‘Toynbee’s was a mosaic universe, variegated and collaborative. Grasping the whole would require every way of thinking that human beings could bring to bear. “No tool is omnicompetent. There is no such thing as a master-key that will unlock all doors.”‘
More than most, British Historian Arnold Toynbee understood that a functioning, thriving, inclusive society needs Intellectual pluralism. It’s no secret that in our fin-tech focused economies, where students bear increasingly unmanageable financial burdens with increasingly uncertain returns, intellectual breadth and depth is at risk. The ROI-approach to university learning leaves little room for dissent, as this Economist graph shows, and robust champions of the Arts are few and far between.
To maintain pace with the rest of the world, Britain has for years pushed participation in the STEM subjects, and Arts participation at GCSE-Level is now down fivefold across the UK. This statistic should be sobering to everyone invested in the future of British prosperity. As Ian Beacock observes in his Aeon essay, ‘Toynbee recognised [that] scientific principles and technical innovations might help us build a better railway, a faster locomotive – but they aren’t very good at telling us who can buy tickets, what direction we should lay the track, or whether we should be taking the train at all… We need critics who can ask questions of value.’
Post-Referendem, purely fiscal justifications ring hollow. A bigger, more inclusive picture is needed. A thriving UK needs more than one type of mind. A thriving world needs more than one set of commercial drivers. As we look to optimise, and perhaps redefine, British capabilities, we should also look to embed an understanding of value that goes beyond the bottom line – and that starts in our schools.