I read an interesting piece in Sunday's Independent from Tom Hodgkinson entitled "Education needn't be so geared towards jobs" Annoyingly there are some areas I agree with, but talk about missing a big point.
The Ancient Greek word schole, which turned into our word for school, meant leisure, and the art of cultivating one's leisure was of central importance to the culture of Ancient Athensand
In the Middle Ages, the basic liberal education was invented by the Greeks, became known as the trivium and offered the three liberal arts of grammar, logic and rhetoric.Well yes it appears Tom doesn't realise the people at that time kept slaves and/or vassals.
The people who acquired an 'education' tended to be independently wealthy - they didn't have to work. They all had time to sit back and discuss arts, books, philosophy and how lazy slaves/staff were nowadays. Those who did the work acquired their training on-the-job. A farmer's son learnt farming from his father in the same way his father learnt from his; this is why families became stuck so easily within a profession.
Once the free and charity schools arose they could have kept with the traditional form of education, but they recognised that to a larger extent this would be wasted. Give the students a basic reading, writing and 'rithmetic, because they wouldn't have time to lollygag about discussing the finer points of Chaucher, Virgil etc. they'd be earning a living. Hand out a smattering of such learning to those of a slightly better class of 'breed' who'd become butlers etc., but why bother with the majority?
It was a poor attitude at the time, but understandable. What I think Tom is trying to say, and making a mess of it, is that this type of classism has stuck. The conceit being that those enrolled into the state education system are there solely to be churned out as worker drones. Sadly as with so many upper-class liberal concepts reality isn't allowed a oar into ideals. Because the reality is that the majority of those in state-education do find themselves in the worker drone situation.
The real question is how much does the education force them down into that route; if they were taught the same high-browed topics as in private education would they find themselves in a 'better' position? Would they have a 'better' leisure time? Quite possibly yes.
Sheer technological change means a far greater access to 'leisure' pieces. It's no longer the case of reading Homer at school and then being unable to afford a copy of the Iliad; it's available for free from the internet along with so many other out-of-copyright classics. Art works are being digitised so they can be appreciated online without having to take time off from work to visit a museum; even if they aren't workers have access to a far better degree of transportation to travel to these institutes (even if they do have less holy days off than in the medieval period).
Television allows great works to be performed once and replayed many times over for an audience that doesn't have to leave their house. Poetry and sagas can be recorded and played back while the listener is on the move. There is no longer any excuse to maintain a business driven attitude of education. So should schools start of their pupils on Shakespeare and Dickens and all the other greats? No.
Again this is where the privately educated tend to falter in their processes. Because they were taught this and because they consider this to be a 'higher' class of education, then it is; but only to them. I'm sure I've said this before but Shakespeare, Dickens, Wordsworth etc. weren't written for a juvenile audience; they were written to be appreciated by adults - moreover for adults of the era in which they were written.
I'm willing to bet that any children of the time presented with the 'masterworks' found them just as dull as the children of today. They deal with concepts outside of the child's experience particularly in this period where we have a concept of child more so than any other and insulate them from harsh realities.
The true education that was presented by the Greeks etc. is less what they're taught, but how they're taught. The only real education is the expansion of self-education. Not a case of presenting a class with a poem and telling them what they should be experiencing, but presenting them with a poem they can understand themselves and encouraging them to seek out similar works for themselves.
Don't tell them why they enjoy this particular book; ask them why - then point out how other books compare and contrast to that. Allow children to acquire their own tastes, but don't mollycoddle them by allowing to stay within that safe zone. Don't denigrate what they enjoy as unworthy trash (hello Twilight series), but nudge them to similar topiced books that are better written.
The fundamentals of linguistics and numeristics are needed, but there is no requirement for set syllabi beyond this. Teach what they enjoy and they'll want to learn more. Educate them so they can get more from what they like; rather than to what they should like.