As wise as serpents and innocent as doves


‘Education, education, education is a slogan that will doubtless stir the memory if you’re British and of an appropriate age.

But what is education for and what are we supposed to be training people to do? In fact some people ask whether we’re entitled to educate children at all.

Personally I reckon that education starts at home. Children, like puppies have to be housetrained and socialised, to learn how to cope with the rest of the pack. In the case of our species it’s a hard and cruel world out there. Apparently as many as one in five young people get bullied on social media. Perhaps one thing we should teach them is that the real world matters more? Never be afraid to switch off and walk away.

As lot of what we teach them is by example. ‘Monkey see, monkey do,’ is a good guideline. Perhaps that’s how so many of the best teachers, whether in school or in life, pass on their own burning enthusiasm?

One problem with education is that to a large extent it has been hijacked by people who have been through a formal ‘academic’ education. You know the sort of pathway; in English terms, GCSEs, A levels, University Degree. The people at the top of the system are largely people who have been through this process. In fact they’re often surprised to discover they have a colleague who hasn’t been through the same system. So since the start of the second war we’ve had only three Prime Ministers who haven’t been to university; Winston Churchill, James Callaghan, and John Major. Of the others ten went to Oxford, one to Edinburgh and one, Neville Chamberlain who went to Rugby school and then Mason Science College, Birmingham.

But the problem with having people with degrees in charge is that they assume that degrees are worth something. After all, if the reason they got the job was they had a degree, then discovering that people without a degree might do the job every bit as well can make a nasty dent on a person’s sense of entitlement and self worth.

You know what they say, if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. So if you needed an academic education to get to your current position, the tendency is to assume that an academic education is important (because you’re important and you have one.)

It’s interesting that the English aristocracy were always said to be averse to anything that smacked of ‘trade’. We now have an education system, staffed predominantly with people who have had academic educations leading to a degree, which rather looks down on vocational education.


So back to educating children, what on earth do we teach them? Well one thing I would regard as important was to teach them to value craft skills every bit as much as academic skills. Somebody who cannot fix a ball-cock in a cold water header tank is every bit as ill-educated as somebody who doesn’t have a book in the house.


A second thing we need to do is to bridge the divide which has grown in society between a comparatively large elite who regard themselves as educated, and an even large group that the elite regard as uneducated. To an extent it’s founded on snobbery. ‘They’re not like us.’ This may be entirely true but need not be a bad thing. We have to teach our children that regarding somebody as stupid because they believe something different to us is also unhelpful.

Part of the problem here is that as the world of work changes, areas are getting left behind. Jobs which paid a decent wage have disappeared leaving in their wake industries where the minimum wage is aspirational. When those making a good living in industries which have expanded on the back of technological change start to look down on those who have been abandoned because it’s cheaper to import, the very least they are guilty of is bad taste.



A third area where we ought to educate children is to teach them to check facts and accept nothing merely because it’s placed in front of them. In a world of false news we’ve got to teach young people that just because something confirms their prejudices it does not have to be true. I’d like to teach older people that as well, but I know when I’m spitting into the wind.

But at the very least we ought to remind people that there’s an off switch which is there ready to press when the loonies get too hysterical.


A final area I’d like education to touch on was ‘quality.’ The child who would rather read Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs or Cordwainer Smith is no better or worse than one who would rather read Marlon James, Jhumpa Lahiri, or Zadie Smith. Life is too short just to read books because you ought to.


And talking about books you might want to read ;




As an American reviewer commented,

“A poet…and a delightful rogue January 21, 2019
Tallis Steelyard is a poet with champagne tastes on a beer budget. Chased out of town, and into the bay, by irate creditors, he’s rescued by a passing boat and given the opportunity to become a part of the crew. Thereafter follow a series of adventures, many funny, before Tallis can finally return home again.”

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27 thoughts on “As wise as serpents and innocent as doves

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt January 28, 2017 at 3:34 pm Reply

    The usual mistake is to assume that everyone is exactly like you, and needs what you need. When government elites do this, it gets the rabble mad, and they revolt.

    Curiously, when rich people do it, by essentially saying, ‘Be like me and you, too, will be rich,’ what they get is people saying, ‘Here is my last money, show me how.’

    The human race (yeah, just one) varies in IQ from very low to genius – every single one of those people need to eat every day to stay alive.

    The problem with education is that those in power make decisions for the next generation.

    Lots of good questions in there, Jim. We are diverse. We need diverse solutions. And we need to do two things: limit the income disparity possible (which has reached astronomical proportions but has always been with us – witness the pharaohs and King Herod of the time of Jesus), and limit the time people can be in power to something reasonable. Even DT can do no more damage than eight years.

    It is obscene that small groups of people can control the livelihood of the planet because of laws that give them even more benefits. I don’t advocate taking away ALL their money (this is called revolution) because it rarely works that well, but the laws aren’t going in the right direction when the laws are made by the people who benefit.

    And now I’m going to write – it’s slow, and not likely to result in me becoming one of the top 1%, but it’s all I have.

    Education for all – but don’t close off the opportunities and options for kids too soon – we still need brain surgeons.

    • jwebster2 January 28, 2017 at 3:47 pm Reply

      In fact income inequality is probably lower now than it has been in the past. It’s just now we can see it and measure it so probably feel it more.

      Mind you I’ve got to the stage where I’m cynical about those who complain about income inequality because history shows that they’re just trying to cut themselves a better chunk. Those at the bottom tend to remain at the bottom 😦
      I’ve got so now I’m more supportive of those who don’t campaign but just get out there and do things to lift the bottom 10%. Who work in the shelter or hand over their own money to make sure it keeps running.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt January 28, 2017 at 4:28 pm

        Real or not, if there is a perception that the bottom 10% are getting worse off, it is still a problem.

        There are plenty of people who will not make good use of opportunities provided to them or create the opportunities themselves – hedonism is alive an well – and we can’t permanently fix problems like homelessness and poverty – but we do need to remove systematic barriers.

        In some communities, loss of one paycheck is a total disaster.

      • jwebster2 January 28, 2017 at 4:33 pm

        Oh I agree, the problem of those at the bottom is absolute, no matter what the rich are earning. I always aspired to earn as much in a year as our Labour prime minister spent on his annual summer holiday! Perhaps because of where I stand, I place the line marked rich somewhat lower than others might.
        But we’ve too many people for whom any upset, be it illness, relationship breakdown, even a long running transport strike, can pitch them off the ladder and leave them struggling in the formless much at the bottom

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt January 28, 2017 at 8:41 pm

        SOME of these people can be sturdified (yes, that is now a word) with education, temporary financial support, job interview techniques… Others are going to be in the muck, with their children, no matter what anyone does. Our Lord said, ‘The poor you will always have with you,’ which covers both kinds.

        Doeson’t mean we let them starve, and it shouldn’t mean we look down on them, but it might be a kindness – IF they wish it – to help them have fewer kids. Not to force them to – that’s eugenics and nazism. I don’t know the answer there.
        They are our brothers and sisters, too. One of their kids might be the next Nobel laureate in medicine – you never know.

        Considering the pittance migrant farm laborers subsist on, it should be possible to better their lives without making the rich feel they are subsidizing laziness, a character flaw permitted to the children of the rich, but not to the poor.

      • jwebster2 January 28, 2017 at 9:40 pm

        Yes, if the prosperous paid a fair price for food then farm labourers might not be working for a pittance, but I might start to rant at this point

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt January 28, 2017 at 11:27 pm

        They want ‘the best,’ but they want it at supermarket prices.

      • jwebster2 January 29, 2017 at 7:15 am

        Yes, they expect people to do work they cannot do for wages they would not accept 😦

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt January 29, 2017 at 4:12 pm

        Couldn’t have said it better myself.

        I believe the rich WANT and NEED a permanent underclass – so hard to do without servants, you know.

      • jwebster2 January 29, 2017 at 4:17 pm

        Unless there are people who are suitably poor, how will you know you’re rich?

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt January 29, 2017 at 6:40 pm

        He said, ‘The poor you will always have with you.’ They will be the uniformed people holding the door for you, the waiter who is obviously not a college student, the person too poor to leave her children home with the nanny, the person whose clothes are not fashionable…

      • jwebster2 January 29, 2017 at 6:58 pm

        I can do unfashionable clothing 😉 But yes I know exactly what you mean

  2. M T McGuire January 28, 2017 at 5:47 pm Reply

    I am so with you on this and I Love what you say about books. McOther reads a lot of what I call ‘heavy stuff’ but he cut his reading teeth on Victor for Boys! McMini reads the Beano avidly, and Horrible Histories/Science/Geography/Insert discipline here. I hope he will also learn to love reading from those things.

    I was going to join in … but instead, I’m going to have a massive rant on my blog.

    Pending …



    • jwebster2 January 28, 2017 at 9:38 pm Reply

      I do love your blog 🙂

      • JA Clement January 29, 2017 at 5:29 am

        Read both blogs, failed to manage to comment on MTM’s (duh!) but seems to be letting me here so: speaking as someone with a totally useless Masters (now removed from my CV because it actually stopped me getting several jobs) my retirement plan is to qualify as an electrician as soon as I can afford the training time. Not joking, either. We are desperately short of STEM candidates in this country and massive numbers of kids are being shunted into totally useless non-vocational degrees that will land them in 50k of debt, and they’re all being to that they ‘deserve’ three years of drinking and fun and will get a job afterwards. Uh-uh.

        I advised my lot to go into apprenticeships and if they still felt the urge to do a degree, to save up and do it half time while working, but to be aware that unless vocational, it would not advance their career at all. And there are so many graduates with no practical skills, and such a dearth of plumbers, electricians, etc, that it seems illogical to me to not go where the jobs are, and pretty good jobs too.

        I really like the sortedness of the MIL’s electrician (who has spent years getting established so not a short term aim) knows how much he needs per month, and once he’s earned that much, spends the rest of his time on the golf course! Quality of life? Sorted. 😉

      • jwebster2 January 29, 2017 at 7:16 am

        Yes, I reckon that when it comes to retirement, they’ll give me the afternoon off on the day of my funeral. But then if I can keep doing what I’m doing till the day I die it won’t bother me at all 🙂

      • M T McGuire January 29, 2017 at 9:00 am

        That sounds like a good plan. The reason I knew about the plumbing is because that’s exactly what she was going to do. She felt that many women would appreciate a female tradesperson in their house, too. And to be a successful tradesperson, you need smarts.

      • jwebster2 January 29, 2017 at 7:14 am

        Love it

      • JA Clement January 29, 2017 at 11:26 am

        There’s a couple of female painter/decorators round us, and they’re usually booked solid. The old ladies are much less intimidated by them and, fairly or unfairly, the perception is that they’ll deal with you straightly where the blokes see a gullible little old lady and add 20% on the spot. Maybe ‘cos girls mostly don’t have a moustache to whistle through!!

  3. […] just been reading an excellent post on Jim Webster’s blog about education. If you haven’t tried Jim’s blog you really should, all his posts are […]

  4. […] just been reading an excellent post on Jim Webster’s blog about education. If you haven’t tried Jim’s blog you really should, all his posts are thought […]

  5. Mick Canning January 29, 2017 at 11:36 am Reply

    There’s a lot of wisdom there, Jim. One thing I’d like to add is something I always throw in when I’m working with groups of disadvantaged teenagers (for my sins), and that is to listen to others and engage in genuine dialogue if you disagree with them, rather than try to shout them down. We already have far too many ‘adults’ doing that.

    • jwebster2 January 29, 2017 at 12:19 pm Reply

      Yes, I agree there Mike. I like the definition of liberal, “willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas.”
      It seems to be one that’s going out of fashion at the moment 😦

      • Mick Canning January 29, 2017 at 12:22 pm

        Sadly, yes. It’s not great.

  6. Lavinia Ross January 30, 2017 at 6:08 pm Reply

    Well said, Jim.

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