A few postings ago, a Serbian intellectual now living in the United States opined that the education in a communist regime was, in many instances, better than the politically correct hogwash fed to our children through unionized teachers and provincial education departments. Why is this so? It is not a trivial question.
Why, despite the obeisance they all had to make to Marxism, did Eastern European children end up with sounder fundamentals than Western kids educated in our touchy-feely system? Logic, grammar, foreign languages, mathematics, composition, rigor: those elements missing from contemporary public schools.
Reading an obituary today of Dennis O’Keeffe, written by the British libertarian Sean Gabb, I came across an answer. Sean Gabb’s wife came from Czechoslovakia, then a Soviet satellite, and her question for Professor O’Keeffe (which in the circumstances she did not ask) was the one posed above.
Dennis had been denouncing socialism in education, she told me afterwards. Yet she had received a standard socialist education in Czechoslovakia – nothing special, as she didn’t come from the privileged orders in that country—and this was vastly better than anything she had seen in England. She left school with a stock of mathematical and scientific knowledge that most undergraduates here don’t have. Including Czech, she also learnt four other languages. History and the other humanities, she admitted, were a joke; and probably the universities were far worse than ours outside the purely scientific faculties…
Had she asked her question—and I wish she had—I am sure Dennis would have answered it as follows. Her country before 1989 was run by East European Communists. Yes, they had all the ridiculous economics of Marxism, and the police state means of enforcing them on the people. But they shared with Marx the old Germanic respect for learning and belief in its potential for improvement. Our own lefties are just an embittered clique of anti-nomians. They retain a vaguely Marxist economics, but are untouched by the educational traditions that Marx and his East European followers unthinkingly accepted. What they deliver here is an education that sends 20 per cent of working class children illiterate into the adult world, and the other 80 per cent ignorant of history, mathematics, the natural sciences, and just about everything else worth knowing.