When I worked in local newspapers I noticed that reporters who were recent graduates were often ignorant and bumptious. It became such a talking point in the office that I cheekily instituted what I was pleased to call the Graduate Ignorance Board, on which were recorded basic failures in common and general knowledge. It sounds harsh, I know. However, ignorance I can forgive, but when it comes with cockiness it quickly becomes intolerably grating.
The things that went up on that board! ‘What does RIP mean?’ ‘What is CID?’ ‘What’s Ramsgate?’ Someone asked ‘Who fought in the Battle of Britain?’ I’m not making this up. A distressingly high percentage of this country’s cultural and historical figures were unknown to them. One thought The Jungle Book was written by Walt Disney. Then there was the graduate from an Oxbridge college who spelled courgette as ‘cawjette’. Two graduates, both very full of themselves, did not know what a bedsit was. Another was unaware that interest was charged on credit cards.
I well remember a woman who had been educated at one of the country’s most illustrious universities giving me a lecture on social justice in South Africa. During our conversation it emerged that she had never heard of Steve Biko. She was unabashed and went on to bigger and better things, and presumably now knows who Steve Biko is.
The funny thing is that these high-flying graduates seem to feel no shame when their ignorance is revealed, but rather a sense of pride, as if knowing things is for the little people, the anoraks or the bores. I suppose this is an inevitable outcome of the ‘everyone’s brilliant’ culture.
Later, when working on one of the biggest-circulation national newspapers in Britain, a colleague encountered a graduate in a position of high responsibility over the paper’s content who had never heard of Rudolph Valentino. ‘Before my time,’ he said blithely, almost boastfully. Yes, but almost everything is before almost everybody’s time. There seems to be a trend among ignorant graduates that they should not be expected to know anything that happened before they started watching television and also that they cannot and should not be expected to know anything much outside the remit of their university course. That’s general knowledge dispensed with, then.
That was when I realised that the dumbing down and ‘all must have prizes’ culture pushed by the Left-wing educational establishment was starting to have an effect. Things have evidently not improved, judging by figures published by The Times on Wednesday and highlighted by Chris McGovern in TCW yesterday.
England has almost the highest proportion of graduates in school-leaver jobs of any developed country, and many are in those jobs because they lack basic numeracy and literacy, according to the education director of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which published its annual education report.
Andreas Schleicher said at its launch in London that questions should be raised about quality assurance at British universities. It was astounding, he suggested, that students with poor maths and writing ability were being recruited by universities, let alone graduating.
The report showed that 28 per cent of graduates in England were in jobs requiring skills no higher than a school-leaver.
Mr Schleicher said: ‘Lots of people get university degrees but are in a job that doesn’t require it . . . for some of them the wage premium is not particularly good.’
Additionally: The charity National Numeracy said recent research found that only a quarter of more than 700 social science undergraduates across nine universities had the essentials of numeracy needed for daily life and the workplace, even though almost all had passed GCSE maths.
In the same Times piece Mike Ellicock of National Numeracy said: ‘Most students are unlikely to have the numeracy skills needed to understand the quantitative elements of their course, to progress successfully into a career, or to confidently manage their personal finances at university and in later life. Qualifications do not equate to skills and Mr Schleicher is 100 per cent right — there is no guarantee that graduates in the UK are functionally numerate.’
Let that last sentence sink in.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds is evidently unworried: ‘As the report recognises, we have high levels of young people in education or employment, the financial gains from going to university outstrip the cost and people are more likely to continue learning throughout their lives.’
When you consider that going to university will have saddled many students with enormous debts, the sunny uplands of the liberal-Left’s education project start to look like yet another example of two of Britain’s specialities, economic predation and goods and services that are not up to scratch. Of course, in many cases it is not the student that pays the debt. After three years of Mao-like indoctrination and drug abuse they are off to man Great Britain’s call centres for derisory wages and to sulk about capitalist exploitation – and the taxpayer can brass up for their ‘education’.
Of course, it is not just education that has caused this. The colonisation of childhood by television and gadgetry has taken children away from mixing with adults and thus learning about adults, how they behave and what they know. Hence, more people remaining de facto children all their lives. I notice that the tech tycoons carefully ration their own children’s exposure to the products that have made them millions.
It hardly needs saying that education should be a bulwark against ignorance, but the report, incredibly, shows it up as a causative factor. Whenever the establishment and its media outriders start banging on about the necessity of the expansion of higher education I think of the inane cultural landscape of Britain. The puerile television, the moronic music, the Harry Potter cult, the Star Wars cult and many other infantile franchises, the vainglorious tattoos, the huge sales of badly written pulp fiction, the concept of ‘binge-watching’ American television, the bad manners, the high talk, the humourlessness, the lack of knowledge about the first principles of a free society, the blind acceptance of PC nostrums, the no-platforming, the political bawling and cry-bullying and I think: wasn’t the expansion of higher education supposed to make Britain more civilised and culturally sophisticated? God help us when every policeman has a degree.
When I started work more than 30 years ago I knew a builder’s labourer who could talk with some knowledge about the history of Chinese art; a warehouseman who was keen to discuss Thomas Mann; a racing-obsessed maths whiz who mixed plaster all day long and a carpenter who had read every novel by Thomas Hardy. I sometimes think about them and others like them I have met along the way, when I am told how ‘much progress we have made’ in Britain.
The OECD’s figures along with the Education Secretary’s robotic and Blairite response are another depressing sign that the establishment in Britain is living in an alternative reality. Perhaps the reason they are all so terrified of Brexit is that when Britain comes to compete in the world outside the EU their disgraceful failures will be ever more exposed. For make no mistake, if you wish to destroy a country, your best bet is to destroy its education system first.