"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The road to meritocracy

Is blocked by private schools, according to David Kynaston. Here's a summary of his argument: 'Old Labour' went for 'equality of outcome' but Britain's relative economic decline meant this goal had to be abandoned in favour of meritocracy. Trouble is, social mobility has actually fallen - and part of the reason has been the 'elephant in the living room' of the private school system:
"Obviously there are many obstacles to social mobility. Yet as Alan Bennett bluntly reminded us last month, standing in the corner of this particular room is a huge elephant - huge symbolically as well as substantively - that for the past decade New Labour has stoutly pretended is not there. He was referring of course to the P Factor: private schools."
It's not my purpose to defend private education but to say that I think this article is wrong on nearly every point and for really one reason: the 'elephant on the living room' is not private schools but inequality itself. I'd break down the objections to Kynaston's argument in the following way:

1) He provides no argument nor evidence for the proposition that the pursuit of 'equality of outcome' was responsible for relative economic decline. You could argue that the statist way in which it was pursued retarded Britain's economic growth but it shows a distinct lack of imagination to assume that a greater equality of outcome is therefore not possible nor even worth pursuing.

2) I consider 'meritocracy' undesirable anyway but I get a little fed up of the way in which this and equality of outcome are treated as if they are mutually exclusive. Isn't one of the reasons that social mobility has fallen simply because to make the journey out of poverty requires one to travel much further than in the past? Or is this too obvious to merit consideration?

3) You do get a species of middle-class lefties who think by sending their offspring to dwell amongst us scum in the comprehensive system they're doing everyone a big favour. I've always thought this was a rather generous self-assessment on their part but at least, according to some recent research, they aren't doing their children any great dis-service. I wish people would pay attention to the now considerable stack of evidence that indicates at least that education isn't important for social mobility as everyone - specifically journalists - seems to assume. Because then maybe the crazy idea that schools are really just places where you learn stuff might catch on. That would be refreshing. And a lot less stressful for everyone involved.

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