Shaykh Daoud’s Blog

Quis Educabat Ipsos Educatores?

with 3 comments

There have been two interesting developments in the UK Press in the past couple of days.

The first was the review of a book entitled The Eleven Plus Book: Genuine Exam Questions from Yesteryear, by Marcus Dunk and published by Michael O’Mara Books, that showed the type of questions that pupils aged 11 were expected to answer in the 1950s. A random few were “Fill in the relative pronoun in the following sentences… (b) The man to…… I spoke was very disagreeable” (answer: ‘whom’); “Of 800 people living in a village, half are men and half women. A quarter of the men leave the village to join the army. How many more women than men now remain?” (answer: ‘100 more women’); “In each of the sets of words given below there is one word meaning something rather different from the other three. Find the different word in each line and write it down: (a) alike, same, similar, somewhat; (b) pigeon, duck, goose, swan…” (answers: ‘(a) somewhat’, ‘(b) pigeon’).

The review wondered how many of today’s adults could actually answer such questions correctly. A good question. And to think that at the same time as these questions were being sat for the 11-Plus entrance examination into the country’s grammar schools, boys were preparing to face, about a year later, the Common Entrance exam to the independent schools with papers in Latin, Greek, and French (girls took the CE exam at eleven but with a different syllabus).

The second was the news that the Chief Examiner for the Assessment and Qualification Alliance, Mr Peter Buckroyd, awarded marks to a candidate in his GCSE English exam for writing a gratuitous profanity in one of his answers: the reasoning of the Examiner was, “it would be wicked to give it zero, because it shows some very basic skills we are looking for – like conveying some meaning and some spelling. It’s better than someone that doesn’t write anything at all. It shows more skills than somebody who leaves the page blank.” What an appalling indictment of the level to which the British secondary education system has been sunk.

And this isn’t the half of it. There are many things that are not taught correctly in state schools because the teachers themselves are ignorant of the true facts, as they themselves have not been properly taught. Standards have been consistently and progressively driven down since the 1960s in a class war crusade against elitism that has simply resulted in some four generations of schoolchildren that have been denied the basic tools of civilised society. A truly functioning democracy depends on an educated and informed electorate. If one is functionally illiterate, how can one inform oneself about the issues of the day? If one is ignorant of the history and culture of one’s people, what is one?

In the Daily Mail of Wednesday, 2 July, which I was reading in a local branch of Caffé Nero, the columnist Melanie Phillips had a real ‘go’ at this. She concluded, “Education is the very life-blood of a country. If the education system goes down the spout, the country must follow.” Perhaps that was the objective all along, who knows? Or, it may be, following that old Britsh adage, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and the architects of this folly really did do it ‘for the best of intentions’. If so, it should be yet another example why professional politicians and time-serving bureaucrats are a blight on a functioning democracy.

Without knowledge of the nuances of one’s culture, so much is incomprehensible. How many know, for example, where the phrase “by the skin of his teeth” comes from?

I went downstairs to get another cup of tea from Marija, the Slovakian girl who manages the branch. Sitting at a chair near a window was a woman reading a novel. I noticed the paperback, because it was one of the stories I had enjoyed by a favourite author of mine: The Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, an author sadly afflicted with early onset alzheimers. How many know what the humour of the allusion in the title relates to? That made me question to myself whether the humour and allusions of a book such as Sellar and Yeatman’s 1066 and All That or Ronald Searle’s The Compleat Molesworth could be read and understood by the products of Britain’s state schools of the past few decades. One would hesitate to recommend Molesworth because one suspects too many people would think that its spelling was actually correct.

Somebody really needs to recruit people who do know things, in order to teach those who have to teach so as to rescue something at least from the wreck of the country’s education – if that’s still the appropriate word – system. In a parody of that famous quotation from Juvenal, one wonders “quis educabat ipsos educatores?” – who will teach the teachers?

Written by David Rosser Owen

July 2, 2008 at 11:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. hmmmm… i was able to answer the 11+ questions you posted quite easily… I wonder what that says about me?

    Admittedly, I studied at school abroad (we had to memorise a book of idioms) and we were examined using the Cambridge O and A Levels system… very very difficult.

    I do feel that I have been ‘dumbed down’since graduating from Uni here in the UK. Answering your questions gave me some hope in some residual intellect!


    July 3, 2008 at 4:16 pm

  2. Last year I was an Examiner for the Cambridge Overseas Examining Board marking ‘O’ Level papers. It was quite clear that the educational standard was much, much higher than that of the comparable age range in the UK – effectively these pupils were where the UK was in the early 60s. I’m not surprised therefore that you were able to answer the questions; but naturally pleased that you could. I wouldn’t let the surrounding communal sog drag you down.

    Daoud Rosser-Owen

    July 3, 2008 at 6:34 pm

  3. Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him, are severe against the disbelievers, and merciful among themselves. You see them bowing and falling down prostrate (in prayer), seeking bounty from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. The mark of them (i.e. of their Faith) is on their faces (foreheads) from the traces of prostration (during prayers). This is their description in the Taurat (Torah). But their description in the Injeel (Gospel) is like a (sown) seed which sends forth its shoot, then makes it strong, and becomes thick and it stands straight on its stem, delighting the sowers, that He may enrage the disbelievers with them. Allah has promised those among them who believe and do righteous good deeds, forgiveness and a mighty reward (Paradise).

    redwan ahmed

    July 4, 2008 at 7:11 pm

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