British society is riven by class prejudice, education has done its best to ensure these prejudices are retained. Whether it be the public schools for the upper classes and the secondary modern for the children of the working class, ‘I know my place’ has resounded down the years through folklore and education policy. Comprehensive education was meant to do away with ‘that sort of thing’ but, of course, it has done nothing of the sort – too many Brits can spot a bit of posh at twenty paces and decipher a commoner’s accent at the merest glottal stop. Education can’t do away with years of ingrained prejudice – snobbery and inverted snobbery, but one thing education can be is ‘beyond’ class.
That there are obvious accoutrements of class cannot be denied but a school should be a place for sober reflection, texts shouldn’t be chosen for ‘our kids’: the posh boys of Eton shouldn’t be denied Kes and the girls of bog standard comp shouldn’t be denied Jane Eyre. There is no need to deny class in the conversation of the classroom – it should be a room for class discussions as well as other discussions that open up the whole of human experience to us. To deny certain works from that discussion, is to deny children the breadth of experience that education is there to open up for them.
If education was just to hold up a mirror to our own lives and never show us a world beyond then we would be all the poorer for it, for that wouldn’t be education it would be prejudging our limitations and ensuring we were all kept in our place, art doesn’t accept that and nor should the teaching of it.