How did public demand shape education in the 20th century? In The Crisis of the Meritocracy: Britain’s Transition to Mass Education since the Second World War (Oxford UP, 2020), Peter Mandler, Professor of Modern Cultural History at the University of Cambridge, charts the history of schools, colleges, and universities. The book charts the tension between demands for democracy and the defence of meritocracy within both elite and public discourses, showing how this tension plays out in Britain’s complex and fragmented education system. Offering an alternative vision to the popular memory and perception of education, a note of caution about the power of education to cure social inequalities, and a celebration of public demand for high quality education for all, the book is essential reading across the humanities, social sciences, and for anyone interested in understanding education in contemporary society.
Dave O'Brien is Chancellor's Fellow, Cultural and Creative Industries, at the University of Edinburgh's College of Art.