Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Evelyn Waugh On Educational Reform

I read Waugh’s Scott-King’s Modern Europe many years ago. The last paragraphs impressed me then; in the last couple of years they have impressed me even more. In fact I am tempted to have them embossed on a great banner that I can hang on my classroom door.

Mr. Scott-King, a fusty Latin teacher at an old English public school, returns from an excursion that, much against his will, has taken him to a European dictatorship and a Palestinian refugee camp (from which he was rescued by a former student). The Headmaster tries to persuade him to teach something more ‘useful’ than Latin, since the number of Latinists at the school is dwindling.

“You know,” the Headmaster said, “we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical applicants than we had last term.”

“I thought that would be about the number.”

“I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?”

“Oh yes,” said Scott-King. “I can and do. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”

“It’s a shortsighted view, Scott-King.”

“There, Headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it is the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.”

Evelyn Waugh
Scott-King’s Modern Europe, 1947

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