Formal education


I once heard Douglas Murray talk about the wonderful intellectual atmosphere at the school he attended. He started off in some not very good school where most of the pupils had little interest in learning. Seeing this, his parents pulled him out and luckily, due to his musical ability, he received a scholarship to Eton. You can read about it all here. For him it was a revelation to move to a school where the pupils actually wanted to discuss high-brow stuff, even in their free time for God’s sake!

I sometimes wonder if I too would have done better academically if I’d gone to a school where most of the children were keen to learn. Perhaps I would, but then so would everyone. After all, most children just want to fit in with the prevailing atmosphere. If most of the other kids study, then they’ll study, and if the other kids don’t, then they won’t either.

Having a critical mass of interested and clever pupils, who are usually the offspring of interested and clever parents, is probably what makes a ‘good’ school. How many computers the school has or how modern it’s language lab probably makes no difference at all. Similarly, a critical mass of wasters will come to be labelled ‘a bad school’.

Yet being bathed in a good learning ethos is not everything. No amount of squeezing and pushing will fit a round peg into a square hole and pegs are partially shaped by genes. If you are thick then attending Eton won’t help.

Do I regret not going to a slightly better school? Not really, since some boys at my school did okay so the problem can’t just have been the general ethos. Formal education simply doesn’t suit some children, especially boys, and it didn’t suit me. I’m sure some pupils found the lessons interesting and lucid while for me they were all mud and murk.

Perhaps a better option for me would have been home schooling, which would have meant my mum staying at home with me. If she had just set me down on the carpet for an hour each day with a children’s encyclopaedia and told me to leaf through it while she got on with filling the toploader and polishing the linoleum I’m sure I would have learned more than I did in school. The problem with home schooling is that you don’t get to socialise with other children. So maybe we slow ones should all have been herded into a classroom and told we could socialise and draw as much as we liked.

I think children should leave school at 14. If they haven’t learnt the three Rs by then then they never will. 90% of children should do an apprenticeship in something useful. The top 10%, as measured by IQ tests to ascertain their g factor, should go to good universities (all others will have closed down since dim wannabe students will all be doing apprenticeships). It is this clever 10% of the population that drives society upwards and onwards through inventions and improvements in computers, energy-saving devices and such. The rest of us are no good at that stuff and should just admit that we are better off in a meritocracy where the cleverest are given free rein and public money to do what they do best. The fruits of their work will slowly filter down to me and my hoi poloi friends. That strikes me as preferable to having mediocrities like Dianne Abbott going to university and imagining that she is therefore fit to run a country.

Though I never liked formal education I do like knowing things. Take History, for example. I’m pleased that I know that World War One happened before World War Two and that the Battle of Hastings happened before both. For people who don’t even know this much the past must look like one big heap of events, all piled up on top of each other.

And it’s nice to know that Venezuela is in South America, which is hot because it’s near the equator and the equator is hot because the sun rarely strays far from directly overhead. Such knowledge allows you to join in conversations, orientate yourself and just generally feel less confused by it all.

Perhaps if I’d paid more attention at school I’d be more knowledgeable now but that’s okay. Since I can’t even choose whose life I would rather lead, Prince William’s or a 17th century Scottish crofter’s; Mark Zuckerberg’s or an Eskimo’s then it really doesn’t matter which English school I went to.


Here’s an article by Toby Young from the Spectator 31 March 2018 which suggests that IQ is the big determining factor in success education, not ethos.

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