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Jan 7, 2023Liked by Ed West

Excellent, completely agree.

Two ridiculous illusions of our modern conception of education are: 1. "Equality" i.e. everyone is equally suited to extended years of school and university, and 2. "More = better".

Both are nonsensical. Aside from the fact that the quality of school teaching is often lamentable anyway. Far better to pare it down & improve the quality.

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Jan 7, 2023Liked by Ed West

'so that from 1870, and the Education Act, all children had to attend up to the age of 13 (although education levels were already high by the time of the Act)'

Maybe so, but it can't have been enforced. I know for certain my dad's dad (born 1899) started work aged 11, and my mum's dad (born 1904) aged 12 (initially as a knocker-upper and collecting the workmen's brass tags at a lodge at Pilks, before starting his plumbing apprenticeship properly aged 13). My mum's mum was taken into service as a scullery maid, also aged 12, to work for some blasted factory owner in Burnley. My mum blames my gran's lifelong ill health on how she was treated.

Before this, I have a medal from the Battle of Tel el Kebir 1882 inscribed 'J. Casey Pte R.M.' My Irish great-grandad was 16 when he got that. Kids, huh!

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Yikes, 16 is some age. The older my son (9) gets the more I find I cant watch stuff about the First World War or similar.

Still, we won Tel el Kebir, so there is that.

I think there was obviously a lot of pressure to start work earlier. Thats another point I should have made, far less of a welfare state then to protect bright kids being forced out of school.

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Jan 7, 2023Liked by Ed West

Yes -- my dad (born 1926) was bright and academic and hated having to leave school at 14. It buggered his brief life up completely.

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That recent German remake of All Quiet on the Western Front is devastating, including the insistently non-romantic soundtrack that I cannot help hearing in my head weeks later (the heavy three-note synth theme, the starling snare drum raps early in the movie, etc.). I feel you re: the children, is what I’m saying. Also, I have been a teacher for 25 years, and I hear you on everything else in this piece, actually. A festival of agreement! Sunday blessings to all.

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I always think about my sons (6 of them, aged 13 to 28) when I watch war movies (or read books), too. My daughters are the ones who join the military, though.

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Jan 7, 2023Liked by Ed West

The stats in the Forbes article about the correlation of schooling with teen suicide were astounding.

"Using Google searches as a proxy for concern about bullying, researchers found that fully reopening schools was associated with a 52% increase in bullying queries, a 42% increase in cyber-bullying queries and a 93% increase in queries about school bullying."

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Jan 7, 2023Liked by Ed West

Great piece. I'm known as a playwright, but I've been a schoolteacher. As such, I've seen what you're talking about first hand, and I've made this point for years, if not nearly as well as you did. I might add that I started work off the books selling shoes when I was thirteen, and I'm very grateful that I had this experience. It often struck me in teaching how few young people today have part-time jobs and how much this disadvantages them. I think this partly explains the rise of the more crazy wokeness seen among students right now. It reflects lack of life experience derived from work, and, as you say, it leads to disruptive behavior in schools and it may lead to chronic joblessness among disaffected students.

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This is a mildly serious inquiry:

I know two men who used to be playwrights and are now sommeliers. Are you planning to transition to a career as a wine guy?

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Great article, as was your original post, which I re-read. The fake chimney-sweep link was really interesting.

Last year at my university in Japan I gave a short presentation on how most of the students should be in work rather than spending 4 (expensive) years of their lives at a university. Instead of reluctantly writing essays they aren't remotely interested in they could be getting on-the-job training while their brains are still young and flexible. They could be earning money, starting a family and in doing so help to fix Japan's demographic problems.

They all agreed that what they learn at university often has no relevance or application to the job they will eventually get after they graduate. However, one or two still assumed my presentation must be a joke. Others pointed out that they had to go to university because potential employers insist on them having a university degree, whether it's useful or not. I had to agree that the villains in all this were the employers. Why not just get job candidates to spend an afternoon taking an IQ test and employing the ones with the highest scores? These tests would almost certainly be more reliable than a university degree, which is issued as a matter of course at the end of 4 years 'study'. The hard thing in Japan is to get into a good university in the first place. After that you can relax since no one fails and employers are mainly swayed by the ranking of the university you got into aged 18. Needless to say, late developers are a lost cause.

I personally left school at 16 because I failed all my CSE's (I wasn't good enough to take 'O' levels) and I couldn't see anything of interest in school subjects. I could read (my mum was an infant teacher) and occasionally I read easy novels in my free time but maths, science, history, etc.? Where was the fun in them? Football and pop music were my world and my parents and teachers alike could see I just wasn't academically minded. I couldn't wait to leave school.

So at 16 I started work in a sports shop, then did various other jobs before heading for Germany in 1979, age 19, where I stayed for over 3 years doing either menial jobs that I actually liked or on the dole with my new-found German friends.

I only started reading for pleasure (Neville Shute, Graham Greene, Frederick Forsythe) once I'd been allowed to leave school. And it wasn't until I was in my 40's that I started to view history, politics and science as perhaps something I could take an interest in, if only I squinted and twisted my head in a certain way.

In my twenties I was a postman and when I was 28, because my afternoons and evenings were free, I decided to go to evening classes. I even did an 'A' level at my old High School, joining the only schoolboy who had chosen to take 'A' level German. I'm not sure if he was pleased or annoyed to have someone else in class with him.

I went to university a year later, age 30, but most of the academic stuff I know now was learned not at school or at uni but at home, from books and from the internet. In the age of the internet, schools seem to me less and less necessary, perhaps just a place to socialise and learn how to get on with - or to avoid - nice children, clever children, thickoes, bullies, disruptors and egotists who happen to be the same age as you.

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The higher education model is intellectually bankrupt on so many fronts. Leaving aside the worthlessness of many academic pursuits these days, most master's degrees are pointless, you'd be just as informed by finding an entry job in that industry and taking it from there. An astonishing percentage of people do work completely unrelated from their MA and even BA. And this all comes at a cost, both in time and money.

And it's also now given us a large class of "overeducated and underemployed" people who feel entitled to higher status and her socioeconomic place due to their master's but instead languish at lowly jobs. Much of the explosion of wokery is apparently tied to the emergence of this class, frustrated at the injustices of the world because they can't get ahead as their degrees promised, but can't accept that their degrees are effectively worthless.

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"a Labour MP who likes to alternate between lamenting ‘tribalism’ and calling his opponents Nazis." You're far too polite to say it, but it was David Lammy, who has swapped doing anything effective for get praise by idiots on Twitter.

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I don't think it would be appropriate to name him. Let's just call him David L. No, that's too obvious, D Lammy.

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No need to dissemble; we all knew.

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Americans didn't know, especially those of us who do not patronize Twitspace!

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Good point! I should have known better since , if you will forgive me, I get annoyed when US contributors to this vacusphere assume that everyone in the world understands the finer points of American domestic politics.

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It's natural to think that people using one's language have the same cultural knowledge base as oneself.

More than half of Americans, according to polls, can't name the three branches of our government or the Vice President, their own State's Governor, etc., so there's that. I don't know whether similar civic ignorance flourishes in the U.K.

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I fear so. Though, I should say that one thing that has changed much in recent years is the rather shameful cultural superiority that historically exuded from the educated classes in this country, especially against Americans. The fact that the US has the world's best universities, most Nobel Prizes etc, seems not to impinge on them. Most shamefully, they seem incapable of recognising the ultimate sacrifice which was made by some 250,000 young Americans in order to preserve their freedom to feel superior.

Today, I think, they are mostly being hoovered up by wokeism or loony conspiracy stuff, their inspiration coming mostly from across the pond. Maybe this is the Good Lord's revenge on them.

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Some overlap of ideas with my "The Importance of a College Education" https://www.johnderbyshire.com/Reviews/Miscellaneous/college.html#unbookish

"The wretched souls being tormented in that hell belong to the most oppressed, persecuted, and disadvantaged segment of our population: the un-bookish."

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thanks John, hope you well! And happy new year!

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Back at ya, Ed! All blessings for 2023 (a Harshad number https://oeis.org/A005349 ).

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founding

Just read this excellent essay and wanted to put up the full quote as it is particularly fine (especially the remark about our modern day scholar-bureaucrats):

"The wretched souls being tormented in that hell belong to the most oppressed, persecuted, and disadvantaged segment of our population: the un-bookish. Somehow we have arrived in the 21st century with a ruling class so bereft of imagination they cannot conceive that anyone would wish to be less educated than themselves. When a politician addresses schoolchildren, it is to urge bookishness on them. Thus Barack Obama in his 2009 back-to-school address to the nation's students: "You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You're going to need a good education for every single one of those careers." So much for mechanics, gardeners, fishermen, glaziers, loggers, athletes, barbers, truckers, cooks, butchers, roofers, miners, crane operators, manicurists, linemen, dancers, cameramen, steel fixers, personal trainers, carpenters, brewers, florists, ranchers, masons, potters, … The hell with them! "Ten thousand occupations are lowly; only book-learning is exalted." Thus the Chinese proverb[1]: thus the attitude to useful, honest work in an imperial-bureaucratic despotism run by arrogant scholar-officials. How long can it be before our law-school elites begin sporting six-inch fingernails, like the Mandarins of old Peking?"

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Thanks, Jon!

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founding

I had exactly the same experience at the Blair-era comp I attended: boys who in History or Maths lessons were an absolute nightmare would show laser-like focus (and considerable skill) in Design and Technology. They could easily have been apprenticed and earning at that point, and leaving us sensitive aesthetes alone.

So much of this comes from the fact that the only people who get into positions of power nowadays are upper middle class university graduates who would be personally deeply ashamed if one of their children did a vocational qualification of some kind.

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Let’s not even talk about how awful the education system is for those with a modicum of creativity. Great for drones but for others🙄

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Jan 7, 2023·edited Jan 7, 2023

Good article.

I think some of the issue with the current system is the feminisation of schools (and universities, most workplaces, etc). Not a bad thing in itself - things were much more hostile to women for a very long time - but it does pose hard questions about how to accommodate the larger numbers of boys who struggle in a sedentary environment that prioritises consensus and diligence. Your article references boys twice, and that's surely right - the modern education system (and economy) is very tough on non-academic males.

I have a sense that at tertiary level things might be shifting a bit - both young men and women looking much harder at high quality apprenticeships rather than bankrupting themselves on an academic course with poor employment prospects. But you're right that it's a much harder sell at lower ages - I wonder if it's ever likely to change?

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the feminisation of education did occur to me when reading Ed's essay. Education and now increasingly higher education, both faculty and administrators, is almost entirely dominated by women, so the bias is a system for girls and young women, not boys and young men. It's been long documented there's a greater range of aptitudes and capabilities among boys than girls, with more boys clustered at the bottom and upper ends of the spectrum and more girls clustered in the middle. The education approach these days makes no room for the bottom, who are predominately boys. Marry this with the collapse of the industrial economy in the western world, no wonder we have significant problems with this particular demographic.

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But Ed, here in America we depend on our high school senior boys to be the college football freshmen. We have to play the game, otherwise we stop being America and the terrorists win. WHY DO YOU SUPPORT THE TERRORISTS, Ed

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Super article. Our grandparents, or G-grandparents were mostly working by age 14 anyway, either on a farm or some other job, back when one could support a family on one blue-collar job in the US. I wonder what effect the mass entry of so many young men would have on wages and immigration policy in the US? I can see another Civilian Conservation Corps, like the New Deal program from the 30’s (or like Clinton’s Americorp), as an option. Let’s remember that the lifetime earnings of those with college degrees vs those without, is markedly different.

I thought I was going to be a physician, but you can’t have a mediocre grade in one class. My math skills were lacking. Who really NEEDS calculus? I can only imagine being a high schooler now where one is stratified into a college path or not-college by the time one is 14.

I wasted most of my university years skipping class, riding motorbikes, drinking, screwing my girlfriend, and generally having fun. I also worked 30 - 40 hours per week. Almost nothing in college interested me enough to pay attention. Finally, I did the work and barely graduated with a BA in Economics (hint: it’s the same graph in every class). Always a reader, because I am otherwise intelligent and learn quickly in hands-on settings, I found jobs and slowly, slowly built a career. Then I went back to university as a mature adult and crushed it by taking classes that interested me. Now, as a business executive at 61, I no longer look back with quite as much shame at my college years, but recognize that I needed time before I was ready to deal with university-level learning. Learning doesn’t have to stop, as long as young men have some direction.

Among the many histories, I’ve devoured Will Durant’s 11-volume “The Story Of Civilization” five times. It’s 10,000 pages of the best historiography ever written. Also, Shelby Foote’s three volumes on the US Civil War.

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I was at school in a small Midlands' town in the 1960s when the school leaving age was 15. I was sent off on a one-week work placement at a local factory which had a good reputation. Among those I worked with were some elder yoof who I knew had been trouble-makers at school. But not here.

They earned cash in order to (a) buy a motor-bike (b) attract young ladies and (c) use 'a' to take 'b' to Blackpool for weekend nefariousness. They knew that this happy arrangement would be terminated if they got into trouble in town, since anyone arrested by the local plods (hence name in local paper) was immediately sacked.

This system worked like a dream. Any fighting was done according to proper rules: away from public gaze; no weapons; the fighting stopped when honour was satisfied (or your mates said so); absolutely no talking about it afterwards and no blood feuds.

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Agree with this entirely but there are no incentives to support such a change. The education system would lose customers, and, more importantly, ideological control. Compulsory education is more likely to go up than down.

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You may have heard of the recent incident at Hamline University in the US where a professor was fired from showing a 14th century Islamic depiction of Muhammad. The professor warned students what she was about to show.

David Rieff (son of Susan Sontag and Philip Rieff) writes a very brief note regarding what the student newspaper has done which makes the event all the worse....mainly deleted a letter of support for the professor written by the Chair of the Hamline's religion department.

https://davidrieff.substack.com/p/desire-and-fate-e15

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I agree. You are 100% totally right, and I won't bore the public with all the myriad ways I agree.

One thing about the idea that keeping 14- to 18-year-olds in school keeps them from committing crimes is that, in the school, many are committing what would be crimes or actionable torts in any other environment.

Now I'll stop.

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