The Workers and Education

Many workers read with pleasure the announcement in the daily press of the proposal of the new Education Act to extend their children’s schooling to the age of 15 years, coupled with a vague promise of raising it when possible to the dizzy height of 16 years. Perhaps they took it as an earnest of the post-war reconstruction we hear so much of nowadays, an added inducement to have bigger and better families completely educated by the State.

If proof were needed to show that education is part of the State machinery used by the ruling class to make obedient wage slaves, it was given in the proceedings in the House of Lords on July 11th, 1944. The Daily Telegraph of the following day reports:—

“The Minister of Education is to discuss with his Advisory Council the best course to adopt to see that children are taught the duties of citizenship and to defend their native country.”

In the debate which followed between the noble Lords, the Church gave its blessing to jingoism when the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr. Temple, replied to Lord Mottistone, who stated that it was “the law of the land to defend one’s country,” by saying, “I was fully aware of it and rejoice in the fact.” (Daily Telegraph, July 12th).

Later on in the debate, the following curious statement was made by Viscount Maugham : —

“Historians of France had said that in recent years no body of people in that country were so responsible for the events of 1940 as were the teachers.” (Daily Telegraph, July 12th.)

Blame has been laid at many doors for the fall of France, but Viscount Maugham has at least been original in his particular scapegoat. It is, however, difficult to accept. If he would peruse a little work by Mark Starr, entitled “Lies and Hate in Education,” he might learn a little about history and geography as taught to elementary school children of capitalist countries. A whole chapter is devoted to the French text books. It opens on page 94: “In comparison with the British books, bias and nationalistic hatred are more easily to be seen in their French counterparts.” Many and extensive quotations are given from the French school which illustrate the design to awaken hatred of the Germans and to make children believe that they are their hereditary enemies and the sources of all their troubles. Thus does the ruling clique, as representatives of capital, endeavour to befog the workers, from a tender age onwards, into believing that their enemies are anyone but their masters, and also prepares their minds to accept the vituperative outpourings against a competitive nation, which always accompanies a military attack upon it.

One quotation by Mark Starr shows that the Treaty of Versailles was eulogised by the French history books, whilst the German counterparts gave a totally opposite view. Yet another reads : —

“You will happily put up with the strenuous and noble soldier life if you remember the past—our bombarded towns, our burnt-out villages—if you think of the provinces torn out of France, if you do not forget Alsace-Lorraine.” (Page 97).

From a “Reader for the Young,” the following is given : —

“The poor little boy has two cut hands. It is the Germans who have wounded him thus. They have killed his father, his sister, and his big brother as well. . . . Ah ! wicked Germans, the French children will curse you in their hearts for a long time.” (Page 100.)

A little history about the employment of young children in the French coal mines, such as is given in Zola’s “Germinal,” might have taught the French children to curse a little nearer home, where their own interests might have been affected.

Much, states the chapter on France, is said about German “ferocious beasts” and “brutes drunk with alcohol and blood” (pretty much the same as we read in our daily papers), whilst the Paris Commune of 1871 receives a boycott of silence, except that the Communards are dismissed as dangerous fanatics.

Many workers looking back on their own years at an elementary school will remember a similar attitude to history. Mainly an account of good, bad and indifferent kings, the unsurpassed greed of other nations, treachery among the blacks, yellows and browns, usually rounded off by a Kipling rhapsody on the white Britisher. The general ignorance of, say the Chartist movement is well illustrated by an extract from the chapter devoted to English education in Mark Starr’s book : —

“It is hardly surprising that when British soldiers in Murmansk were appealed to by aeroplane-scattered leaflets to “Remember your Chartist forefathers,” they only replied, “Who the hell are they?”… In treating the earlier Radical and Luddite agitations, the supporters are described as “rioters” and “foolish men.” This is the Fletcher Kipling account of Peterloo :
‘At one riot at Manchester in 1819 the soldiers had to be called in, and several people were shot. Very likely these were only innocent spectators; those who get up riots are usually careful to keep out of the way when their suppression begins. Stiff laws were passed in Parliament to prevent such riotous meetings for the future.’” (Pages 52 and 53.)

All civilised countries have their nationalistic teachings designed to warp the young mind. No wonder Socialist teaching is so often hard going; the workers have so many discoveries to make and so much to unlearn.

The Roman Catholic Church has always appreciated the need to get its adherents very young, and has protested strongly against the Education Act. The Act proposes to give them little financial assistance should they remain as they now are—that is, completely running their own schools and employing only teachers of the faith, and in many schools Monks and Nuns.

Commander Bower, in the House of Commons, among others, put the case for the Roman Catholics : —

“A Roman Catholic therefore must believe all the dogmas of his faith. His faith is a house supported by many pillars and if you knock one down, the whole collapses. . . . From this it follows that our view of education is fundamentally different. So religion must permeate the whole curriculum. All subjects must be taught from the Roman Catholic angle “(our italics). (Hansard, January 20th.)

So there it is, from the cradle to the grave never allow the individual to think for himself in case one pillar might be dislodged. Time, however, is not on their side. Not so very long ago the Roman Catholic Church held undisputed sway in this country. It became inconvenient, however, to the State, which endeavoured to institute a different kind of control on the worker. The manner in which it came about is beyond the scope of this article, but to anyone interested in real history it is most instructive.

It became necessary with the growth of capitalism that operatives of all descriptions must receive some education, but it was not of the variety designed to inculcate ideas of freedom in their minds. Education, nevertheless, is a two-edged sword, wield it never so carefully. Whilst making a useful worker, the development of his mind proceeds apace. Even the doctored history and geography cannot quite bemuse him, and his horizons widen ; often, however, he becomes disillusioned, but many turn this to good advantage, determined to resist and oust the master class. As the capitalist method of production advances, there is an increasing need for advanced education. The machines of the present war, for instance, require extensive knowledge of all branches of mathematics. The tremendous weaving and spinning plants of the cotton districts cannot be managed by a worker like those who ran the domestic industry in times gone by. Whilst many operations are performed by turning a lever, the actual working and construction of the machinery is a highly technical affair.

The longer period of education to be given by our masters, whilst appearing to be in the homes for heroes category, is merely a design for the better filling of our masters’ coffers. In veiled terms, the White Paper on Educational .Reconstruction stated this (page 19) : —

“From the point of view of the country’s manufacturing industry, agriculture and commerce, the training afforded by a system of part-time education in conjunction with employment is long overdue. The initial and natural advantages that gave this country, almost for the asking, its place of pre-eminence in world manufacture and world markets have long been fading. More and more in the future will it be necessary to rely on the capacity, adaptability and the quality of our industrial and commercial personnel. Had fuller attention been given earlier to the all-important question of training of young workers, some of the difficulties experienced by the Services and by industry during the present war would have been markedly less acute.”

Whilst an asset to the master class, therefore, we know the educated worker will be an asset to his own class in its task of educating for Socialism. The ability to propagate knowledge is badly needed. Many people are found to be receptive to our case, once presented, because of their own experience, but Socialist educationalists are needed to reach their brothers in all lands. The deplorable fact that most people believe what they read in their daily newspapers is somewhat mitigated by the fact that they can read; thus our hopes of teaching them with our literature.

To this end we welcome the Education Act, despite its capitalist purpose, for we remember that within the capitalist system are the seeds of its own destruction.

W. P.

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