My stepfather, Harold Silver, who died at the age of 92, had a remarkable journey from the alleys of Hull to become one of the 20e the greatest writers and thinkers of the century on the history of education and the role of educational policy in social change.
His initial inspiration as a graduate student at the University of Hull was the work of Robert Owen. Together with many colleagues, including his wife Pam, he went on to produce a wide range of publications on the impact of education policy on poverty, equal opportunities and the experience of students in higher education. These publications included A Social History of Education in England (1973), An Educational War on Poverty (1991) and Tradition and Higher Education (2007). He worked with numerous universities in the UK and USA, later as an independent consultant, overseeing doctorates, supporting research and receiving numerous honorary awards. He continued his own research as Principal of Bulmershe College, Reading, from 1978 to 1986.
Born in Hull, the grandson of Jewish immigrants, Harold was the son of Samuel Silverstein (known as Sam Silver), a furrier, and Esther (née Gaslacovich). He got a scholarship to Hull High School and, at the age of 16, met Pam Cutler, whom he married in 1950. After his national service in Suffolk, he attended Jesus College, Cambridge, studied English then Russian, and worked as a translator. and performer in Vienna, Geneva and West Africa.
Returning to the UK in 1956, he taught at Hull College of Commerce, then Huddersfield College of Technology, and in 1961 he joined Chelsea College of Science and Technology, London, where after the college had Integrated at the University of London, he was a reader and professor of social history and education, before moving to Bulmershe in 1978.
There are countless stories of people who took their first steps into higher education with its encouragement. A Huddersfield garbage collector brought a newspaper he found in a trash can during Harold’s Liberal Study Night. Finding out that it was in Russian, he quickly joined the evening Russian class taught by Harold and then went to college. Harold’s commitment to opening up educational opportunities and breaking down barriers was evident in his work with organizations for the underprivileged, including Ravenswood (now Norwood-Ravenswood), Cued Speech, and Deafax.
Harold’s first loves were words and language. As a student at Cambridge he founded a literary magazine, Concern, and wrote hundreds of poems, some of which appeared alongside Philip Larkin on a 1956 BBC radio show about the Hull Poets presented by Richard Hoggart. He continued to write poetry throughout his life, was able to translate to and from Russian, French and German, wrote children’s stories and was a columnist for the Times Higher Education Supplement for several years.
Despite his academic and literary distinctions, he took his learning lightly. He was motivated by curiosity and commitment to social justice and his belief that education and learning are the key to a better society. In the many tributes paid to Harold, it is his generosity, his warmth, his curiosity and above all his mischievous spirit and his sense of humor that are remembered with great affection.
Pam passed away in 2018. He is survived by his two daughters, Claire and Vicki.