“If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales. And Northern Ireland.” (Crosland is so quoted by his wife Susan Crosland in her biography, Tony Crosland (Jonathan Cape, 1982), p. 148.)
In 1968 I passed the 11+ exam. I was the first ever and since to have done so in my family. Coming from a long line of Dock Workers it was hailed as something marvellous in my family, to the point of embarrassment. What will he become, a doctor, a teacher, a scientist? My best friend from across the street didn’t pass and yet, contrary to all that was said about selection breeding divisions in society, my friend and I have remained best pals for a lifetime. Our educational paths diverged. Our affections did not.
Perhaps I am fortunate in having experienced both Grammar and Comprehensive systems. I enjoyed two years of Grammar School followed by four years of Comprehensive. Thanks to those Educational Iconoclasts, Antony Crosland and Shirley Williams, the Burke and Hare of Schools, my Grammar went Comp in 1971. A school of 260 boys was merged with a Secondary Modern of 750, and the small and nifty frigate became an unwieldy aircraft carrier, impersonal, unmanageable, inhomogeneous and most importantly of all unBritish.
Why unBritish you ask? Well, as an example let me recount how at Grammar School it was a yearly requirement that we observed Armistice Day. We did so on the Friday nearest to Remembrance Sunday. Standing in the school hall we listened to the roll call of old boys who had gone away to the Great War, and then a roll of those who had gone to the Second World War, and had not returned. The list seemed interminable and at the end of the reading, after a two-minute silence that felt dense with grief, the Headmaster with quivering tones would tell us that these boys were just like us, no better, no worse, just lads who still had the bloom of youth on their cheeks and the hope of a future in their hearts. It was not in any way a glorification of war. It was a thump in the chest at a formative age and a reminder of the immense carnage and cost of war, paid not by aristocrats or generals, or even by Members of Parliament but by lads who had as yet not grown old enough in years to have left the family home. We sang, God save the Queen. We offered prayers to the Almighty. Then we filed to our lessons, imbued with a wisdom that would hopefully shape us into the kind of men who lived their lives mindful of the sacrifice of their peers.
The Comp held no such ceremony. The ethos of that Socialist Educational Leviathan was totally different. It was a functional apparatus, utilitarian, and as such its daily converse was devoid of concepts such as loyalty, valour, reverence, service and sacrifice. It existed, supposedly, to instil knowledge and to help us absorb whatever facts were fed into our hungry minds, but not to feel. Unlike the Grammar School we were not led to understand that alongside the inevitable scramble for a better grade in this or that there had to be a recognition of what the nation was that one day you would partake of and hold in your trust as others had before you.
I have wondered for a long time what the blueprint was all about. I think in the decades that have flowed slowly past I can glimpse a little of what it was. It leaves me sad and angry, but in truth I believe it was a decision, taken in the highest offices of State to refashion a generation, and after them, all succeeding generations of young boys and girls into an amorphous proletariat, devoid of identity, stripped of patriotic affiliation, and therefore sufficiently pliable for the social engineers of the future to mould into the fodder for whatever they wished to make of the nation that once was called Great Britain.
I can still smell the soap that was used each morning to clean the stone steps of my Grammar School. I can still hear the echo of the voices that rang through its rooms corridors, the high octave of the younger lads, the reassuring bass line of the fifth and sixth formers. It represents a lost world and is to my nostalgic mind an emblem of the rape of culture that is a prerequisite of the Socialist Advance. I know this, that were I ever in my dreams to meet the ghost of Antony Crosland on the corridor of my memories, I would take him by the left leg and throw him down the stairs. He would die a second death.
© Judas was paid 2016
First published on http://going-postal.org April 2016