as im­port­ant as the most im­port­ant of all skills—human rela­tions.

  But David Riesman again, in his book In­di­vidu­al­ism Re­con­sidered makes this ob­serva­tion on the chil­dren of Crest­wood Heights:

  Their parents want to know how they have fared at school: they are con­stantly com­par­ing them, judging them in school apti­tude, popu­lar­ity, what part they have in the school play; are the boys sissies? the girls too fat? All the school anxi­et­ies are trans­ferred to the home and vice versa, partly because the parents, col­lege gradu­ates mostly, are intel­ligent and con­cerned with edu­ca­tion. After school there are music les­sons, skating les­sons, riding les­sons, with mother as chauf­feur and sched­uler. In the evening, the chil­dren go to a dance at school for which the parents have groomed them, while the parents go to a Parent-Teacher As­so­ci­a­tion meet­ing for which the chil­dren, di­rectly or in­di­rectly, have groomed them, where they are ad­dressed by a psy­chi­atrist who ad­vises them to be warm and re­laxed in handling their chil­dren! They go home and eagerly and warmly ask their re­turn­ing chil­dren to tell them every­thing that hap­pened at the dance, making it clear by their manner that they are soph­ist­ic­ated and can­not be easily shocked. As Pro­fes­sor Seeley de­scribes matters, the school in this com­mun­ity oper­ates a “gigan­tic fac­tory for the pro­duc­tion of rela­tion­ships”.

  This really fright­en­ing de­scrip­tion pulls us up with a jerk. Ac­cus­tomed to think of parent-teacher co-opera­tion as a Good Thing, we seldom con­sider its pos­sibil­it­ies as a tender trap, a well-inten­tioned con­spir­acy against the child. For where home and school are two separ­ate worlds a child un­happy at home might find a means of escape in the dif­fer­ent life of a school, and a child who is miser­able at school might find con­sola­tion in the atmo­sphere of home. But if home and school are “joined and united”, all avenues of escape are closed. After
all, how many chil­dren of your ac­quaint­ance enjoy dis­cus­sing their school life with their parents or their home life with their teach­ers? Is not the plur­ality of en­viron­ment one of the child’s means of de­fend­ing itself against the paying omni­po­tence of the adult world?

*   *   *

  In this country the pioneer of parent-teacher co-opera­tion was the Home and School Com­mit­tee of the New Edu­ca­tion Fel­low­ship. An­other body, the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Parent-Teacher As­so­ci­a­tions was founded in 1956, link­ing together many exist­ing bodies. Some of these as­so­ci­a­tions have sprung up in a neg­at­ive way to resist, and in some cases suc­cess­fully avert “closing-down” orders for schools. In the case of one in­de­pend­ent school in London (St. Paul’s Junior School, Hammer­smith) due to be closed down because the exist­ing build­ing could not eco­nom­ically be kept in repair while the trust­ees could not find the money for a new build­ing, the parents suc­cess­fully raised loans for it, an­noun­cing that they “would ac­cept finan­cial and edu­ca­tional re­spons­ibil­ity for a new school”. Other as­so­ci­a­tions con­nected with both primary and second­ary schools have pro­vided their schools with swim­ming baths, or have seen their func­tion in im­prov­ing the school’s equip­ment—pro­viding such equip­ment as record-players, film-pro­jec­tors, stage-light­ing and so on. On the pit­falls and pos­sibil­ities of this kind of organ­isa­tion, the staff at one school re­ported that:

  . . . the pro­gress of several chil­dren in arith­metic was being im­peded by well-inten­tioned ef­forts to help them at home. At a series of even­ing meet­ings, the staff worked through spe­ci­men arith­metic papers with the fath­ers and moth­ers, ex­plain­ing the par­tic­u­lar methods in use at the school. Simil­arly, the head­mis­tress of a village school intro­duced italic hand­writ­ing, a move which ap­peared to per­turb some parents. As a result of dis­cus­sion several moth­ers became inter­ested and asked her to ar­range even­ing classes so that they might learn it for them­selves.

  Formal as­so­ci­a­tion between parents and teach­ers does face certain dif­fi­culties, on occa­sion it may pro­vide a hunting-ground for the com­mit­tee-minded man or woman, and a trap for the ex­cel­lent teacher who may be less adept at com­mit­tee work. Another cri­ti­cism is that it does not ne­ces­sarily bring in the type of parent with whom con­tact is most needed: for ex­ample those whose chil­dren pre­sent par­ticu­larly dif­ficult prob­lems, per­haps because of their home back­ground.

*   *   *

  Another of the dif­fi­culties fre­quently met in the rela­tions of parents and teach­ers is the narrow con­cern dis­played so fre­quently by the anxious middle-class parents in little Johnny’s 11-plus or GCE pro­spects, to the ex­clu­sion of an interest in the class or the school or the age-group as a whole. The at­ti­tude may be under­stand­able, but it is never­the­less prim­itive to those who see as one of the pleas­ures of parent­hood an en­large­ment of sym­pathy and con­cern from one’s own bio­lo­gical off­spring to chil­dren in general. Two other more recent de­velop­ments in edu­ca­tional organ­isa­tions may help to bring about this wider view which is cer­tainly a pre­requis­ite for the parent-teacher control of edu­ca­tion which we see as an eventual aim.

  The first of these is ACE, the Advis­ory Centre for Edu­ca­tion founded in 1960. This is an­other brain-child of Michael Young who started the Insti­tute of Commun­ity Studies and the Con­sum­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, and just as the latter organ­isa­tion and its journal Which seeks to im­prove the qual­ity of our con­sump­tion of goods and ser­vices, so ACE and its journal Where? (sub­scrip­tion £1 a year) seeks to give the same kind of in­depend­ent, un­biased as­sess­ment and ad­vice for the con­sum­ers of edu­ca­tion. The con­sumer ap­proach with its im­plied philo­sophy of “he who pays the piper calls the tune” could be the vehicle of a narrow phil­istin­ism, but in prac­tice it is sound and sens­ible. Michael Young returns to the theme in the annual report of the Con­sum­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, pub­lished last month. The at­ti­tude of re­gard­ing parents as intrud­ers in the schools is ruin­ous to good edu­ca­tion, he de­clares, “How can parents take an in­ter­est if they are barely al­lowed inside the schools? The sooner parents play a part in our schools, the sooner will the money be found for their im­prove­ment.” In fact, ACE, as readers of Where? will agree, is an in­valu­able medium for closing the gap between parents and teachers.

  The second of these new trends is the spring­ing-up of As­so­ci­a­tions for the Ad­vance­ment of State Edu­ca­tion. This move­ment again began in Cambridge in 1960, when a group of parents tried to hurry along im­prove­ments to a Newnham primary school. They found that the poor con­di­tions were more wide­spread than they had real­ised and that re­stric­tions in edu­ca­tional ex­pend­i­ture pre­vented any­thing from being done. From the ori­ginal pres­sure group, others sprang up in dif­fer­ent parts of the country and today there are bout 90 such as­so­ci­a­tions with a total of 10,000 members feder­ated in CASE, the Con­feder­a­tion of As­so­ci­a­tions for the Ad­vance­ment of State Edu­ca­tion, which has been con­duct­ing na­tional en­quiries on a vari­ety of edu­ca­tional topics. Un­doubt­edly this move­ment—co-exist­ing, not com­peting, with Parent-Teacher As­so­ci­a­tions—has helped to widen people’s field of con­cern from one child in one school, to the schools of the city or county and of the country.

  Before get­ting too ex­cited about this trend of course, we should at­tend an as­so­ci­a­tion meet­ing, to dis­cover, once again, the solidly middle-class at­tend­ance and the dis­con­cert­ingly vo­ca­tional at­ti­tudes to edu­ca­tion ex­pressed from the floor. However, what better forum could there be for the edu­ca­tion of parents? And is it in­con­ceiv­able that some, without adopt­ing an at­ti­tude of patron­age or su­peri­or­ity, could de­vote them­selves to bring­ing others in?

  Cer­tainly the phrase “Ad­vance­ment of State Edu­ca­tion” is un­for­tunate from our point of view (and is an in­dica­tion of the middle-class ori­gins of this move­ment since it is people who normally think in terms of private edu­ca­tion who most fre­quently refer to the “council” schools as “state” schools). Con­tinual use of the phrase in The Observer led to a pro­test recently from Mr. Terence Kelly who wrote:

  I am sorry to see refer­ences to State edu­ca­tion in your columns from time


to time. In less happy lands the Min­is­ter of Edu­ca­tion (or of Public In­struc­tions) de­term­ines what is taught in every school. In this country the State—thank God—does not own or run a single school. Those which are not in­de­pend­ent of direct grant are main­tained by local edu­ca­tion au­thor­ities, who, with their vari­ous sub-com­mit­tees and divi­sional ex­ec­ut­ives on which teach­ers are rep­res­ented, run an edu­ca­tion system which is the envy of the world.

  I under­stand that there are even so­ciet­ies for the ad­vance­ment of State edu­ca­tion. Do these good people know what they are asking for? Do they really want a State system on the Com­mun­ist or Fascist model?

  In case anyone should think this is an idle quibble on words, I ask you to con­sider, Sir, what the view of your readers would be if you began refer­ring to the State police.

  It is not an idle quibble from an­other point of view: because we tend to be hyp­not­ised by the idea of an edu­ca­tional mono­lith we take far too little ad­vant­age of the local auto­nomy that does exist, nor of that degree of auto­nomy (dif­fer­ing widely from place to place) which in­div­idual head teach­ers have, or could demand. In­formed local pres­sure from parents and teach­ers is a weapon which we have hardly learned to exer­cise.

*   *   *

  Are there ways in which parents can push further into the de­cision-making bodies on edu­ca­tion? The ori­ginal Cambridge As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of State Edu­ca­tion put up two members as in­depend­ent can­did­ates for the county council elec­tions. One was elected and is now on the edu­ca­tion com­mit­tee. This is hardly a pro­cedure which fits into an anarch­ist ap­proach to the prob­lem, although one of our fre­quent con­trib­ut­ors, Paul Goodman is proud to be a School Board member in New York. But what about parents as school gov­ernors or school man­agers? (Readers inter­ested will find an article on what their func­tions are and how they are ap­pointed in Where? No. 10). Dis­cus­sing parent-teacher rela­tions in a letter to the New States­man in March this year, Mr. John McCann made an inter­est­ing point which most of us never knew and which should pro­vide useful am­muni­tion in argu­ments with local au­thor­ities: that back in 1944 the gov­ern­ment gave a pledge that parents would be properly rep­res­ented on the man­aging bodies of the schools at­tended by their chil­dren. Mr. McCann says:

  At the Com­mit­tee stage of the 1944 Edu­ca­tion Act the gov­ern­ment gave an under­taking to see that parents would be pro­perly rep­res­ented on the man­aging bodies of primary schools. It was stated that they were not to be “drawn from a dif­fer­ent so­cial stratum from that in which the pupils of the schools are found, but that some, at least, of the Man­agers will be people who live the daily life of the village or town, who are in close as­so­ci­a­tion with the parents, and can make the wishes of the parents known to the Man­agers and to the teach­ers.” This ad­mir­able prin­ciple was laid down in the form of an under­taking which is binding—for it was on that as­sur­ance that a Member of Par­lia­ment with­drew an amend­ment he had pro­posed.

  This under­taking has not been im­ple­mented. Some au­thor­ities try to see that parents are genu­inely rep­res­ented, some pay lip service to the prin­ciple, some regard the prin­ciple with sus­pi­cion. The bodies which ap­point Founda­tion Man­agers of vol­un­tary schools often come into the last cat­egory. Hun­dreds of years of strife over elect­oral rep­res­ent­a­tion have shown that there is only one way to achieve ad­equate rep­res­ent­a­tion; that is for the people con­cerned to elect their own rep­res­ent­at­ive. No nom­in­a­tion from above is going


to work or to sat­isfy the people who want to be rep­res­ented.

  The gov­ern­ment under­taking could be honoured very simply, without any change in the law, if the Min­ister of Edu­ca­tion would ask local au­thor­ities to ap­point one Man­ager who had been elected at a meet­ing of parents con­vened by the head­master. The parents should have the right to elect one of them­selves or any other person (other than those already dis­qual­ified—teach­ers at the school, trades­men sup­ply­ing the school, etc.). Local edu­ca­tion au­thor­ities ap­point one, two or four Man­agers ac­cord­ing to whether it is an Aided, Con­trolled or County school. I am sug­gesting in all cases that this elec­tion pro­ced­ure be ap­plied to the ap­point­ment of one LEA Man­ager.

  It is some­times said that School Man­agers have no powers. At Aided schools they have very real powers, at all schools they have duties. Man­aging bodies vary greatly in the ex­tent to which they fulfil their duties, but in the most suc­cess­ful schools they per­form a valu­able service par­tic­u­larly in the field of parent-school rela­tion­ships.

*   *   *

  And how do teach­ers react to all this? Many of course are de­lighted to make con­tact with the parents of their pupils and to feel that they have a shared con­cern. Their only regret is that the parents whom they most need to meet are the very ones they never see at open-days, parent-teacher func­tions and so on. Rela­tions are closest in the in­fants’ school and seem to dwindle away later. “What hap­pens then” asks Jean Rintoul, “that this close parent-teacher rela­tion­ship should be broken as the child gets older until, in the later second­ary years, it is worse than non-exist­ent? Is the teacher to blame and, if the teacher is, will a brief talk with a parent at an ap­pro­pri­ately-spaced ‘surgery’ suf­fice? The answer to that is in the answer to an­other ques­tion: ‘Who are the parents who are going to at­tend the sur­gery?’ That’s an easy ques­tion and every teacher can answer it. They will be the same parents who at­tend the parent-teacher as­so­ci­a­tion meet­ings, the school prize-givings, the school con­cert or play; the same parents whose chil­dren are readily iden­ti­fi­able in every class because such chil­dren ex­hibit all the well-being and con­fid­ence that a priv­ileged home provides.” This is one of the prob­lems of parent-teacher relations for which a solu­tion has not been found.

  There are teach­ers too, who have a deep sus­pi­cion of par­ental en­croach­ment on their func­tions and their au­to­nomy. Their point of view was put with more-than-usual frank­ness by Mr. G. B. Corrin in a letter to the Times Edu­ca­tional Sup­ple­ment (10/4/64). Com­ment­ing on a pro­posal by an AASE sec­ret­ary that time for even­ing meet­ings with parents should be written into the teach­er’s con­di­tions of service, Mr. Corrin asked:

  When the child of one of these parents goes into hos­pital for an oper­a­tion, do they demand a meet­ing with the sur­geon at a time con­veni­ent to them­selves and then criti­cise his methods? I con­sider myself as highly trained and as ex­peri­enced in my work as any sur­geon, and I resent this in­tru­sion by the ignor­ant, who ap­par­ently have no faith in my abil­ity to do the job for which I am paid. Parent-teacher as­so­ci­a­tions and such-like may be useful for raising money which the gov­ern­ment is too parsi­mo­ni­ous to pro­vide and ar­ran­ging so­cial activ­ities for those who have nothing better to do, but, in my ex­peri­ence they in no way benefit the edu­ca­tion of the chil­dren and can become a posit­ive


nuis­ance because of their in­abil­ity to resist the temp­ta­tion to inter­fere. Cer­tainly, many parents are ignor­ant about edu­ca­tion, but is it the teach­ers’ busi­ness to in­struct them? If so, let classes be ar­ranged and the teach­ers re­muner­ated. But parents can­not plead ignor­ance and at the same time demand the right to inter­fere with those who have been pro­perly trained to carry out the edu­ca­tion of their chil­dren.

  Obvi­ously the writer of this letter would be not only hostile, but deris­ory about our view that the form of edu­ca­tional organ­isa­tion which we should see as our aim is one in which con­trol of the schools is in the hands of as­so­ci­a­tions of parents and teach­ers. For teach­ers, as Sir Ronald Gould once put it, “neither love nor trust the parish pump.” The vehe­mence with which London teach­ers op­posed the in­tended break-up of the LCC’s edu­ca­tion service shows how strongly they prefer the remote and im­per­sonal control of County Hall to the near-at-hand inter­fering bureau­cracy of “the office” which teach­ers in many other parts of the country suf­fer and resent. We can car­tainly under­stand, in view of the sheer number of bosses which the organ­isa­tion of edu­ca­tion has set over them, why they regard en­croach­ment by parents beyond a cer­tain point and beyond cer­tain topics, with sus­pi­cion. And when you see some of those self-con­fid­ent high-income con­sum­ers in some of the AASEs, who quite obvi­ously regard the teach­ers as their servants and not as their partners, you can see the point of this sus­pi­cion.

  Nor would it be wise to as­sume that it is a ques­tion of pro­gres­sive parents and re­ac­tion­ary or time-serving teach­ers. It is much more often the other way round, as every­one who has tried in humble ways to intro­duce pro­gres­sive methods into the schools has found. When Teddy O’Neill was head­master of Prestolee School in Lanca­shire and set about trans­form­ing it, it was with the sup­port of the local edu­ca­tion au­thor­ity and of the In­spect­orate, and against the hostil­ity and abuse of local parents—and it took him years to win them over.

*   *   *

  In look­ing for the roots in our ex­isting so­ciety for a dif­fer­ent kind of organ­isa­tion, we have found pit­falls and dangers every­where—for chil­dren, for parents and for teach­ers. This is not sur­pris­ing, for our so­ciety is riddled with these prob­lems of status and hier­archy, and the con­cept of so­cial organ­isa­tion which most of our fellow-cit­izens under­stand, is one in which one lot of people order an­other lot of people around. But some­how, some­where we have to de­velop the germs of a non-au­thor­it­arian method of co-oper­ative so­cial organ­isa­tion. Where better to make the at­tempt than in the schools?