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The Daily Paradox

The Daily Paradox: Education – a Rethink Part 1

Some readers of the Daily Paradox have asked what I mean by a ‘rethink of our education system’. They want to know to whom and in which countries it applies. Does it mean that the present primary, secondary and tertiary education programmes should be replaced? Why do we need a major change in how we educate people?

This will be a three-part Daily Paradox – in a nutshell “Then, Now and Whenever”. This first part deals with the question ‘What would I have liked to be taught when I was a child, in the 1940s?’ Part two will ask the tougher question ‘What should we be teaching the child of today, in the 2020s?’ Part three will controversially consider ‘What will a child need to be taught in forty years time, in the 2060s?’ Child throughout is someone aged about 7 to 17.

My childhood education lacked four areas of learnt, understood and properly handled information and behaviour: Purpose, Sex, Money and Work.

The first of these was addressed by a command that I believe in God plus Heaven and Hell. Purgatory was added in case I didn’t deserve either. The advantage of this purpose was that the rules were made up in Rome by the Pope. The disadvantage was that as you got older you might not, in all conscience, believe all the rules, in which case you were auto-disqualified as a member. This was called excommunication, as ominous sounding as it meant.

I liked my religion. Prayers and hymns appeal to someone with an ear for music and

lilting language. My mother was dead and my father, fighting a war, so home was anywhere that would accept me. Church did, and for that I was, and still am, grateful to my ex-religion. My schools accepted me, too. I always cried as much at the end of the term as I did at the end of the holidays.

No home is perfect but a home is necessary. It is the first requirement of education.

My childhood holidays were spent mostly on farms. But for that, I don’t think I would have had any sex education at all. At age 13 my Prep School Headmaster was supposed to teach me about sex. He asked me if I had ever seen my sister in the bath. When I told him that I had, the conversation came to an end. I knew how bulls begat calves in cows and it wasn’t a big leap from there to understanding human procreation. Apart from this, sex education consisted of me being told that women gave sex to get love and men gave love to get sex.

Kind people have taught me that love is rather more than that.

Money was never discussed in middle class families when I was a child. This tradition was reinforced by the fact that my father, grandfather and great grandfather had been in military service. My father’s was the first generation in which an officer could conceivably live on his service pay. Even then it was fairly derisory. Up to that point middle class families were thought to be wealthy enough for serving officers to be financed by their relatives.

I never knew what my father earned, what the cost of living was, why my 50p (then ten shillings) per term pocket money always seemed inadequate or what the cost of medical care before the UK National Health Service was. Sometime during my teens I discovered that my father gave my stepmother one hundred pounds a month to keep house and pay all the bills. When I eventually ran away to London I took my Hornby train set to sell to feed me. I think I got about one third of its value.

My love of farming and of the countryside and its pursuits made me want to be a farmer. This was a disappointment to my family who hoped I would follow in the military footsteps. I was physically, emotionally, and intuitively totally unsuited to do so. I went to an agricultural college where I passed my degree with a distinction in Beekeeping. This was unexpected since I had been badly stung during the first Bee Practical. My visits to the pub with the Head Beekeeper revealed his kindly philosophy, so I wrote that in my exam paper.

Not so much Artificial Intelligence as Creative Observation. But it worked.

In my childhood, I would have liked to be taught the importance of purpose, the meaning of love, the relevance of money and the joy of a job. Learning something of all these later was wonderful. I might have made a better contribution to others if I had learnt them earlier.

So much for the dim and distant past. What about the future?

Good morning
John Bittleston

Part 2 of this trilogy will follow shortly.

If you have any questions please ask them at [email protected].

4 February 2024