The other day I was toiling away when I heard a series of loud bangs. "What idiot is setting off fireworks in the middle of the afternoon?" I wondered. I went out to find out. It was Oakham School's army cadets having shooting practice.
Which set me thinking: isn't private schooling so good? It's education in the sense of "educere" - drawing out whatever latent talents a student has. If someone doesn't have the aptitude for academe, they are given the chance to excel at something else: the military, or music (Oakham School has a thriving music department) or sport: the school's county-standard facilities has recently helped it produce some fine cricketers.
Contrast this to the Marxian view, which regards (state?) schools as means for moulding people to meet the requirements of capitalism - a view which New Labour, which regards the state as a human resources department, seems to regard not as a criticism but as a policy ideal.
Which raises my question. Might it be that the best private education embodies the liberal-left idea of education better than do centrally-managed state schools? I mean this in three senses:
1. It's child-centred, in the sense of trying to bring out the best in the student, even if this does not lie in a narrow academic curriculum.
2. It encourages the pursuit of excellence rather than effectiveness, to use MacIntyre's distinction. Classcial music, cricket and the army are no way to make great wealth, but they are practices which encourage accomplishment as a goal in itself. By contrast, the philistinic New Labour conception of "education" as mere preparation for making a living looks no higher than money-grubbing.
3. It entrusts professionals to know best how to teach, rather than strangling them in bureaucracy .
So, shouldn't the left, when it thinks about what an ideal education system would look like, take some cues from private schooling?