Education and Society - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:09 pm on 8th December 2017.

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Photo of Viscount Eccles Viscount Eccles Conservative 1:09 pm, 8th December 2017

My Lords, I am not sure I can follow the noble Lord, Lord Addington, down his road. However, I refer to the debt felt by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, to the Bible. I share that debt, particularly to the Old Testament. I would add to that Shakespeare, Wagner and a dash of Freud, and then probably one knows as much about human nature as one is likely to learn.

The most reverend Primate encouraged us to find foundations—to look for the basis on which we make our enduring progress and to find it. While doing that, we must make sure that we carry our values along with us. That is a deep search in order that people shall achieve the fullest life that is available to them. He urged us to reject utilitarianism. I am rereading Dickens and I have just read Hard Times. Mr Gradgrind was completely pinned down by utilitarianism. The mess that was made of his two older children, one a girl and the other a boy, takes a bit of reading. I thoroughly recommend it if noble Lords want to study the failure of education.

When we are troubled by what is happening now, we should remember that things are a lot better than they were in the 1850s and 1860s. It was a muddle and remains a muddle, but the question is: how are we coping? The conclusion of this debate so far is that too many people are not coping. So, again, I look for a foundation. One is that everyone is on a journey of their own. When we think about what is happening to them, we need to remember their individuality—not to take it too far, but to remember it.

We must remember that the word “education” comes from a Latin word which means “to draw out”. On this journey, with parents, teachers, friends and colleagues, we are asking at the beginning: who is this individual? The individual comes, after quite a short period, to ask: who am I? Then we continue the dialogue, with the debate, “That is who you think you are, but who are you?”. So people discover themselves. While schools play an important part in this process, it is only a part and we should remember that very strongly. The society that we get will result from this dialogue as individuals find their way on their journeys. It is a preparation for them to be able to recognise opportunities and threats and to come to see who we are, and what we can and cannot do, so that we are able to make the judgments and choices that face us.

The second foundation, which has been much referred to, is lifelong education. At my time, I would describe it as getting through a long life. In doing that, we can only do our best to cope, particularly with change. We should continue to find what we know and what we do not know, and we should recognise that there are many things we do not know that we do not know, and that the last big circle of the unknown is constantly increasing.

My final illustration of change is to mention a lad in Harvard, aged 19, who started writing programs. Some 13 years later, those programs are Facebook and all its subsidiaries. For someone with great-grandchildren, it is a fairly shattering thought that that could be done and that it could have the effect it is having with 2 billion users. The company was established 13 years ago, which is not much more than half a generation. I also reflect that on the agenda for discussion in my village in north Yorkshire is an item headed “drones”. They are of great importance around the village of Moulton. If ever there was a time to look for and find foundations, it must be now. We should continue our search.