1920s >> 1920 >> no-193-september-1920

An Examination of the Education Question

An M.A. Speaks his Mind.

Someone has just estimated that we are spending no less than £150,000,000 a year on education. . . Education tends to become more and more standardised. The same set of subjects is taught to each class of boys and girls, in town and in country, quite irrespective of what is to be their ultimate occupation. . . . The boy who is going to devote himself to the pursuit of agriculture, equally with one who is going to work at a skilled trade in a town, is crammed at school with a number of subjects which have no bearing whatever on his future career. . . . We simply cannot afford to increase our already crushing load of taxation by laying out money upon schemes that may be very interesting, unless we can feel that they are going to result in getting the world’s work done.

The above is from an article by D. Kennedy-Bell, M.A., B D., which appeared in the Sunday Pictorial” of July 11th. It is interesting because it openly avows the object of education to be to get “the world’s work done.” The writer strongly objects to expenditure on education that does not make for efficiency. The aim of education must be greater production, and the method advocated is to separate students according to their abilities and educate them for the occupations for which they are physically or mentally adapted.

His Logic Admitted,

No one can fall out with this reasoning. If the sole object of education is to fit the young for the business of wealth production, and that business calls for workers with different forms of skill, then, obviously, a specialised education for each calling will be both economical in itself and produce the most efficient and economical workers.

But is the “getting of work done” the sole object of education ? Viewed in this way, expenditure on education is like the Scriptural bread thrown on the waters to be returned a hundredfold. Returned to who? Most big capitalist concerns have well-equipped laboratories where research is carried on, and where young men are trained to carry on this work, because it results in discoveries that simplify processes and still further increase profits for the shareholders. In this narrow sphere it is not difficult to see that it is the shareholders who reap the full benefits, while the workers get nothing beyond wages based on the cost of living and a growing fear of unemployment as a result of their own increased powers of production.

The Question is Confused.

When it is a question of national expenditure on education, however, it is not so easy to see who are the actual gainers. The whole question is confused by the false, but prevailing, notion that all the members of society share in the State expenditure according to their means and reap the benefits according to their ability or perseverance.

To get behind this curtain of prejudice we must examine the educational system in conjunction with the industrial system, when we shall, perhaps, discover, not only that it is a prejudice, but also that Mr. Kennedy-Bell has failed to appreciate the cunning with which the modern system of education has been devised to satisfy the requirements of modern industrialism. For the bulk of the population education finishes with the board school at fourteen years of age—an age barely sufficient to appreciate its value. Mr. Kennedy-Bell complains that a number of subjects are taught, but he does not say how little is taught of each subject. The board school education is scrappy and disconnected ; its most advanced subjects are those of the counting house. Natural science|is barely touched upon, instead, the (robber) captains of industry are held up as examples of greatness, their success, it is aid, being due to perseverance, ability, and all the other qualities the factory worker must possess in order to get a living as a wage-slave.

What Capitalism Needs.

Poor as the board school education is, however, it is ample for the mass of the workers, whose tasks in the modern factory are, in the main, purely mechanical, and can be learned in a few days, or even hours.

Capitalist industry, however, requires a certain proportion of workers who must be equipped with a specialised knowledge in a number of different spheres. For this purpose there are in existence higher grade schools and technical institutes, some State-owned and others privately owned, that provide for capitalist requirements by the promise of better paid jobs; though in the long run the increasing numbers who struggle for these jobs defeat their object by overstepping the demand. This is by the way, however, and in any case the capitalists get a supply of all the different kinds of labour in excess of their requirements. This, of course, generally speaking, because there are times when, for short periods, and in particular occupations, the supply may be barely adequate.

“Our educational system” is peculiarly adapted to the requirements of the industrial system. It provides for the capitalists huge numbers of workers with just enough education to work intelligently at menial and degrading tasks, yet not so much as will enable them to see the degradation—part of their education being that they are under the stern necessity of working, and they can only escape hard work by working harder, like their masters,

The Capitalists Spoil It.

The system also provides in adequate numbers all the better-equipped workers necessary to them ; if it is not so perfect as it might be it is not because of lack of desire on the part of the capitalists, but is due to mismanagement, or to conflicting interests between capitalists themselves who use their political influence to establish education on a basis more in harmony with their sectional requirements.

Of course this hypothesis assumes that the capitalist class have complete control over the educational authorities, which is perfectly true. Society is saturated with capitalist ideas and opinions by means of the Press. Religion, art, and science are harnessed to the car of industry and serve the interests of the ruling class, either by cheapening the processes of production or assisting them to maintain their dominant position. Soaked with capitalist prejudices and fallacies, even labour leaders, professing, and sometimes believing in, their ability to do something for the workers, and striving to do their best for working-class education on local administrative bodies, are powerless to alter the general trend of the forces that make education for the working class an accessory to capitalist production and nothing more.

Thus the great mass of the workers are shut out from the vast realm of knowledge inherited from the past. Only the sons and daughters of the wealthy have the time and opportunity to acquire knowledge for the sole reason that it makes life richer. The sons and daughters of the miner and the factory hand are crammed for nine or ten years with a so called useful education, and flung on the labour market while still children, to ‘pile up wealth for the master class.

Who Foots the Bill.

To return to Mr. Kennedy-Bell, his complaint is that “we do not get value for the £150,000,000 we spend on education. The real significance of this complaint is at once seen now that we know where the money comes from. The wages received by the workers, based on the cost of living, and rising and falling as the cost of living rises and falls, cannot be tapped to pay the cost of education. The capitalist class must, therefore pay for education. They must pay for it out of profits. And as they control the political and administrative machinery of the State, they can adjust educational expenditure according to their industrial needs.

It is obvious to the capitalists, if it is not to the workers, that the State, which enables them to effect the robbery, must be maintained by them jointly, and a little thought will show that the capitalist class pays, not only for education, but for all the other institutions and forces that help to preserve society in its present form.

The industrial system gives the capitalist class all the wealth of society. Education gives them a working class saturated with their beliefs and ideas, and political propaganda gives them control of the political and administrative machinery of the State.

The Fly in the Ointment.

Thus they have the power, through the forces they control, to continue their robbery of the working class, to arrange education according to their industrial needs, and to falsely educate the workers in fallacies and superstitions that have long since been exploded by science. The secret of capitalist power is, therefore, control of the political machine, and the capitalist class spend vast sums on maintaining their control. The only fly in the ointment on their side is that they cannot keep it a secret, and when once it becomes generally realised by the workers, together with a knowledge of their slave position, the capitalist system will be nearing its abolition.

With the establishment of a sane system of society education will no longer be a mere adjunct of the industrial process, carried on for the benefit of a small class. Its character and scope will be determined by the people themselves. And whether it is chiefly concerned with the production of wealth, or not, it must always be of vital interest to everyone, because it will constitute the mental equipment of all the members of society, freely associating on terms of equality in the ownership and administration of the means of wealth production. Every new discovery, under such a system, will mean new enjoyments or more leisure, which can be used up in recreation or the pursuit of further knowledge.


(Socialist Standard, September 1920)