In posting this interview with Noam Chomsky as a possible weekend read I’m underlining my steadfast belief that the defence of youth work is rooted deeply in the wider struggle to renew critical and democratic forms of education. It’s one of the reasons I remain anxious about the continued slide to seeing youth work as the preventative arm of social work rather than an informal wing of life-long education.
An educated public is surely a prerequisite for a functioning democracy — where “educated” means not just informed but enabled to inquire freely and productively, the primary end of education.
It is worth remembering the early years of the industrial revolution. The working-class culture of the time was alive and flourishing. There’s a great book about the topic by Jonathan Rose, called The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class. It’s a monumental study of the reading habits of the working class of the day. He contrasts “the passionate pursuit of knowledge by proletarian autodidacts” with the “pervasive philistinism of the British aristocracy.” Pretty much the same was true in the new working-class towns in the United States, like eastern Massachusetts, where an Irish blacksmith might hire a young boy to read the classics to him while he was working. Factory girls were reading the best contemporary literature of the day, what we study as classics. They condemned the industrial system for depriving them of their freedom and culture. This went on for a long time.