Dumbing Up – More

A brief historical coda to yesterday’s post.

Nineteenth-century British Tories were also against educating the plebs at almost every level, beyond what would be required for their strict and natural function in society: which was to labour for the gentry. Anything more would give them ‘ideas above their station’. Later, when some (male) plebs were given the parliamentary vote (1867), Disraeli changed the Tories’ tune, famously proclaiming, in defence of a Bill extending free state-provided elementary education to everyone, that ‘we must educate our masters’. Obviously, for our Telegraph commentator, that can be taken too far, if it educates them in their own oppression.

My early Victorian liberal friend Samuel Laing (see recent posts), who never completed his own university course, also devalued higher education on the grounds that it could make young men (only men at this time, of course) dissatisfied with their lot, and so more radical. He saw a lot of this in the politically turbulent German states. It would be better for them, he thought, if they worked practically for a living, instead of having their young heads filled with airy and potentially dangerous philosophical notions. Marx would have been at university about then. So perhaps Laing had a point.

The DT piece fits in well with the ‘anti-intellectualist’ trend which is taking hold in so many political areas today.

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One Response to Dumbing Up – More

  1. It is probably doubtful whether education universally radicalises. The most revolutionary proles and peasants in the twentieth century were to be found in Tsarist Russia, where literacy rates were much lower than in western Europe.

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