The Public School Memoir and the Social Essence of Education

One of the things that Half Sigma likes to talk about is how online education is never going to catch on, because education is substantially a social experience. (Here are his education-tagged articles.) If you are working by yourself- reading books, doing a correspondence course, or in modern times an online course- you can be educated, you can learn, but you can’t be socialized or reliably indoctrinated. Education, socialization, and indoctrination are inseparably intertwined in Anglophone society. There is a history behind this that bears looking into.

Back in ancient times there was the tradition of “fostering”, in which a lower-ranking nobleman would send his son to be raised in the household of the king or a higher-ranking nobleman. This had advantages for both parties, the higher cementing loyalty of the lower, but maybe more important for the lower it ensured the boy would grow up around and make friends with the powerful. In Scandinavian society the boy would acquire not a patrynomic, -son added to the name of his father, but -fostr added to the name of his patron.

This would have involved only a small number of people; such relationships could be “fostered” by social gatherings and extended visits, but these too were difficult to do regularly among people who lived dispersed on the lands they owned. I believe the “public school” of England originated not just in the desire to have upper-class boys get an education they couldn’t get on or near their fathers’ holdings, but to have them socialize and form strong friendships with their peers.

People never say such things outright, of course, so the idea had to be that these institutions were “building character” or “building leaders”- hence the hoary quote “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” Like many other things, public school education changed in the Victorian era. The Rugby School, famous for the football game of the same name, came under the leadership of Thomas Arnold, who changed the atmosphere of the school to promote Victorian Christian virtues. Life at Rugby under Arnold was immortalized in the novel “Tom Brown’s School Days“, which tells of the growth of a bright, good-natured but impulsive and irresponsible boy into a decent and good-hearted young man. Tom Brown learns far more than Greek, he learns lessons about life, and makes deep friendships with people he would never have known or thought worthy otherwise.

The last part is important. The boarding school as a place of life lessons and new friendships is a familiar setting for fiction- the Harry Potter series being the most recent example.  The idea is clear that not only will the student be molded, but he will meet other students, who are also being molded, and the friendships they make will further mold both parties. That’s a lot of molding, but molding is the essence of Victorian Christian education.

But isn’t the purpose of education to pass along to the student the Promethean fire of truth and intellectual inquiry, with which he would both illuminate and set fire to the world? That is a German Romantic idea, just as the modern scientific research university is a German invention. But the Promethean fire, like the actual thing, may be regarded as Thomas Jefferson said as both a dangerous servant and a fearful master. The leaders of Anglophone society are not and have never been scientists, but genial fellows of a certain level of brightness- but not too bright- who can be counted on to have the right moral sentiments.

To be educated means to us not simply to acquire knowledge, but to be molded in mind and sentiment, to have met others molded in mind and sentiment, and to have been mutually molded with them. This kind of consensus not strictly of thinking, but what is also correct to be thought about, is the very essence of English-speaking society. Education of this type requires attendance at an institution, and a lot of time socializing with selected peers. The resident college will be the ideal form of education as long as our society exists in its present form, and all who can afford will pursue it on whatever level- from the Ivy League to Midwestern bible college.


About thrasymachus33308

I like fast cars, fast women and southern-fried rock. I have an ongoing beef with George Orwell. I take my name from a character in Plato's "Republic" who was exasperated with the kind of turgid BS that passed for deep thought and political discourse in that time and place, just as I am today. The character, whose name means "fierce fighter" was based on a real person but nobody knows for sure what his actual political beliefs were. I take my pseudonym from a character in an Adam Sandler song who was a obnoxious jerk who pissed off everybody.
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3 Responses to The Public School Memoir and the Social Essence of Education

  1. Matthew says:

    Bingo LIttle: “But Bertie [Wooster]… We were at school together!”

  2. spandrell says:

    Yeah but there’s no benefit to college if you don’t get to socialise with the upper class. Socialising with fellow mediocres does little good, yet it still costs a lot of money and time.

    For a while people liked to pretend they were upper class by doing some crass imitation (“my kid is also in college now. I hear they have a campus and dorms, and they teach about queer culture!”). But as the middle class is being demolished it can’t afford the aping anymore.

    And when it comes to pure skill learning, an online course made by a really knowledgeable person beats the hell of a mediocre college professor, surrounded by average students.

  3. Pingback: Why Almost Everyone Has to Go to College | Deconstructing Leftism

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