Posts Tagged ‘Paul de Lagarde’

Nietzsche, Academy Schools, and Elitism in Education

March 30, 2016

Mike and a number of other bloggers have wondered recently if the Tories’ own enthusiasm for privatising education and turning all schools into Academies aren’t a deliberate attempt to ‘dumb down’ education. Despite all the hype, and mendacious graphs in the Torygraph to the contrary, privately run Academies actually perform worse than state schools managed by the local authorities. Mike speculated that the Tories wanted the children of the hoi polloi – the working and lower middle classes – have an inferior education as they were afraid that the masses were becoming too bright, too well-education, and they didn’t want the competition. After all, they could hardly retain their places as the leaders of society, thanks to their extremely moneyed parents sending them to Eton and the other public and fee-paying schools, if a bunch of comprehensive school oiks actually were demonstrably more intelligent and better educated than they were.

And there is certainly some evidence that the latter is true. A year ago, the Independent and the I ran a story that students from state schools actually did better at uni than those from the private schools. How ghastly! Especially as the introduction of tuition fees and their increase to truly extortionate levels really does seem to suggest that there is a section of right-wing opinion that believes higher education should be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy few.

The German philosopher Nietzsche also took this view. He was afraid that if the masses became too well-educated, it would lead to a decline in cultural standards. The historian Gordon A. Craig describes his elitist view of education, and that of his successors in Germany: 1866 – 1945 (Oxford: OUP 1978). He wrote

(A)nd some widely read publicists expressed the view that the emphasis placed on the education of the masses was dangerous because it could not avoid diluting the quality of German education in general. This was the view of Friedrich Nietzsche, who in a remarkable series of lectures, ‘On the Future of our Education Institutions’, delivered in Basle in 1872, stated that ‘not the education of the masses can be our goal but the education of individually selected people, armed for great and permanent achievements’ and went on to charge that those who argued for a further extension of Volksbildung were seeking to destroy ‘the natural order of rank in the kingdom of the intellect’. Nietzsche’s views were repeated with variations by Paul de Lagarde, an embittered eccentric who saw German culture imperilled by the advance of barbarism and blamed this on the educational system, and Julius Langbehn, the author of the extremely popular Rembrandt als Erzieher (1890), whose insistence upon the necessity of training a racially pure elite was later to take more extreme forms in the educational practices of Heinrich Himmler.

De Lagarde and Langbehn were two of the 19th century intellectual precursors of the Nazis. The German elementary schools were called Volksschulen – People’s Schools. The Germans had had an excellent school system of primary education from the 18th century onwards. If children couldn’t go to church schools, then they had to go to state schools. As a result, illiteracy in Germany by the end of the 19th century was very, very low – about 0.05%, compared with 3-4% in England and France.

Nietzsche’s ideas might have been a novelty for Germany, but until comparatively late in the 19th century they were common amongst the British ruling class. There was some education available for the working classes in the Sunday and Dame schools, but these were by no means widespread, and standards could be very poor. The dame schools have been criticised as essentially a place where parents could send their children while they were at work trying to make a living. As a whole, the education system was geared to training an aristocratic elite for careers in government. It looks very much like this is what the Tories intend now in their eagerness to privatise schools and so create an education system that will leave children worse educated, not better.

Cameron, Osbo, Thicky Nikki and the rest of the Tory party are either aristos, or very middle class. It really does look like they are trying to drag Britain back into the 19th century, where the workers were given just enough education to satisfy the requirements of industry, while a good education, and the career opportunities that went with it, were the exclusive prerogative of the middle and upper classes. This was challenged by the Labour party, who wanted the education reformed and expanded so that more people from the lower middle and working classes had the opportunity to acquire it and so enjoy the same career opportunities and social privileges as the wealthy. It can be seen in chapter IX of G.D.H. Cole’s book, Britain in the Post-War World – ‘Education for Democracy’, for example. It’s the reason Anthony Crossland set up and championed comprehensive schools, because the existing system of grammar and secondary modern schools were elitist, and kept the working class in their place in the manual trades.

And so far from striking a blow for meritocracy, it increasingly seems to me that the privatisation of the education system begun nearly thirty years ago by Thatcher really is indeed to keep the masses in their place, and make sure that only the elite can afford an educational standard that will guarantee them their place of leadership in society. All under the guise of delivering quality, which can only be provided by private industry, of course.