Young Places

Looking for something else by G.B. Shaw, I came across this essay, Treatise on Parents and Children. This is from a mid to early section, What We Do Not Teach and Why.

To my mind, a glance at the subjects now taught in schools ought to
convince any reasonable person that the object of the lessons is to
keep children out of mischief, and not to qualify them for their part
in life as responsible citizens of a free State. It is not possible
to maintain freedom in any State, no matter how perfect its original
constitution, unless its publicly active citizens know a good deal of
constitutional history, law, and political science, with its basis of
economics. If as much pains had been taken a century ago to make us
all understand Ricardo’s law of rent as to learn our catechisms, the
face of the world would have been changed for the better. But for
that very reason the greatest care is taken to keep such beneficially
subversive knowledge from us, with the result that in public life we
are either place-hunters, anarchists, or sheep shepherded by wolves.

But it will be observed that these are highly controversial subjects.
Now no controversial subject can be taught dogmatically. He who knows
only the official side of a controversy knows less than nothing of its
nature. The abler a schoolmaster is, the more dangerous he is to his
pupils unless they have the fullest opportunity of hearing another
equally able person do his utmost to shake his authority and convict
him of error.

At present such teaching is very unpopular. It does not exist in
schools; but every adult who derives his knowledge of public affairs
from the newspapers can take in, at the cost of an extra halfpenny,
two papers of opposite politics. Yet the ordinary man so dislikes
having his mind unsettled, as he calls it, that he angrily refuses to
allow a paper which dissents from his views to be brought into his
house. Even at his club he resents seeing it, and excludes it if it
happens to run counter to the opinions of all the members. The result
is that his opinions are not worth considering. A churchman who never
reads The Freethinker very soon has no more real religion than the
atheist who never reads The Church Times. The attitude is the same in
both cases: they want to hear nothing good of their enemies;
consequently they remain enemies and suffer from bad blood all their
lives; whereas men who know their opponents and understand their case,
quite commonly respect and like them, and always learn something from
them.

Here, again, as at so many points, we come up against the abuse of
schools to keep people in ignorance and error, so that they may be
incapable of successful revolt against their industrial slavery. The
most important simple fundamental economic truth to impress on a child
in complicated civilizations like ours is the truth that whoever
consumes goods or services without producing by personal effort the
equivalent of what he or she consumes, inflicts on the community
precisely the same injury that a thief produces, and would, in any
honest State, be treated as a thief, however full his or her pockets
might be of money made by other people. The nation that first teaches
its children that truth, instead of flogging them if they discover it
for themselves, may have to fight all the slaves of all the other
nations to begin with; but it will beat them as easily as an
unburdened man with his hands free and with all his energies in full
play can beat an invalid who has to carry another invalid on his back.

This, however, is not an evil produced by the denial of children’s
rights, nor is it inherent in the nature of schools. I mention it
only because it would be folly to call for a reform of our schools
without taking account of the corrupt resistance which awaits the
reformer.

A word must also be said about the opposition to reform of the vested
interest of the classical and coercive schoolmaster. He, poor wretch,
has no other means of livelihood; and reform would leave him as a
workman is now left when he is superseded by a machine. He had
therefore better do what he can to get the workman compensated, so as
to make the public familiar with the idea of compensation before his
own turn comes.

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