Roger Scruton

Know your place

There can be no true society — and no social mobility — without hierarchy, says Roger Scruton

There can be no true society — and no social mobility — without hierarchy, says Roger Scruton

The recent memo purloined from Prince Charles made the accurate observation that ‘child-centred’ education, by encouraging false expectations and discouraging effort, seriously hampers the one who receives it. University teachers know this, since they have to deal with the products of an education which puts self-esteem before real achievement. Despite the plethora of As and Bs gained through dumbed-down examinations in dumbed-down subjects, young people tend to enter university without the skills required for real study. The likelihood that an incoming undergraduate can read a book or write an essay diminishes from year to year, and only the entrenched sentimentality of the educational establishment prevents it from acknowledging that the cause of this lies in the culture of self-esteem. The ruling principle of our educational system seems to be that children should be made to feel good about themselves. The curriculum should therefore be ‘relevant’ to their interests, and examinations should make no judgment of their linguistic or literary skills.

Education is possible only if we persuade children that there are things worth knowing that they don’t already know. This may make them feel bad about themselves, but feeling bad now is the price of feeling good later. The culture of self-esteem has the opposite effect: by making children feel good now, it makes them feel bad later — so bad indeed that they blame everybody else for their failure, and join the growing queue of resentful litigants. Education involves transmitting knowledge and skills, not illusions, and a practice devoted to persuading children that they are fine just as they are does not deserve the name of education. The acquisition of knowledge requires both aptitude and work, a truth so obvious that only decades of egalitarian propaganda could have induced so many people to deny it.

The fracas over the Prince’s memo touches on deeper matters, however.

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