The Devil’s Own Education SystemOctober 13, 2007
I’m far too busy marking 120 tests to write a blog entry this weekend. So instead I thought I’d borrow something from somebody else. “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” was written by C.S. Lewis in 1959. In it a senior demon outlines plans for luring more souls into Hell. These plans include some changes to England’s education system outlined in the extract below. I leave it to you to judge how far we teachers are now doing the work of the Devil.
“…In that promising land [England] the spirit of I’m as good as you has already become something more than a generally social influence. It begins to work itself into their educational system. How far its operations there have gone at the moment, I would not like to say with certainty. Nor does it matter. Once you have grasped the tendency, you can easily predict its future developments; especially as we ourselves ill play our part in the developing. The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be ‘undemocratic’. These differences between the pupils-for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences–must be disguised. This can be done on various levels. At universities, examination must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to do things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud-pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have–I believe the English already use the phrase ‘parity of esteem’. An even more drastic scheme is not impossible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma– Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind. The bright pupil remains democratically fettered to his own age-group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coaevals’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON THE MAT.
In a word we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us…”