Measuring Inward Worth by Outward Standards

Further to my previous posting I have noted another salient quote by Edward Holmes from his book What Is and What Might Be, where he is writing a critique in 1911 of what is fundamentally wrong with our education system in this country:

In my attempt to account for the failure of elementary education in England to foster the growth of the educated child, I have travelled far. But I must travel farther yet. The Western belief in the efficacy of examinations is a symptom of a widespread and deep-seated tendency, – the tendency to judge according to the appearance of things, to attach supreme importance to visible “results”, to measure inward worth by outward standards, to estimate progress in terms of what the “world” reveres as “success”. It is the Western standard of values, the Western way of looking at things, which is in question, and which I must now attempt to determine.

As if to reassure but also add to the anger and annoyance that such criticism has existed without remedy for so many years, I have just read in the Introduction by John McGahern to John Williams’ wonderful novel Stoner the following where he writes about an interview Williams gave to Brian Wooley in 1985. This key reference to what was said in that interview reflects poignantly if fleetingly on these thoughts about education here in the UK both historically and, despairingly, in the present. It is the first and brief part of the extract that does this, and whilst Williams is referring to university education, it is still applicable as a general view of the detrimental ideological impact on all levels of education

Pressed towards the end of the interview he [Williams] complains about the change away from pure study towards a purely utilitarian, problem-solving way of doing things more efficiently, both in the arts and sciences, all of which can be predicted and measured.

The rest of the extract I am quoting here is more to do with the study of literature, but is making a similar point. I am quoting this too in advance of writing a review of the novel Stoner, especially the notion of it being ‘entertaining’ and a ‘joy to read’:

Then, more specifically, Williams complains about the changes in the teaching of literature and the attitude to the text ‘as if a novel or poem is something to be studied and understood rather than experienced.’ Wooley then suggests playfully, ‘It’s to be exegeted, in other words.’ ‘Yes. As if it were a kind of puzzle.’ ‘And literature is written to be entertaining?’ Wooley suggests again. ‘Absolutely. My God, to read without joy is stupid.’

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