Improving Access to Education to Improve Cultural Knowledge and Social Unity in England

This website comprises an essay, manifesto, comic novel, and Self Education Portal. The essay, manifesto, and novel centre on the theme of education in England, and how, firstly it may be changed in order to better unify society; and secondly, how people may, at no cost, and as swiftly as possible, educate themselves, in order to improve social mobility. These ideas are aimed, foremost, at accelerating what may be seen to be, an existing, but rather slow passage out of the remnants of a class tiered society.

The problem of people not being educated in the cultural sense, is that this reinforces a glass ceiling that stands in the way of what might otherwise be the results of evening classes, the learning of vocational skills, and other kinds self improvement. This glass ceiling manifests as a social barrier, and an inhibition of the exchange of ideas, even of a commercial or business nature. It remains as a barrier in networking with people in similar business or professional roles, all of which conspire to reinforce some social boundaries, some of which have long been part of British culture.

From some points of view, a polarized political system, loosely based on an idea of separating successful entrepreneurs and business owners, from those who rely on wages and who work in service industries and less highly paid work, may be seen to encourage people to identify themselves in terms similar to these old distinctions, as they used to be called, ‘class’.

The proposed changes to the existing education programme, and the National Curriculum, would be to focus on the department of English Literature, (in the compulsory National Curriculum), which is currently at GCSE level compulsory, but to broaden the idea of English Literature with respect to its relationship with and development from wider European culture and history, and even the world context of this. A society which feels unified usually shares a common knowledge of contributing traditions which make up their language, customs and art forms. While this would be promoted in schools, partly by producing an accessible short book, containing excerpts from a chosen set of ‘corner-stone’ or key texts, as well as an explanation of why the books have been chosen, and what they mean in terms of the development of English and British thought, this website would also focus on the promotion and clarification of an online and freely accessible text and Audiobook resource (the books are in the public domain) system of self education, which may be undertaken by almost anyone of a reading age, divorced from prohibitive financial costs and as much as possible from time constraints.

The novel, here included ‘The English Novel’ is a playful romance on many of the ideas and themes brought up in this website, and on some of the content of the material recommended for augmenting the current Compulsory National Curriculum.

The List of Books

The books, which would be quoted and referenced in the short volume previously mentioned, and which will be introduced by a short essay explaining why each book has been included make up the following list:

King James Bible (various authors) (exemplary Jacobean text of the English Renaissance – with its roots in near eastern mythologies and the important history of two of the Abrahamic religions);
The Koran (various authors) (with its Post-modern structure and its veritable identicalness in many places with the Biblical Old Testament, it also explains important dimensions in western thought and history – for example The Crusades. As well as this, it may be helpful for people to understand more clearly the relationship of the Koran to the Judaic tradition of the Old Testament, and to the Biblical figure Abraham, and to see the similarities, so as to help people feel that Islam, Christianity and Judaism are so alien from one another.)
The Iliad (Homer, or various authors) (in many ways the foundational text of Western culture, with its images of the daily lives of the Gods, and their seemingly physical interventions in the fates of humans and demigods. This relates to the interactions of heroic figures such as Achilles, and Ajax, who echo down to the present day in literature. It is part of a trajectory of three seminal texts, each in some way, a development of the previous, the subsequent two being The Aeneid by Virgil, and the Divine Comedy, by Dante, in that personalities connected with each text are taken as themes for the subsequent texts.)
The Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri) (it has not been thought necessary to include the Aeneid in this list, which, read in Latin, was a staple part of private education in England up until quite recent times, since much of this was concerned with the foundation of Rome, and with specifically political concerns, which though interesting, may be seen to be secondary to a more primary list, since much of this is alluded to, in particular by Dante, in his Divine Comedy. And the founding of Rome, can be revised from other sources. In the Divine Comedy itself exists a more personal human account than that of the Iliad, in an epic style, in which classical, Christian and Judaic sources are combined into a visionary journey into the mid first-millennial European visions of hell, purgatory and heaven, and how this impacts people morally, in their everyday lives.)
The Canterbury Tales (Geoffrey Chaucer) (this famous example of the Middle English language is already, in part, part of the British compulsory National Curriculum, but perhaps not really usually cast in a pan European context. Chaucer stood at an interesting juncture in the development of Britain, in that French and Latin were common courtly languages, and people were combining knowledge of the worlds of Rome and Greece, with the Christian traditions of England. This middle English, which he chose to write in, shows more of the Germanic side of the Middle English language, and carries with it a wistful nostalgia for the ‘rude’ naïve or crude origins of British culture.
The Plays of Shakespeare (William Shakespeare) (also, in part, part of the compulsory National Curriculum (though again viewed in rather an isolated way), this is seen as an impeccable example of the Early Modern English language. Like the King James Bible, the works of Shakespeare are seen as among the greatest achievements of the English Renaissance, though Shakespeare is part of the Elizabethan period. More subtly personal than Chaucer, this again draws on Greek, Roman, Christian and Old Testament thought, but increasingly includes personal philosophical and moral considerations.)
War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy) Perhaps this can be seen as the beginning of how the ‘Old World’ transitioned in the ‘New’. After the Revolution in France, the campaigns of Napoleon were possible. Kingdoms and monarchs were toppled, and secularism increased. Mechanisation and the industrial revolution were on their way. Also things become increasingly personal in this novel, as ‘realism’ took root, and ‘interiority’ of characterisation increasingly came to the forefront.
The Remembrance of Things Past (Marcel Proust) (in post revolution France the aristocracy lived on, in a new way, continuing with much ownership and wealth. Proust, a member of these circles, poignantly chronicles the transition, more so, of this old world, which in so many ways [previously] dazzled him, into the new (increasing industrialization etc.) He focuses increasingly on secular philosophical considerations of the nature of time and self-awareness, and, once again, this shifts up a gear in interiority, with long passages of free association and meandering of thoughts, completely inside the heads of the characters, well into their imaginations. This is seen as among the earliest examples of ‘Modernist’ fiction.
Ulysses (James Joyce) (perhaps the final step into complete interiority is here made. This has been an intensely influential novel. It has been a precursor to many Post-modern styles. It in some ways represents a full circle on this list, since it recounts the twin epic of Homer’s the Odyssey, about one of the heroes of the Trojan War, after it had ended, but alluded to in a modern day context. Time again comes to the forefront in this novel, as symbols are seen to transcend time (in that domestic events of today, might be identical to vast historical events in almost prehistoric times). Time is also at the forefront in that the vast novel Ulysses is composed of an account of a single day. In this book we are plunged almost entirely into personal reflection, dream, symbolism, personal (subjective) association, and interiority. This is almost the opposite, of the impersonal descriptions of events in the early literature at the beginning of this list

The short introductory volume (in progress) to these books, including the excerpts, is on this website, in the Self Education Portal. The accompanying free online texts, pdfs, audiolinks, (text and audio synopses) guides, (and, in particular, strategies for approaching Chaucer) notes of advice about choices of translations, are available (in progress) here. An effort to expand the Self Education Portal into some approaches to World Historical and Cultural timelines, and approaches to Romance languages, are also here.