3• Down the 'C' Stream
By DAVID HOLBROOK T HAVE just finished a year's experimental work 1 as part-time teacher with eighteen most valu- able young human beings. They are delightful company, even if they have needed my backing as father substitute more than has been good for either of us. They have remarkable poten- tialities. One boy can shoot four pigeons with every five cartridges, and, bring you half a dozen Plucked, drawn and ready for the oven the morn- ing after you ask for them. Some of the girls keep house for large families. One boy spends his Saturday pulling the intestines out of pigs in the slaughterhouse and preparing them for the chit- terling factory. They can nearly all milk a cow, drive a tractor, ride a motor-cycle and a go-kart, and some of them are remarkably good at cabinet- making and embroidery, particularly one deaf and dumb girl.
For years these children, sorted out by the intelligence tests as unsuitable for the more ab- stract forms of learning, have been called 'C' stream children. This is what is chiefly wrong with them—society's implication that they are low-stream' people; as teachers sometimes call them, 'the dregs.' They will never be able to obtain any certificate through examination, cer- tainly they will never enter the professions. Therefore most teachers are uninterested in them —a lot less interested than they are in other children.
Yet these children need everything we can give them to help their sensibilities to develop to- Wards maturity. Because of their lower intelli- gence they have a limited range of intellectual interests, and consequently they seem to be able to exert less control over their emotional prob- lems. They are more anxiously preoccupied with sex, for instance, than their brighter schoolmates, because they find it more difficult to absorb all those interests and values which transcend the merely sensual—particularly in our society when parental care, and the imparting of wisdom, are increasingly abrogated by the fSmily and left to school teaching. Many of these 'backward' chil- dre.n need psychotherapy, but though one recom- mends it, there is little chance of them receiving it.
They have to gain what they can from teachers, and teachers do not always accept their obliga- tions to tackle those problems which trouble children most—that is, they retreat from the diffi- cult world of emotion into the drier forms of abstract learning. With these—grammar, arith- metic, fact-absorbing in history and geography, `practical exercises' in English—`backward' chil- dren cannot really cope. And for them there are pitifully few good school books—to help their reading, for instance, at the level of their own interests. There are many devoted teachers of backward children, but there are also many schools where. the object has become merely to keep them quiet until they leave. In 10,000 secondary modern schools there must be some 500,000 such human beings. And much of what I am going to say about these children applies to others in 'A' and 'B' streams—I am really speaking, I suppose, of nearly a million children. If they take in the implication of being 'C' stream—or 'H' or 'J' stream—individuals, then they will seek revenge on society, and, made into virtually a slave class by the new examina- tion system, will be a new oppressed minority.
These children are already neglected; and their situation is worsened by Mr. Selwyn Lloyd's mean treatment of the teaching profession with its im- plicit undervaluing of the things of the mind and spirit in our greedy society. But the acceptance by the Minister of Education of an external examination for secondary modern schools pro- nounces a doom on these children. It marks, in fact, a dreadful abrogation on the part of our society of the need to find adequate aims for the education of the majority. I do not blame the teachers for this—how can they find time and energy to consider and form aims for their work when classes are overcrowded and the pressure so exacting? How many ever get one sabbatical year? How many can ever find adequate refresher courses to give substance to their aims and keep them up to date? The need since 1944 has been for large-scale research and investigation into what the new schools were doing, what they think they are doing, and how a new education, fit for the less academic child, but a true liberal, civilising process, could be developed. This new education could then have been developed by policy in the secondary modern schools to replace the present anachronistic, watered-down version of the gram- mar school syllabus that afflicts most secondary modern schools.
Instead, we are to have an examination. A substitute activity, a mere going-through-the- motions, the usual tired tactics towards a piece of paper. Of course, the teachers will be glad— they will feel secure at last, after years in which the young ones tried bravely to experiment, in the face of administrative bumbledom, and then sank into the meaningless grind of textbooks and the cynicism of the older teachers. At last a sub- stitute activity will take the place of the harrowing business of trying to discover what are the true needs of the animula, of the unbright, not easily fluent, unacademic animula. At last it is con- firmed that the 'backward' child is merely a lower form of life, as demonstrated by its in- ability to perform the monkey tricks required by `intelligence' tests.
The Beloe Report is being accepted everywhere with a shrug. But is this the best our intelligent minority can do, in the face of developments which are essentially a denial of equal human rights, as between creatures? Is it irresponsible and unrealistic to say that what is worth doing with most secondary modern schoolchildren is not properly examinable? And is it true that there is no alternative?
There could have been—the inculcation of a new popular culture, and better forms of social living. That there has been no such development is a comment on the poverty of our culture itself, the irresponsibility and ineffectualness of our intelligentsia, and the essential contempt of the `educated' for the ordinary child and the com- mon people.
In school we all know what will happen. It already does happen—the bright children being swept out of one's lessons to do GCE work, with the implication that they are wasting their time doing free drama or imaginative composition. The teachers now will be taken up with 'results'; the less able children, verbally and intellectually, will be more and more neglected, for they are not going to be the ones who bring kudos to the school, expressions of pleasurable satisfaction from employers, and statistics on which local honours, even allocations of money, are handed out. A `good' school will not be one which looks after all its children as souls equal in the sight of God, but as the one which approximates most nearly to the grammar school by bringing in the largest number of lesser-level certificates of edu- cation. Oh, that `sastificate' in English life, with all its Puritan, Philistine implications!
For the fact is that MAs and BAs and doctor- ates and GCEs 'A' and '0' and the rest do not indicate that which a truly liberal education gives. And for the majority a truly liberal education, education for life, is all that matters. Employers can teach them how to operate machines and the rest at their own expense and in their own time; they should not be allowed to dictate that the secondary modern schools should train for 'the lower echelons of industry'--if only because they do not understand how education works The best way to train a literate. co-operative and efficient workman is to gis ^ him the best possible liberal education as a human being. The more art, music, free drama, creative writing, debating, cabinet-making, pottery, dancing and such he does, the greater will be his potentiali- ties for all activities, including industrial work. Limit his work to 'practical' exercises, 'commer- cial' English, machine drawing, lathe operating, typing and the rest, and the emerging school leaver will be a boor, a heel-kicker, illiterate and unbalanced. The pressure by employers and such interests on the schools, combined with the in- flicting of textbook work of the meaningless `practical' kind is at the root of our growing national illiteracy.
The proposal for external examination as accepted by Sir David Eccles is the condoning of this process of reinforcing illiteracy. It means in- evitably the acceptance of forms of work, par- ticularly in such subjects as English, which are markabk. There will be perhaps 2,000,000 sets of papers to mark in the few months of summer. A windfall, maybe, for several thousand teachers who need to make up a bit on the depressed Burnham. But the people who set and mark ex- amination papers below 'A' level, begging their pardons, are a little hack—in the sense that had they wide creative interests they wouldn't be the sort of people to set and mark examination papers. Inevitably, then, the papers and the mark- ing will be at the level of the dreariest textbook, 'practical exercises.' This work, too, particularly in the key liberal subjects such as English, will inevitably make for less time in the school for the more exacting, freer work. It will confirm the division of the timetable into the short periods belonging to the grammar school academic syllabus and utterly inappro- priate for children who work best more slowly and at first hand rather than by abstraction. It will make more difficult the kind of co-operation between subjects (e.g. art and poetry) such as I suggested in English for Maturity, and generally generate a panic disregard of the 'useless' sub- jects such as the freer imaginative ones.
Many people consciously or unconsciously assume that because these children are doomed to be workers, to do practical tasks, therefore they need mostly practical education, and are not cap- able of imaginative work. I have proved to my- self, in my year's experiment with a 3C form, that the chief way to approach these children's development is by free imaginative methods. From this work—writing stories, poems, giving talks, free painting, by free drama—comes confidence, an increased measure of self-respect and inward order, and, ultimately, literacy. I have been told recently by other teachers how much my backward children have improved in their reading and spelling : yet I have done no textbook exercises, and very little practical work (so-called) in English, and no formal spelling or reading work to speak of. We have simply gone on talking, listening, writing, reading, illustrating poems and so forth.
But I have been able to do this only because of the liberal tolerance of my headmaster, in a school where there is no pressure of examinations.
I think that the methods I have developed—they are used by hundreds of others, of course—are probably appropriate to three-quarters of the three-quarters of the nation who go to secondary modern schools. But these methods are not exam- inable, because the results cannot be tested—they are intangible, even in the actual pieces of writing. For our internal examination I gave them all above-average marks, because they had worked hard, and because I wanted them to feel satis- fied. There is no point in supposing there is any absolute scale. I write 'good' on their work and nothing else—which is not to say I don't blow a boy up for being lazy or insolent. But I couldn't for one moment pretend that anything I have done towards literacy and balance with my pupils could be measured by an external examination, or justifies any certificate. I wouldn't insult them by giving them a certificate of 'being themselves.'
The trouble with educational policy and de- cisions is that these are too often made by people who simply do not know the ordinary non- academic child. Implicit in their attitudes is that such children do not matter—certainly much less than boys at, say, Eton or Manchester Grammar School. I find this unconscious snobbery in many People with whom I have discussed my work with such children, not least 'left-wing' people. But in a sense the less intelligent are most important of all—as indeed we indicate by being so worried about a delinquent minority among teenagers, Who are often the same people. Essentially they are a test, an index, of our values—of our estima- tion of human nature, of our attitudes to human rights, our compassion, and, not least, our notion of what education is.