Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ban private schools?

Here are my responses to some of Georges comments:

First Georges says:

One argument of yours which I find especially silly is that people who've been educated in private school are in some Masonic conspiracy to see that state schools are as crap as possible.

Well, that’s not what I said. You are committing the straw man fallacy, I think, Georges.

What I said is that those who are privately educated have a vested interest in state schools being, not as “crap as possible”, but no better than they need to be to get the pleb jobs done.

I also said that if the top 7%, who have very considerable – indeed highly disproportionate – influence in government, media, etc. are forced to send their kids to the same schools as the rest of us, then I think we’ll see them battling very hard to see standards raised.

I don’t think there’s a secret conspiracy. But I do think that the top, disproportionately powerful and influential, 7% are currently likely to be apathetic about improving state education. When they come across newspaper articles detailing problems with state schools, many will simply flick on to the holiday pages. After all, it not their problem, is it? So long as the lower orders can read, write and add up, why should they care?

Second, Georges points out that there are social divisions across the whole class spectrum. As if that utterly demolished my arguments. As he puts it:

There is no logical reason to suppose that forcing the 7% to merge with the 93% will cause the inequalities currently within the 93% to disappear.

Well, yes. I acknowledge there are widening and hardening divisions right across society. But so what? Just because I want to address the major inequalities that exist between the top 7% and the rest doesn’t mean I don’t want to address these other inequalities too.

Just because banning private schools will deal with only one layer of inequality and not all of them does not mean it’s not worth doing (Here’s an analogy: you wouldn’t argue - would you, Georges? - that because legislation to deal with sexism does little or nothing to deal with racism, therefore it’s not worth bothering with. So why do you run an analogous argument here?)

But in any case, funnily enough, the specific system I suggested DOES in fact impact on these other inequalities too.

Take Georges’ own example: the way middle class people move close to middle class schools, thereby benefiting from the middle-class-peer-group effect (and also, as a consequence, creating working class ghetto schools). By following my suggestion and making the value of vouchers dependent on the socio-economic intake of schools (the higher it is, the lower the value), we can do some social engineering and provide incentives to increase the social mix. Very big and effective incentives, if we wish.

So I think Georges' point is, on closer inspection, rather off target. But let's pursue it a bit more in any case. Interestingly, Georges also says:

It's between different groups of this 93% (the non-privately educated) that the biggest social divisions are occurring.

Really? Can you provide some statistics to back this up? I have Googled and Googled and found nothing at all to suggest this.

Here are some stats and findings that I did come across, however:

Since 1974 there has been a growth in household income inequalities. In 1974 the 10 per cent of households with the highest incomes had, on average, three times the income of the lowest 10 per cent, by 2001/2 the gap had increased so that the richest households had four times the income of the poorest. This was despite the poorest households seeing a 30 per cent increase in their income in real terms.

Source here. More info here. The last link includes a link to a pdf that shows social mobility for each earnings quartile for those men born in 1958 and 1970. It doesn't support Georges' contention, so far as I can see.

POSTSCRIPT

America: Land of Least Opportunity

Incidentally (and I'm going off on a tangent now), here is a very interesting study revealing that, though U.S. middle classes believe the U.S. has much higher mobility than Nordic countries and the class-ridden U.K. (everyone knows the U.S. has better social mobility – all these free markets etc., all those rags to riches stories, the land of opportunity, right?), social mobility is actually much lower in the U.S.

Scroll to the conclusion, third paragraph.

2 comments:

cagliost said...

"What I said is that those who are privately educated have a vested interest in state schools being, not as 'crap as possible', but no better than they need to be to get the pleb jobs done."

That's rather different to being apathetic. While most people who don't use state schools wouldn't bother to try improve them (apathetic, "not my problem") this doesn't mean that they actively want them to be worse than private schools.

I was privately educated and have explicitly stated already that I of course want state schools to be as good as they can be. (I'd improve them in a snap by allowing all schools to select on intelligence.)

Stephen Law said...

I should clarify. By saying they have a "vested interest", I mean that it is in their self-interest.

A politician can have a "vested interest" in a contract going to a company if they hold shares in that company.

Now something can be in your own interest, even if you don't recognise it to be, or don't desire it (e.g. giving up smoking).

Similarly, I supposed that a politician with a vested interest in a particularly company getting the contract may not in fact award that company the contract, or even desire that they get it.

So, I didn't mean to suggest that all who privately educate actively desire and act to make state schools poor compared to private schools. I meant that if state schools were as good as private, that would undermine the investment they have now made. It's not, in that sense, in their interest.