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Professional Life and Work

Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives: studies in education and change

Educational Research as a Public Intellectual

Re-Locating Public Education

Following Williams, let me then re-visit the question of educational research, the public intellectual and indeed, the issues of public education.  For we face a contradiction.  Halsey and Williams find an English intelligentsia which is either complicit with power or marginalised but Annan reminds us that up until 1975, there was, in some sense, a golden age of influence.  As we have seen in the earlier examination of CARE, this confluence was often on the side not of power but of social justice.

Clearly, the "we're all in it together" socialism of the post-war governments settled into a balanced egalitarian project until the mid-1970s.  This temporary political settlement (which covered both parties for a time) allowed educational researchers to conduct policy-linked public intellectual work.  It was the collapse of the egalitarian project which served the link between public intellectual work and an overarching project of social justice.

The implications for what E. P. Thompson called the egalité of this collapse have been painfully rendered in an article Thompson wrote while in an NHS ward recovering from the disease that was to kill him:

What makes me feel old, also, is the realisation that what I had thought to be widely-held principles are now little more than quaint survivals among the least flexible of my generation.  We had supposed, quite fiercely, that one didn't try to bend the rules.  If people wanted to pay for convenience or for extras - good spectacles or special dentures or nursing home deliveries or convalescent comfort - we could go along with that.  But access to the essential resources of the service must be ruled by egalité.  And we believed that professional people (those who were socialists) should be loyal to this most of all.  For if they started buying private latchkeys, then the whole system would start to get fouled up with the double standards and hierarchies of class.  Times and manners have changed.  The generation which fought for the NHS, and which has now come to that stage of life where they need it most, must jostle with the assertive anti-moralistic young.  Everyone is into latchkeys, technicians and skilled workers as well.  If my wife and I and a few friends want to hold out for old 'principles' no one is going to stop us.  But I have to recognise now that such a stiff-backed sense of honour could cost even risk to one's life.  And if we still choose to be like that, can one possible make the same choice for another - a child or a grandchild?  And by what right?
One is left with a 'principle' that the young can't even understand, which is ineffectual (unless self-damaging), and which is really a private notion of honour.  Or a stuffy habit of the old.  And I suddenly can see the survivors of that socialist age-cohort as historical relics, like the old Covenantor in The Heart of Midlothian.  Those of us who stay loyal to the old imperatives and taboos - the oaths of egalité- are a goldmine for the oral historian, and Raphael Samuel will collect us as specimens in a nostalgic book (Thompson, 1987, p. 21).

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Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives
  • Date of publication: 01/09/2003
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 160
  • Publisher: Open University Press
  • Co-author: NAN
  • Subject:
    Professional Life and Work
  • Available in:
    English
  • Appears in:
    Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives: studies in education and change
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: £23.99
  • ISBN: 9780335204113
  • Purchase this book:
    Open University Press
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