Gramsci on education

Author: joe

Tuesday, 07 December, 2010 - 21:49

I agree with pretty much everything that Gramsci wrote. My admiration for the man, who wrote a lot of his most important work from a prison cell during an 11-year incarceration at the hands of Mussolini, which ended only months before his death, only deepens the more I learn about him - his outsider status, his compassion, his intellect, his political commitment, and the almost uncanny resonance with and relevance to the contemporary world his writing still offers. So I'm going to quote him at length, since he puts it all better than me.

A proletarian, no matter how intelligent, no matter how fit to become a man of culture, is forced either to squander his qualities on some other activity, or else to become a rebel and autodidact - i.e. (apart from some notable exceptions) a mediocrity, a man who cannot give all he could have given had he been completed and strengthened by the discipline of school. Culture is a privilege. Education is a privilege. And we do not want it to be so. All young people should be equal before culture. The state should not be financing out of everybody's money the education even of mediocre and gormless children of wealthy parents while it excludes the able and intelligent children of proletarians. Middle and high schools should be only for those who can demonstrate that they are worthy of it. And if it is in the public interest that such forms of education should exist, preferably supported and regulated by the state, then it is also in the public interest that they should be open to all intelligent children, regardless of their economic potential. Collective sacrifice is justified only when it benefits those who are most deserving. Therefore, this collective sacrifice should serve especially to give the most deserving children that economic independence they need if they are to devote their time to serious study.
The proletariat, which is excluded from the middle and high schools as a result of the present social conditions - conditions which ensure that the division of labour between men is unnatural (not being based on different capacities) and so retards and is inimical to production - has to fall back on the parallel educational system: the technical and vocational colleges. As a result of the anti-democratic restrictions imposed by the state budget, the technical colleges, which were set up along democratic lines by the Casati ministry, have undergone a transformation that has largely destroyed their nature. In most cases they have become mere superfetations of the classical schools, and an innocent outlet for the petty bourgeois mania for finding a secure job. The continually rising entrance fees, and the particular prospects they open up in practical life, have turned these schools too into a privilege. Anyway, the overwhelming majority of the proletariat is automatically excluded from them on account of the uncertain and precarious life which the wage earner is forced to lead - the sort of life which is certainly not the most propitious for fruitfully following a course of study.
What the proletariat needs is an educational system that is open to all. A system in which the child is allowed to develop and mature and acquire those general features that serve to develop character. In a word, a humanistic school, as conceived by the ancients, and more recently by the men of the Renaissance. A school which does not mortgage the child's future, a school that does not force the child's will, his intelligence and growing awareness to run along tracks to a predetermined station. A school of freedom and free initiative, not a school of slavery and mechanical precision. The children of proletarians too should have all possibilities open to them; they should be able to develop their own individuality in the optimal way, and hence in the most productive way for both themselves and society. Technical schools should not be allowed to become incubators of little monsters aridly trained for a job, with no general ideas, no general culture, no intellectual stimulation, but only an infallible eye and a firm hand. Technical education too helps a child to blossom into an adult - so long as it is educative and not simply informative, simply passing on manual techniques.
Of course, meanly bourgeois industrialists might prefer to have workers who were more machines than men. But the sacrifices which everyone in society willingly makes in order to foster improvements and nourish the best and most perfect men who will improve it still more - these sacrifices must bring benefits to the whole of society, not just to one category of people or one class.
It is a problem of right and of force. The proletariat must stay alert, to prevent another abuse being added to the many it already suffers.
Men or Machines? by Antonio Gramsci, 1914

I'll be protesting against the government's forthcoming proposals. I'll be demonstrating in favour of free education, the abolition of fees, the abandonment of the government's cuts-agenda, the expansion of the welfare state, the support of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, the taxation of the very wealthy, the nationalisation of banks and public amenities, the dismantling of the financial system, disarmament - and then, when the electoral choices that we're trying to decide between are not neoliberalism, venal opportunism or outright philistine exploitation, but are instead socialism, communism or anarchism - then, I will be satisfied.

Categories: Antonio Gramsci, education, solidarity, protest,
Comments: 2


"Middle and high schools should be only for those who can demonstrate that they are worthy of it."
Not sure if I understood this correctly, but I don't agree that schools should only be for those who are worthy. Everyone is worthy of education. Maybe middle and high schools in Gramsci's terms aren't the same as in ours, but I wouldn't want to have anyone decide who is worthy and who isn't. Even thick rich kids are worthy of education. Education should be free at al levels for all, at any age; private fee-paying schools should be abolished. Everyone should go to their local schools. HE should be fully funded by the state -yes.
Good post, Joe

Author: Jim Pope Sent: 2010-12-07 22:56:56

yes, Jim, I considered adding some commentary along those lines. but until education is genuinely free and open to all, I think the point stands that opportunities should be shared according to ability rather than wealth. the government's current proposals will result in the opposite, since the children of the rich will be disproportionately advantaged. but yes, I'd love an education system which was so deeply embedded in the fabric of life that testing and assessment were irrelevant.
Jim, I learned recently that people with PhDs live longer, on average! What's that all about?!

Author: joe Sent: 2010-12-07 23:42:42

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