by Ferdi McDermott

Let’s start with a poem …

Where the pools are bright and deep,

Where the grey trout lies asleep,

Up the river and over the lea,

That’s the way for Billy and me.


Where the blackbird sings the latest,

Where the hawthorn blooms the sweetest,

Where the nestlings chirp and flee,

That’s the way for Billy and me.


Where the mowers mow the cleanest,

Where the hay lies thick and greenest,

There to track the homeward bee,

That’s the way for Billy and me.


Where the hazel bank is steepest,

Where the shadow falls the deepest,

Where the clustering nuts fall free,

That’s the way for Billy and me.


Why the boys should drive away

Little sweet maidens from their play,

Or love to banter and fight so well,

That’s the thing I never could tell.


But this I know, I love to play

Through the meadow, among the hay;

Up the water and over the lea,

That’s the way for Billy and me.         


“A Boy’s Song”, James Hogg (1770-1835)


There is a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin one days tells his furry friend that he no longer wants to be called “a boy”. Hobbes thinks for a moment, and then replies: “Isn’t that what you are?”

Questions of gender and of gender identity are at the forefront of debates in modern education, but mostly the debate is not about how a reflection on the nature of gender can inform and improve the education we give our children. Rather, the argument is all about rights, rarely about such issues as developmental psychology, parenting, socialisation, educational philosophy or any other field related to the science of pedagogy. Society has spent a century addressing the just grievances of the fairer sex, and now the educational establishment, dominated by the progressive left, is obsessed with changing our whole approach to gender in education in order to address the grievances of those poor unfortunates whose grasp of it is so compromised that they decide, quite literally, to chop and change ….

LGBTQ+ activists are usually people who, having blazed a trail in doing something new and dangerous, now want to recruit more to their new way of life from the next generation, lest it should be deduced by the rest of the world that their paradigm shift is just a passing fashion.  And the lobby has been very successful : what was once forbidden has become possible, then recommended, and now in some cases – after recent judicial decisions in the USA – even compulsory.

Flying completely in the face of nearly two centuries of developmental psychology and also of traditional wisdom, the argument about rights risks destroying much that is valuable and wise in our educational tradition as well as trashing all the insights of recent scholarship in male and female needs in education, rooted in neuroscience. And just like the contributions to the educational debate which came out of revolutionary France, militaristic Prussia, Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and Communist China, it is all about ideology and sadly disconnected from the real business of being a human being; yet another example of how the State is the worst possible educator of children. (It is a sobering fact that many of the key decision makers in education in modern Europe have no children – and the President of the United States behaves like a little boy.)

Many countries are now striving, rather pathetically and much too late, to rebuild their sense of rootedness. They are seeking to repair the damage after the Cultural Revolution in China and – let’s face it – everywhere else too  in the 1970s (in which left-wing theorists, especially in education, sporadically sought to halt the transmission of cultural traditions – seen as bourgeois – in order to create a new ideal culture for the ideal man). At the heart of this ideological approach is a new way to deracinate and thereby manipulate all those who fall under its spell: the illusion of total knowledge provided by artifical intelligence has given us all the perfect excuse to leave aside the search for, or the transmission of knowledge as an activity worthy in itself.

It is no surprise for readers of prophetic dystopian fiction (Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, etc) that the total deracination of a future generation is becoming a realistic possibility at exactly the same time as artificial intelligence is set to play an increasingly part in our lives. Only the other day, I heard an educator say “What is the point of teaching children things they can just summon up on Google? Education is about more than that.” Well, Google, and Alexa, et al, know the Bible better than I do … does that mean I should never read it?

I can remember reading Fahrenheit 451 as a boy. It was one of the first in a long line of books and films about a future in which a copy of the Bible becomes a symbol for everything we have lost and are now forbidden to think about. People in that dystopia have forgotten their history and have, as in 1984, have learnt to accept and follow Big Brother without question. Films are still being made about that kind of dystopia, but the odd thing is we have already arrived in it.  

The notion of education as being mainly about transmitting the stories of our people, as it was in every ancient tribe and culture we might know about, if we knew our history, is now a dead notion. Education has slipped its moorings and is now all about whatever the zeitgeist says it is. And the thinkers who make up the policy have so little culture and that they will now say that education is about “teaching children, not subjects.” How many children today have read any of the Bible? How many have been given a Bible? (I was given more than one when I was a schoolboy) How many know anything of significance from Shakespeare or Homer or even Dickens, or even A. A. Milne? How many can recite poems or sing in tune and from memory? How many can explain Pythagoras’ theorem or know the date of the Battle of Hastings? Ask a randomly selected child in a UK secondary school and the answer is probably disappointing on most or all fronts.  And those who do know about all “that stuff” have increasingly to keep their heads down.

 When one speaks of an old person who is unsure of his name, where he comes from, why he is where he is, has difficulty communicating, seems to repeat himself, we call it dementia. But now, we are creating young people like this. They are so confused where they come from, who they are and what their purpose is in life, that they feel like little Calvin in the cartoon. And not many adults would feel safe giving them the common-sense answer that Hobbes gave his friend; about gender identity, or about anything else. Common-sense answers are in short supply. Instead, The Gender Fairy, a book which teaches that being a “boy” or a “girl” can be a matter of personal decision, was released and is being promoted with State funds in Australia.  It ends with the claim: “Only you know whether you are a girl or a boy.”  In the UK we have My Princess Boy which peddles the same LGBTQ+ propaganda in primary schools.  The aim of the minority lobby which has somehow gained the upper hand in this debate is to eliminate the difference between boys and girls entirely:  “…only then will men and women be socially interchangeable and really equal.  And when that happens there will no longer be any need for gender at all.” (Judith Lorber cited by Dr. Peter Jones, Capturing the Pagan Mind, p.47.)

Teachers used to be the high priests of common sense. Their wide erudition coupled with their extensive first-hand experience of human nature gave them wisdom. And they handed it on, as in every culture worthy of the name, to the next generation. The job of a teacher is, in fact, to help a child to learn about himself and the world, and to show him what to do in order to become the person he is destined to be, something which is written into our genes and our chromosomes as well as in our hearts and minds.  Animals do it without any need for educational theory; which is why – despite our addiction to animal rights – there are not yet any sex change operations for cats and dogs. But human children are born completely helpless and clueless; sorry, Mr Rousseau (author of Emile ou l’Education) … they just need to be taught. They often need to be told, in the words of Sir Roger Scruton  “not to be a bloody fool.” (Roger Scruton, On Hunting, 1998, p 61.)

A wise teacher once said, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11: 11). It is an odd thing that at a time when the green movement is so ubiquitous, there is so little respect for the natural law when it comes to the behaviour of human society. We would not give hormone-blockers to a guinea-pig, but we would give them to poor Calvin, and a morning-after pill for his 12-year-old sister, as an alternative to giving them wisdom. We wouldn’t do it to a cat but we’d do it to a child. Often when children ask us for things, they don’t really know what they want. Think of a child who says that he has a tummy-ache, but in fact just misses his mother, or is worried about a test. It happens all the time. When we begin to toy with asking a question online, Google now suggests its own ready-made question to us before we have even formulated it, and we usually agree with Google that this question will do; all this, before we even get an answer. This is sinister, because Google does not know our souls, even if it knows our search history. But a teacher knows his pupils, and can help them to put the right questions instead of just giving giving facile and politically correct answers to stupid questions copied from cult TV-shows or websites.

My contention is that schools can save our culture from falling off the edge of the cliff into the dystopian abyss. But to do this we need to start with the education of boys. And instead of looking only into the dimly discernible future for magical solutions to all our educational problems, we need to look backwards where we can look at facts instead of at utopian speculation. The education of boys was the cornerstone of every great civilisation of the past. And the destruction of this key building block of our society is at the root of most of what is wrong with the world. And getting it right – not just an unthinking return to the past, but an earnest effort to educate boys for manhood as the cultured and wise fathers and leaders of the future – is the key to putting our world to rights, and eliminating its mass dementia, before it is too late.

For this, we need boys’ schools, with mainly (but not exclusively) male teachers, committed to nurturing boys, in close collaboration with their mothers and fathers, and transmitting to them a strong sense of who they are, where they come from, and where they ought to be going. 


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