Progressivism for the Posh: Experiment House

Coat_of_arms_of_Narnia.svgIn the penultimate Narnia novel, The Silver Chair (1953), we discover the kind of school which Eustace Scrubb’s ‘very advanced’ parents choose for their only child: Experiment House.

This school is a delicious illustration of the early days of progressive education in Britain, when it was still confined to a very few private establishments that catered to the tastes of the self-consciously forward thinking middle classes, and before it was inflicted on the masses following the 1967 Plowden Report.

At Experiment House, discipline is lax, and the school is terrorised by a vicious group of bullies. The worst that might happen to the bullies is that they may be called into the headmistress’ office for a long chat, after which they are more likely to be favoured than punished.

When Eustace and his schoolmate Jill arrive in Narnia, they are somewhat nonplussed to be referred to as a ‘son of Adam’ and a ‘daughter of Eve’. At Experiment House, you don’t learn such things as the identity of Adam and Eve. In fact, the main thing you learn is how to survive the bullies’ reign of terror either by hiding, or usually by collaborating and informing on your friends.

But the most dramatic moment is saved for the end of the novel, when King Caspian and Aslan enter the school and teach the bullies a lesson they are unlikely to forget. The headmistress calls the police to report the invasion, and in the fuss which follows there is an investigation into the school.

The headmistress’ friends decide she isn’t actually much good at being in charge of a school, so they get her a job as a school inspector. When she turns out not to be good at that either, they get her into Parliament, where she lives happily ever after.

It’s all there, in 1953: a chaotic school with weak management and a curriculum which leaves pupils ignorant of even the most basic elements of their cultural heritage. But in 1953 you had to pay for the privilege of receiving such an education. The poor benighted masses had to wait another fourteen years for enlightenment to dawn.

(Image from Wikimedia)

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5 thoughts on “Progressivism for the Posh: Experiment House

  1. Thanks for the tip. I dusted off the book, which was sitting on my shelf. I’m a great fan of C S Lewis. He helped me survive my bog-standard education. I’ve always felt like I’m breathing bracing mountain air when I read him, and ‘The Abolition of Man’ is no exception. It’s dangerous stuff in an age of relativism, with its insistence on ‘the doctrine of objective value’. Another favourite excerpt would be this distinction between traditional and modern education: ‘The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they are teach them to fly; the new deals with them more as the poultry keeper deals with young birds – making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing.’

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  2. Pingback: HMC Embraces Hoodoo Teaching; Will Their Results Decline? | The Traditional Teacher

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