An renewed attempt to do something useful with my life, now that I am in post-university limbo.
Thursday, 11 March 2010
"The educated differ from the uneducated, as the living from the dead." - Aristotle
Aristotle was making a simple point about education, those who receive its benefits prosper whereas those who do not suffer. His point is still obvious in today's society, those who advance to higher education are those who dominate all the important and powerful positions of business, state, and media, whereas the underclass of school-leavers, those who have nothing but a handful of substandard GCSE's to their name, are those who inhabit the doll queues and crassly judgemental daytime television programmes where Britain's self-prescribed purveyors of morality dish out their 'learned' prescriptions of what it means to be virtuous. Obviously this is not an ideal situation, and one which governments have repeatedly tried to challenge through programmes aimed at encouraging further education and the improvement of state schooling. However, Aristotle's proclamation is outdated and undeveloped in the context of modern Britain, and perhaps in the context of a modern world. Not only now are the uneducated clearly divided from the uneducated, but the privately educated are demarcated from those who have had a state education. This difference not only comes from a cultural gulf, but a gulf of opportunity in admission to the highest-ranked universities and the highest-paid jobs.
This is not an original statement, nor is it something which has significantly worsened in recent times, if anything opportunities for those from state-run schools have increased in quality and frequency. It is also not to say that these increased opportunities are not often well-deserved, for they are not being chosen for university places and jobs because they speak in a posh accent and are the son of such-and-such who the admission officer used to go hunting with - this happened in the last century undoubtedly, but it does seem, thankfully, to have disappeared almost entirely. They are given these opportunities because of a vastly superior education, one which has brought out their full-potential and fully developed their abilities, making them the most suitable candidates. This is a consequence of private schools holding a monopoly of the best teaching talent, the best facilities, the best academic and cultural links, and importantly a separation of students from the most disruptive elements of the education system.
In comparison to this state schools, especially those in urban areas, have suffered from a lack of all the qualities attributed to private schools. While undoubtedly many students can prosper in state comprehensives, and as such do find the opportunities mentioned, this is clearly a less common phenomenon. It is most damaging for the middle-group of students, a majority of the student population, who are caught in-between the high achievers and the troublemakers. While such people are often caught-up in the distractions and behaviour problems associated with some students of state schools, it is exactly these students, the majority who are not born as straight-A students and, if exposed to such instances, are liable to imitate the apathy and misbehaviour of the troublemakers present in state schools, who are protected from such distractions, and are given the extra-facilities and higher-standards of teaching in private institutions that they require to prosper.
I would argue that this situation is not only unfair, but also damaging to society at large, and breaches the basic rights of many. It is a fundamental right to be educated in the modern world, something which is a necessary component of every functioning society, with justification of its virtues unnecessary to expound here. Surely this entails, in a society ever-more obsessed with equal opportunities and accessibility, that all children should receive the best standard of education possible, and be given equal chances to prosper from their childhood, something which would enable truly the most talented and deserving to be the highest achievers. But this is not a situation possible with a private education system, something which divides people immediately from their entrance to education not by talent or enthusiasm, but by financial position. Those with the most money can afford to allow their children to attend expensive and exclusive private schools, enabling them to succeed as a result of these financial benefits. This is not fair, and condemns masses of people to under-achievement and unfulfillment of potential purely due to the financial situation of their parents. It may be an extremely unpopular position amongst those who feel they have earned the right to finance their children to a better future, but when has the prosperity of one's parents been a fair justification of having better opportunities - this is just one example of how the justification for private education is completely undermined by any acceptance of social justice.
An end to the private education system would help to enable the majority of middling students to avoid the damaging distractions of state education, distractions which would through better standards of teaching and greater opportunities surely be significantly lessened, or at least be spread more evenly amongst all schools. It is the concentration of trouble students which, in addition to damaging their own prospects and the prospects of others, allows gangs to form and anti-social behaviour to dominate newspapers and divide communities. This clearly would not end in one swoop to destroy the privatised education system, but surely it would be an important development, and one more profound than anything as yet suggested to tackle this disturbing socio-cultural problem. It may be a socialistic stance, and its actual employment may be very difficult to organise, but the abolition of private education would be of much benefit to the whole of society, a reversion to the basic values of education, and a true move towards equal opportunism in Britain, rather than a continued retention of the financially based hierarchy of education which damages the majority by benefiting the few - Marx would have a heart attack, but then again so should anyone who believes in equal opportunism.