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The Abolition of Learning

Schools in the Rubbish Heap

In 1997, the headmaster of the English secondary school in which I was teaching ordered a bibliocaust.  The inspectors were coming, and he wanted our library to look up-to-date.  All the old stuff had to go; only bright, modern volumes relevant to the contemporary curriculum were to be on the shelves.  Each department was told to appoint a teacher to a team that would pick over all the books and cast any that were dated or dusty into a skip.  A more-perfect metaphor for the British government’s treatment of education would be hard to imagine.  The past is rejected, on principle; obedience to the new orthodoxy is unchallengeable; what matters above all is how things look.  Of course, the same invincible arrogance is displayed in every area of New Labour neoconservatism, but it is most keenly and determinedly exercised in education, which is the anvil upon which future generations are beaten into shape.

Before the lorry came to cart away our cultural cast-offs, I rescued as many books as I could, but the container was full to the brim, and I could only pick over the top couple of layers.  So I did not, alas, find the complete set of Scrutiny that I knew to be somewhere in the heap, but I did recover the school’s leather-bound Lewis and Short Latin-English dictionary.  I have it before me now.  It still has its comforting library smell.  On its inside front cover...

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