The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Churchill on Education

Posted on | July 17, 2020 | 1 Comment


In 1897, when he was a young officer serving in Bangalore, Winston Churchill recorded his ideas on “universal compulsory education,” a policy that he deemed “a somewhat dangerous experiment.” If the policy could not be reversed, what was the appropriate curriculum for boys?

“Reading and writing, the knowledge of sufficient arithmetic to enable the individual to keep his accounts; the singing of patriotic songs and a gymnastic course is all that he may expect.” [Emphasis added.]

Churchill was exactly correct, of course. It was, and remains, foolish to expect every child to be able to complete a high-school education. Until about 100 years ago, most Americans had no more than eight years of public school. There were no child labor laws; the country boy worked on his family farm, and the city boy found work running errands or whatever. Compulsory public education — the government forcing parents to send their children to school — was a “reform” imported from imperial Prussia by Horace Mann, and this policy went hand-in-hand with regulations to prevent children from pursuing gainful employment. For many years, however, it was not uncommon for boys from working-class families to find actual jobs at age 12 or 13, while in rural America, children quite generally were expected to do their share of work on the family farm. Thus the supposed “need” for making high-school education compulsory was something created by self-declared reformers; most teenagers (and their parents) had no problem with the expectation that young people could begin working for wages at an early age.

If “reformers” insisted on compulsory education, however, this required answering the question of what children should be taught, and Churchill’s prescription was entirely correct, including his suggestion to require “singing of patriotic songs.” If nothing else, schools ought to teach children to love their country, and the project of instilling patriotism in young minds would, at least, tend to ensure a supply of young men willing to volunteer for military service. What better purpose could Lieutenant Churchill of the Fourth Queen’s Own Hussars have in mind for England’s youth? You see that civilian “reformers” — generally a meddlesome bunch of middle-class women, then and now — might imagine all sorts of social benefits from universal education, but the true statesman must ask of any proposed reform, “How does this advance our national interest?” Great Britain had an Empire to govern and to defend, and if this small island was to maintain its place in the world, every resource had to be devoted toward that purpose.

England ought to have heeded young Churchill’s advice, and it would behoove America to pay to attention to that lesson.



One Response to “Churchill on Education”

  1. The Friday hawt chicks & links – The Woodpile edition. – Adam Piggott
    July 18th, 2020 @ 4:18 am

    […] A young Winston Churchill was deeply suspicious of a new fad called ‘universal compulsory education’. Over a century later his views hold serious weight. […]