December 31, 2002
An army view of British education

A friend of mine is a British army officer. I dined with him the other night and he asked me about this blog and how it was going. Fine I said, and I started to ask him about the army approach to education, by which I meant how the army goes about educating its people. He did eventually give me an excellent and detailed answer to that question, which I hope to tell you all about at a later date, but before that could happen, he dived in with a most interesting spiel about how the army sees education, by which he meant the education system that its recruits come from, while making it very clear that what he was saying wasn't just his own opinion, but was something that army officers as a whole all tend to agree about.

He focused on two particular changes that seem to have been happening in the raising of young men in our society. (1) They tend nowadays to lack "physical robustness", at any rate compared to former times, and (2) they tend to have no understanding of authority, ditto. These were the two big things that he emphasised.

By robustness he meant that young men tend nowadays seem to have no notion of how you can stick at some physical task even though it might be hurting. Pain is not necessarily the same thing as damage, and might actually be a sign of a growth in physical strength, but the latest army recruits didn't seem to get that, and had to be taught about it.

Second - the authority thing - well, that seemed to be related to the fact that the sort of men who now go into the lower ranks of the army have a serious statistical tendency not to have fathers and in general not to have had any history of knuckling under to any disciplined regime.

You can see how these two things are actually pretty closely related. In fact they are but different aspects of the same fact.

My personal interpretation of all this is that nowadays boys aren't having to do anything others tell them to do, but neither are they doing anything much that they want to do. They have a definite tendency, in short, to be doing nothing. But this is not a long posting about what I think, it's a short posting about some of the things that my friend the army officer thinks about British education.

All I really want to add now is to say: Happy New Year. I haven't got around to analysing who is reading this blog, but the comments suggest that some people are, and I want to thank all of you. I repeat my intention to post something here every normal working day, and maybe things also on abnormal non-working days such as today is. Regular visitors can be pretty sure of new stuff if they visit every day or two.

I've just seen the latest Bond movie. Try as I might, I can see no educational angle on this whatsoever, other than to observe how much more amusing a male teenager of the army sort would find it than something like geography lessons. So I'm having fun, and I hope you are too.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:33 PM
Category: Boys will be boys