The following has been received from a correspondent who is a teacher, and is published without comment by us since it largely speaks for itself.
If the schools I have taught in are fairly typical of English schools (and I have no reason to think that they are not) then they certainly operate under the same social stratification as capitalism itself whose essence is that of privileged and subject orders.
“Keep them (i.e. the students) properly in their stations” (the words of one learned headmaster). “Don’t reason with ’um just thump urn.” (A teacher’s approach in the event of any difficulty). Recently one child complained to the head of a department about one of the teachers. The result was not any questioning by the teacher about himself or the head of the department about the teacher, but rather a disgust and indignation on the part of these two and other members of the ruling élite about the fact that this child should have dared to complain (where is his respect? etc.) and a caning for the child. These actual examples, by no means unusual as far as I can see, seem to sum up the approach of most of the hierarchy (i.e. staff) of today’s schools. Now by no means all teachers would follow these principles if confronted with them directly by some questioning person, but when it comes to practice, my experience says that they are not untypical.
The strict and cruel discipline practised in most schools today is explained away on the grounds that it is good for the students. I find this hard to believe. Most teachers lead in this cruelty, but a sub-strata of bullies exists in the form of prefects. The attitude of “we got pushed about when young and it did not harm us” seems to be the only justification for making life a torment in schools by the ruling bullies. Why is it good for a child to stay out of doors when the staff run inside complaining of the cold? Why should a child not eat in class? What harm does that do? (alright, crisp packets do rattle, but that’s an extreme). Why should students be made to walk down the corridor in regimented fashion? Why is chatting when work has been set not allowed? Surely young people have got a lot to learn purely from discussion with each other. There are a multiplicity of whys in mind and in the minds of those unfortunate ones subject to the fetters of school.
There are of course many answers that can be given to these questions. At school children are being regimented and trained to accept the system of society as it exists at present. This involves disciplining oneself to hard work. Hence homework every night is given. Examination success is claimed as an indicator of one’s intelligence and therefore aptness for certain jobs. What good the passing of a history exam does for one working in a tax office I have yet to ascertain, apart from disciplining one to sit there and work for a goal. People at school do not learn or enjoy themselves to any large extent because the teachers are forced to keep a syllabus (most of them agree with this). Young people in school may train in their minds to recite that piece of work in an exam at the expense often of ruining any enjoyment in that subject. School seems to have the knack of being able to ruin any genuine or potential enjoyment a person may have if allowed to follow his/her own interests.
Adults often say that their school days were the best days of their life if only they had been old enough to appreciate them. This is, however, only a comparative analysis. School days seem good only in the light of what work is like after leaving school, and then probably only because of the compensation of long holidays. School as it exists is to the child much like work is to the adult. The school attender however has probably more pressures upon him/her. Students at school are pressurised by parents, teachers and the law to go to school each day. They have no choice. Neither, until they attain the age of 14/15 in most schools, do they have a choice in the subjects they study. This constitutes the best years of one’s life? Society, one feels, to throw up such value must be in a mess.
As one child said in a debate in school “just put bars on the windows and then people will believe it’s a prison.” Hopefully, however with the coming of Socialism the shackles now upon both students (young workers) and workers will be released and freedom for the individual (after all, teachers, let us not forget that under-16-year-olds are individual human beings) will replace it.
Wanted — A Prescription For Socialism
This letter is meant as a complaint — a pretty strong complaint.
I subscribe to the Socialist Standard. I read in the inside front cover the declaration of principles — all very tidy and compact. There is one thing missing, a vital statement of practical policy.
By this, I mean the change that will have to take place from our present day capitalist to the socialist society of the future.
If real socialist power was won in Parliament eventually, what events would we see follow? How would the means of production be converted into the common property of society and how would democratic control by the whole people be enacted? These, I think are vital questions — if Socialism is a viable proposition, then we need to have concrete answers to these fundamental questions. Perhaps one day you will have a little space in the Socialist Standard for them.
The precise events that would follow the winning of political power by a Socialist working class would be up to them to work out in the light of then existing circumstances. A small number cannot prescribe the future will of the majority; the arrogance of doing so can lead to the all-too-common dictum “This is how it will be — whether you like it or not”. The matter is entirely in the hands of the future Socialist majority. Our practical policy at the moment is to do all we can to hasten the growth of the necessary Socialist majority without whom there can be no Socialism. We can say, however, that the use of political power to convert the means of production into common property and to bring them under the democratic control of the whole people will be done quickly and democratically.