Matthew Hunter paints a picture of the chaos wrought by progressive education in Britain:
I do not teach Dylan Page, but I know who he is. Everyone at our school knows who Dylan is. He comes and goes to lessons as he pleases, habitually swears at teachers, and is an accomplished playground bully. After a year of horrifying stories, there is not a single thing I could hear about Dylan’s behaviour that I would not believe.
During the school prize-giving ceremony at the end of the year, I was surprised to hear Dylan’s name announced. He had collected one of the largest amounts of “reward stickers” in year seven, and was due to collect a prize. Many teachers, it turned out, had taken to bribing him with these stickers in a desperate attempt to appease his unruliness. As the school applauded his name, I thought of the dozens of his classmates who had had a year of learning ruined by this one pupil. Such is the moral condition of many of today’s state schools.
Hunter was educated at a “public” school, where the ethos was still shaped by the 19th-century ideal of muscular Christianity, so he wasn’t prepared to teach at a modern state school, which sees such a “moralising” agenda as reactionary and oppressive:
Rules exist, but are broken on such a regular basis that it would probably be better not to have them at all. Pupils know that their school is chaotic and that most of their misbehaviour will go unpunished. Thus, on a routine basis, justice is not seen to be done. Personal responsibility is never developed among the pupils, as they are so rarely held to account for their actions. Only misbehaviour of an extraordinarily extreme nature (such as hitting a member of staff) is sure to be met with definite consequences. The idea that senior staff will deal with the most serious infringements does not exist. Far from being the school’s ultimate moral arbiters, senior members of staff perceive themselves as administrators, often unknown to the pupils. Similarly, events such as school assemblies are not seen as an opportunity for moral inspiration, but instead a convenient time to read out school notices and play the occasional game. Little platoons such as houses, sports teams or prefects, which should engender bonds of allegiance and notions of community, either do not exist or play little part in school life. Even the language of reward and reproach is lobotomised to remove any notion of judgment. Behaviour is not good, it is “appropriate”. Swearing is not rude, it is “unacceptable”.
Apologists for the state sector argue that schools have been innocent bystanders in these developments, vulnerable to the wider forces of social deprivation. However once you understand the philosophy that has taken hold in state education, such an argument becomes untenable. The idea that schools should be institutions designed to cultivate virtues was one of the many casualties of the 1960s turn towards “progressive” education — a movement which sought to transfer authority from the teacher to the child. The movement’s leading light, A.S. Neill, wrote: “No one is wise enough or good enough to mould the character of any child… An adult generation that has seen two great wars and seems about to launch a third should not be trusted to mould the character of a rat.”
As Melanie Phillips wrote in her 1996 book on British education All Must Have Prizes, “Morality has now become a subject to be discussed only by consenting adults in private.”