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Stopping the Rot

‘He’s too clever by half!’ A distinctly British complaint, and one that appears to typify our outlook on learning and the expression of it. In France, philosophers are celebrities; in America, inventors are royalty; in Britain, we hide our academics in universities and our entrepreneurs are to be seen and not heard. It seems remarkable that a nation that produced Shakespeare, Hume and Brunel should have fallen into such an insipid languor. It would be too easy to lay blame at the door of successive failures in British educational policy, which has seen greater emphasis placed on the completion of meaningless Assessment Objectives rather than a deeper appreciation for ideas, but that would touch only the superficial layer of a far deeper rot. Indeed, we are all to blame for a culture of academic aversion, in which intellectual enquiry is shouted down from the stalls as a waste of time and a feckless pursuit. Such sentiments pervade the classroom and are packed up and taken home, or is it the other way around? One cannot unweave the lines, nor lay primacy with the chicken or the broken egg. Nor does it matter.

As Britain limps on through economic difficulty, we must learn from the past and, if we cannot be saved, then at the very least we must correct the next generation. Hypocritical though it may seem – to promote a thirst of knowledge in those whose elders do not even know of the Pierian Spring, let alone drink from it – we must endeavor to reform a cultural malaise that is increasingly causing our nation to walk the path of its own destruction. No, destruction is too violent, too vivacious, our downfall will not be a bang but a whimper, a whimper that will fall unheard. As Britain fails to change a multigenerational attitude that has succeeded both to stifle talent as well as driving it into self-imposed exile on the continent and across the Atlantic, its position of respect and admiration will fade to a nothing. A nation is only as great as its citizens; a truism that we have begun to forget of late.

Let us not be too cynical, we do not need this change purely for economic reasons, though, of course, without it we can never truly enact a “recovery”; we need this change for the improvement of society, to generate the cohesion and progression that makes civilization great. There was a time when Britain encouraged people of all nations to come and build together towards a better future; when did we become so cold? The attitudes of many immigrants to this country should be cited as an example for progression: hard work, economic enterprise and academic enquiry. By encouraging the youth of our nation to strive for these three goals, we may restore a sense of pride and, more importantly, a sense of responsibility. However, this change will not occur if we, the present generation of responsibility, fail to instill the right values.

W. J. Humphries

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