07 Jun

O brave new world that hath such people in it

There is nothing more heavenly than a summer day spent at a county cricket match. The only problem is that you may have to go through purgatory and halfway through hell to get there.

Yesterday I took the train from Eastbourne to Hove to watch the Sussex-Essex game. Opposite me sat three obese, shouty, fully tattooed and trashily bejewelled representatives of the underclass. I should say they sat only intermittently, for they kept getting out of their seats and running about in pursuit of their offspring, a lad aged six or seven.

To say that the boy was unruly would, I suppose, be an insult to what his minders would describe as his right do just as he bloody well liked. Or rather they would surely have said, what he f****** well liked, for the F-word was the predominant feature of their social intercourse: the carriage was, for instance, “…too f****** hot and too f****** crowded.”

The boy expressed his freewill and exercised his right to do as he f****** well pleased by running up and down and kicking passengers randomly. He had clearly been taught the merits of inclusivity and non-discrimination, for he was perfectly non-selective in those he chose to kick: old ladies, that posh-looking young woman trying to read The Guardian, other of his contemporary oiks – and me.

He even poked a nearby baby in the eye.

His minders were hugely entertained by his antics and cheered him on vigorously. The three of them and their kick-boxer offspring ate noisily, endlessly, crisps, chocolate bars other slimy, runny sweet stuff and some provender which I couldn’t identify but which smelled of sick.

Only their latitude concerning the boy’s foul conduct was not consistent. From time to time their approval would be withdrawn and, in their robust and stentorian vernacular, they would rise up – or rather waddle up sweatily – and assume the proper dignity of responsible parenthood, as in, “Cum ’ere you little f*****! Why woz you kicking that Mrs?”

Then one of the minders would smack him. The next minute another of them would say, “You’re your mam’s little prince, int yer!”

It was the boy himself I felt most sorry for. Alternately doted on and reprimanded, caught between cloying sentiment and sheer brutality, there was no possibility of his learning how to interpret human responses to his behaviour.

A little boy already facing a life totally demoralised.

Lurching from indulgence to terror and back again inside two minutes. And this pattern repeated, world without end.

What would he be like in fifteen years’ time? Like his parents, of course: his fat-legged dad, his savage, loud-mouthed mam and her chav of a sister – if it was her sister.

The whole carriage knew they weren’t underprivileged or socially-excluded or deprived – or, as we used to say, poor – for they announced several times to the whole carriage that they were going on a fortnight’s seaside holiday.

No, they weren’t poor. They were the products of our secularised educashun and welfare system.

19 Aug

Is the social engineer here?

When you notice two items side by side, do you get the urge to join them together?

A report on the BBC’s Today Programme this morning told us that Tony Blair’s 1999 ambition – “Educashun, Educashun, Educashun,” remember – to have 50% of all youngsters attend university has been achieved. But the reporter confessed that this is not quite the roaring success it appears to be. For many graduates are going into jobs which don’t require a university degree.

This item was followed immediately by the announcement that the number of houses being built in Britain is a lot lower than the country’s needs. The main reason given for this was that building companies can’t find the carpenters, electricians and other skilled tradesmen they require.

I’m not normally fond of Americanisms, but their pithy phrase, “Go figure” seems apt here.

For when we’ve gone and figured, we understand that youngsters who might, better advised, have been inclined to learn a trade, instead found themselves saddled with a government loan in order to waste three years “reading” Golf Studies with Tourism or, as it might be Applied Social Policy and Hairdressing.

Quite apart from the important point that our higher education system is not producing the numbers of people to do the work that the country requires, Blair’s impudent piece of social engineering guarantees that many young people are not fulfilling their vocations, exercising their aptitudes and settling into suitable and rewarding work.

Square pegs and round holes. Lives are being spoilt – and all for Blair’s arrogant obsession.

We are now told, of course, that universities shouldn’t be elitist. What should they be, then mediocritist?

For centuries the university was a place where that minority of people interested in such things – and who perhaps experienced a calling to study them – devoted themselves to philosophy, theology, literature and the theoretical sciences. Most people were neither interested in these subjects nor called to study them. Fine – there are many other noble and respectable ways of spending one’s life. You could be an electrical engineer, a plumber, a joiner or any one of a hundred different trades.

Proficiency in a trade such as engineering or carpentry is not inferior to theoretical activity; only it is different. Wittgenstein was an engineer. Jesus was a carpenter.

Now we are living in the mess caused by Blair’s perverse desire to send half our youngsters to waste their time in universities

And what, pray, is Tony Blair? Is he an intellectual? Is he a practical man? No, he is that most arrogant and destructive of creatures: a social engineer.  

31 Jul

Rite me a poim, Megan

“Now then Megan, I want you to write a poem. And when you’ve finished, please compose a forty-part motet, cook me a cordon bleu supper and show me your designs for a new cathedral.”

If it weren’t so depressing, it would be risible to note that anyone – borderline illiterates included – are expected to be able to write poetry. What is a poem? I recall C.H. Sisson’s definition of its meaning today in the schools: “A composition in which the words do not quite extend to the margins.”

But never mind the dumb schools, this is what The Spectator offers us as an example of a poem:

“None of the teachers who taught us

Were around that final afternoon at

Grammar school – probably frightened

Of being assaulted after giving us so

Much grief for five years, no more of

That though. We sat around unsupervised

Playing cards and smoking a bit and then

It seemed so simple, so absurdly easy to

Just walk down the drive and out of the front

Gate for the last time.”

I thought it must be by poor Megan who is troubled by learning difficulties and dyslexia issues, but it turns out to be by Paul Birtill, a contributor to The Morning Star. Before we get started on thinking about your “poem”, Paul, do you mind if we just deal with something pretty basic? I mean it’s not frightened of but frightened by. It’s afraid of, as any poet no. They don’t teach you that at grammar school – ‘cos it’s grammar, innit? And, while I’m at it, none takes was not were. 

There’s no call for dogmatism when it comes to saying what counts as poetry. There is room for all sorts: for Homer, for Alexandrian metre, Augustan austerity, lyrical ballads and Uncle Tom Eliot’s inability to make connections on Margate Sands. And the sentiment doesn’t have to be hifalutin or sham antique, as in gay Hesperion’s golden whatsit. It can be slight, light-hearted, whimsical. Let me cast the net as as widely as possible and say that a poem is just a few words in a particular rhythm.

Birtill’s poem has no discernible rhythm. Dare I suggest that a poem should also be about something? It doesn’t have to be the Trojan wars or the salon of Madame Sosostris but, for crying out loud, it shouldn’t be utterly banal. Birtill’s poem doesn’t say anything except the blindingly obvious. It’s a ten-lines cliche.You go to school for a few years and then you leave.. There is no insight, nothing produced by an actual imagination, no verbal facility. In fact, it isn’t a poem. It’s prose pretending to be verse – and lousy prose at that.

Poetry is not, as the modern educashernists vainly believe, about expressing yourself. You have no self to express until you have ingested something, until you have been taught something. The true poet is usually to be noticed with the works of the great  poets of the past in his hands, not filling notebooks with verbal trash. The composition of poetry requires also concentration and, above all, practice.

You can no more write a poem without at least some understanding of what will go into ordinary English than go out and score a century against the Aussie pace bowlers when you’ve never wielded a cricket bat in your life before.

19 Jun


In a speech at the annual Festival of Education, Mr John Cridland, head of the Confederation of British Industries – “the bosses’ union” – said that for too long “We’ve just pretended to have an exam system that values vocational education, when in practice, exams have operated as stepping stones towards a university degree.”

Well said, Sir. But the matter is much larger than that. I should like to know why, after eleven years of full time, free, compulsory and hugely expensive schooling, supposedly at the hands of “professionally trained” teachers monitored, spied-upon and graded by  an even more expensive, self-promoting bureaucracy, 43% of pupils still leave school unable to read, write and count efficiently? (By the way, that figure of 43% is not one plucked out of the ether by me, but the Department of Education’s own statistic).

Even to ask this straightforward question is to be denounced as an elitist and an educational snob. I know, for those words have been applied to me time and again – as if I’d been born with the silver spoon in my mouth and attended some posh, fee-paying private school. Actually, I went to Castleton County Primary in a Leeds industrial slum. There were never fewer than forty in our classes and we were very poorly equipped. And never mind elitism. I’m not talking about the binomial theorem or noun clauses but about being able to reckon up money in your head, do simple calculations using the tables up to twelve times and to be able to read a newspaper and a novel such as David Copperfield.

There is nothing abstract or theoretical about the examples I have chosen. All of us at Castleton school could do those things – not just before we left secondary school at sixteen, but before we left primary school aged eleven.

Why, half a century later and the country so much richer, the teaching profession never so well-paid and the educational budget astronomical – and rising – do nearly half our children leave school ill-equipped for daily life?

Standards of basic literacy and numeracy were higher in the late-Victorian age than they are today.

Not least of the reasons for the shambles of our schools is that they are the playthings of a privileged and paranoid state bureaucracy – a nomenclatura – which has come to exist not for those it was designed to serve – the children – but for the benefit of the highly-unionised professionals who operate it.

As Ronald Reagan said, “The most chilling words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you’.”

25 Nov

Bad karma

We can always rely on the Labour party to come up with plenty of creative thinking. Here’s today’s dollop…

Britain’s private schools will lose £700m in tax breaks unless they agree to break down the “corrosive divide of privilege” and do more to help children from state schools, according to Tristram Hunt, shadow education secretary.

His logic is impeccable. It is as if I should argue that the local first class butcher should be fined unless he agrees to assist the filthy tripe shop on the next street.

On the department of education’s own admission, 43% of children leave state education, after eleven years of compulsory and expensive schooling, unable to read, write and count efficiently.

I taught for years in a bog standard comprehensive as a head of department and I know that state schooling resembles that filthy tripe shop. Half the teachers were themselves in need of remedial education. One maths master required every Monday morning the assistance of the PE man to add up his pupils’ dinner money. An RE teacher in my department thought that one of the gospels was written in the Middle Ages – by St Paul. An English teacher spoke of something as “mitigating against.”

Parents send their children to fee paying schools in order to escape a state system, so awful it amounts to child abuse. Moreover, most of these parents are not Russian oligarchs or wealthy coves such as Dave Cameron, and they scrimp and save, denying themselves and their families many of the good things in life, so desperate are they to avoid having to send their children to the state school dumps. And this payment off fees is over and above the extortionate amount they have already paid in taxes to support the useless comprehensives.

There be two sacred cows: the NHS and state education. Both receive more and more of taxpayers’ money as the years go by. And the result is that they relentlessly get worse. This is because state education and socialised medicine have grown so monstrously large and so overwhelming bureaucratised that they no longer exists for those they were set up to serve but for the hordes of highly unionised and politicised “professionals” who manage them.

I mentioned sacred cows and the phrase makes me think of bad karma. And that’s what state education is: “on a board untrue with a twisted cue and elliptical billiard balls.” 

17 Nov

Making it worse

Appalling car crash in Yorkshire. Five killed, including four sixth formers from the same school.

Then the head teacher comes on The Today Programme to be interviews by John Humphrys and all the now obligatory rigmarole starts: “Counselling…support…flowers…candles lit…books of condolence…no words to express our feelings etc”

Yes, there are words and I’ll come to what they are in a minute.

Post-Christian society cannot cope with the fact of death and so its only recourse is to sentimentalise it. And that does no one any good, because it is really an avoiding of the issue.

I have some experience in the deaths of schoolchildren. When I was eight, I walked into the school yard one morning and there was the dead body of one of my mates who had been climbing on the back of the milk lorry for the fun of the ride. He’d fallen under the wheels and was crushed. A teacher stood by the body over which he had thrown a blanket. He ushered us all through briskly. We were all disturbed and scared. In a very silent assembly the headmaster told us what had happened, said some prayers and cautioned us all not to climb on to the back of the milk lorry in future. The death of our friend had been a shocking lesson and none of us went near the milk lorry again.

Thirty years on from that event, I was myself a teacher, head of RE and chaplain in a downtown state secondary school in Bolton, Lancashire. There were two incidents of untimely deaths in the four years I was there. A brother and sister killed crossing the road on their way home from school. Then two boys drowned in a mill pond.

Naturally, on both occasions the whole school was upset. But no words? Yes there are:

“There has been a terrible accident. Two pupils have been killed. They were our friends and we shall miss them. We send our sympathy to their parents and brothers and sisters. And we pray for the repose of their souls, these our friends who are now in the nearer presence of God. Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them.”

The headmaster followed me on to the rostrum and repeated his warning about the dangers of running into the road without looking and of playing in the mill ponds.

The whole school walked out in silence and we got on with our lessons.

06 Nov

Atheism by stealth

I get to read some very perverted literature these days. For example, I’ve been looking at the purpose and content of RE teaching in state schools as outlined by the Department of Education. As you would expect of all such documents devised by a bureaucracy, it is voluminous, so here’s an extract to give you the flavour: 

Aims of GCSE Religious Studies Specifications

This unit will provide students with the opportunity to:

  • develop their knowledge, skills and understanding of religion by exploring the significance and impact of beliefs, teachings, sources, practices, ways of life and forms of expressing meaning;
  • express their personal responses and informed insights on fundamental questions and issues about identity, belonging, meaning, purpose, truth, values and commitments.

Questions will be focussed on concepts and framed in an open-ended way that will allow candidates to answer with reference to the religion(s) they have studied. The Specification allows for the study solely of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism or Sikhism, or for a combination of any of these specified religions. This unit may be studied as a Short Course GCSE or may form part of a Full Course GCSE in Religious Studies when taken with another unit from this Specification.

Pic ‘n’ mix, in other words.

The guidelines for the teaching of RE, and indeed the whole syllabus, make it clear that the perspective entirely ignores the question of truth. So, for instance, to take one of the options generously allowed by the prescribing bureaucracy, the pupils are not taught how to be a Christian – or how to be a Buddhist if that’s your consumer-led choice in the supermarket of “faiths,” so admired by Prince Charles that he wants to defend them all. There is to be no attempt at inculcation or, to use that formerly benign word which is now only ever used pejoratively, indoctrination. Inevitably, this descriptive perspective must be secular. Pupils are not taught religion, but they are taught about religion. This approach is, of course, inimical to the character of religion itself.

As if we should teach maths without believing in numbers.

It was always bound to be like this since our lapse into relativism. Everybody has a right to their (sic) own opinion, however uninformed or plain stupid. And everybody’s opinion is declared to be as valid as everybody else’s. I repeat, this can only be done from the secular perspective which sets itself above all the various religions and presumes to evaluate them objectively.

So we see what follows from this: the contradictory ideology which declares that everything is relative, except the secular perspective which is held absolutely. If I may put this epigrammatically as a slogan: ABSOLUTE RELATIVISM RULES OK.

Thus there is dogma and there is indoctrination after all. The dogma is secularism and this dogma, by implication and method, is indoctrinated into the pupils. The secularists who devised this programme are convinced that only their perspective – the secular perspective – possesses objectivity.

But why believe that? I should like to see the same astringent scepticism directed towards the secular perspective as that which the secularists direct towards the claims of faith.

Only of course in a state where secularism is the religion, such scepticism is not permitted. The word for this is totalitarianism.

The proponents of this secular fundamentalism are not convincing. J.H. Newman in his The Idea of a University explains why this supposed objectivity is a sham. And what Newman says of the university applies to the school curriculum as well:

“A university is a place of teaching universal knowledge. It cannot fulfil its object duly without the church’s assistance; or, to use the theological term, the church is necessary for its integrity. A university by its name professes to teach universal knowledge: theology is surely a branch of knowledge: how then is it possible to profess all branches of knowledge, and yet to exclude not the meanest or the narrowest of the number?”

Of course, some argued in Newman’s time, as many more argue today, that theology is not a form of knowledge but only a matter of opinion. As we learnt from Newman, it is liberalism itself which has created this view. But Newman stoutly defends university theology:

“Are we to limit our idea of university knowledge by the evidence of our senses? Then we exclude history. By testimony? Then we exclude metaphysics. By abstract reasoning? Then we exclude physics. Is not the being of a God reported to us by testimony, handed down by history, inferred by an inductive process, brought home to us by metaphysical necessity, urged on us by the suggestions of our conscience?”


“In a state of society such as ours in which authority, prescription, tradition, habit, moral instinct and the divine influence go for nothing, in which patience of thought and depth and consistency of view are scorned as subtle and scholastic, in which free discussion and fallible judgement are prized as the birthright of each individual…all this I own it gentlemen frightens me.”

He was right to be frightened – as we are who inhabit the age in which this nightmare vision has come to be our daily reality.

But it is sometimes argued that pluralism and diversity of views are signs of a society’s health. This point was asked of Newman himself:

“A question was put to me by a philosopher of the day: Why cannot you go your way and let us go ours? I answer in the name of theology, When Newton can dispense with the metaphysician, then you may dispense with us.”

30 Oct

Shocking inequality

I have just discovered further shocking news about disgraceful inequalities in British society.

Private schooling was found to be an advantage in the graduate labour market UK graduates who went to private schools earn thousands of pounds more, on average, than their state-educated peers, research finds. The study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies says the pay gap is more than £4,500 a year, raising questions over education’s impact on social mobility. It says the privately educated are more likely to attend elite universities and study subjects that lead to higher pay. Ministers say reforms are closing the gap between rich and poor.The researchers gathered data from a cohort of more than 200,000 graduates who completed their undergraduate degree at a UK university in 2007.They compared the wages – six months and three-and-a-half years after graduation – of those who sat their A-levels at a state school with those who went to a fee-paying school.

Clearly to the crimes of racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia and Islamophobia, we must add thickism. It is shameful to note that few school-leavers with three GCSEs at grade two or lower become high court judges, while hardly any with “learning difficulties” find successful careers as brain surgeons. Why should only those who have received an education get these sorts of jobs? The excuse that such jobs demand intelligence and knowledge is yet another example of the scandalous elitism which is too prevalent throughout society, the main cause of discrimination and social exclusion.

There’s nothing wrong with dumbing down: the state schools have made an art form of it for the last forty years. 

There is discrimination on an epic scale in the world of sport too. Less than 1% of self-declared “non-runners” were entered in the 100metres in the 2012 Olympic Games.

And how many of you have noticed that it’s women who are having all the babies?

29 Jun

Mind yer grammer

A BBC documentary informs us that Prince Charles has often tried to influence government policy. He was even courageous enough to talk sense to David Blunkett, telling him he should bring back grammar schools – those institutions sometimes referred to by The Times Educational Supplement as “grammer schools.” Blunkett comments:

“I would explain that our policy was not to expand grammar schools, and he didn’t like that. He was very keen that we should go back to a different era where youngsters had what he would have seen as the opportunity to escape from their background, whereas I wanted to change their background.”

Just the sort of remark you would expect from an old class warrior. Actually, it is indisputable that grammar schools did enable youngsters to rise above their origins. The opportunities provided by grammar schools were real and not fictitious, whereas Blunkett’s airy talk about “changing their background” is so nebulous as to be void of all meaning. What we have to understand is that socialists favour equality. They want to assign everyone to the same level. Unfortunately this always means levelling down: the perfect example of socialist levelling is the prison uniform. It is also indisputable that not everyone is suited to an academic education.  There is nothing “elitist” about this. It’s horses for courses. Some people are not suited to a practical education. I wasn’t. The woodwork master slung me out of his class for creating a three-legged stool so palpably atrocious that I was not allowed (as the other lads were allowed) to stain and varnish it, but was ordered to paint it red as an awful warning. And I was held up to mockery and scorn for making a Horlicks of the paint job.  Once, before one of my regular canings for truancy, the headmaster said, “You know, Mullen, I sometimes think you come to school only to play cricket and enter the poetry competition.” He wasn’t far wrong. Though I did like the girls in their candy stripes who used to sit around the field and watch us play cricket.

What a pity that Blunkett and all the other socialist ideologues were not permitted by their class prejudice to notice that grammar schools were a way – perhaps the only way – of improving the prospects of the poor. What is beyond doubt is that the system of universal comprehensive schooling has massively failed the poor. The department of Education’s own figures admit that, after eleven years of full time, compulsory education, 43% of our children leave school unable to read, write and count efficiently.

That is the consequence of the politics of envy.

07 Jun

Ill Literacy

The Secretary of State for Educashun, Michael Gove, aims to “end illiteracy within a generation.” And when he’s finished doing that, he will abolish hatred and prejudice, present a cure for the common cold and make all people live in love and charity together. Then we shall all celebrate The Great and Notable Day of the Gove. I must say, I scratched my head when I heard Gove make that promise about ending illiteracy. He’s normally so intelligent and to the point and he has done more for schoolchildren than anyone since Robert Raikes (1736-1811). Gove is not given to making damn fool remarks, so why is he promising something which he can’t possibly provide? (You didn’t think I was going to say “deliver,” did you?)

And where will he choose to begin this soroptimistic project? He had better start with the teachers – and, while he’s at it, a great number of our “leading” commentators who write in the papers and talk on radio and TV. You know, people who say “begs the question” when they don’t mean ignoratio elenchi or petitio principii but only “asking the question.” They say “deteriate” and “mitigate against.” “Refute” when all they mean is “repudiate.” medical reports announce that the patient is “critical but stable” – when the meaning of “critical” is precisely that a thing is unstable. Then there are the worshippers of the spurious adverb, as in “actively seeking,” “communicate effectively” and sheer slang such as “going forward” for “in future.” The word “iconic” is used to describe a punk rocker or a television cook. “Crescendo” to mean “pinnacle of sound” when that word means a gradual increase in volume. They can’t pronounce “drawing” but have to put in an extra “r” – “drawring.” They start all their sentences with “So…” – so forgetting that nihil ex nihilo fit also has its grammatical context. And “centred around.” “pressurised” for “pressured.” “I was stood.” “I was sat.” “Disinterested” when they mean “uninterested.” “Run down council estate” for “council estate.” “Miniscule” for “minuscule.” “Burgalry.” “Decision-making process” for “deciding.” “Impact on” for “affect.” “Infamous” means that a thing is notoriously vile, abominable etc. Now it’s used in such as “the Liverpool striker’s infamous penalty miss.” “Trained marksman” – as if there were untrained ones! “Damage” becomes “negatively impact upon.” “Is comprised of” for “comprises.” “Murals on walls…”

Gove might like to start with the in-house journal of his profession, The Times Educational Supplement in which I saw an advertisement for someone to teach English in a “grammer school.”