Monday, June 25, 2007

Via ferrata

The War For Children's Minds is now out in paperback, btw.

I am off doing via ferratta in Italy for a week, so won't be posting...http://p.vtourist.com/1485317-Travel_Picture-me_on_via_ferrata_delle_trincee_dolomites.jpg
I realize I have a few loose ends to tie up re private schools...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Problem of evil on your ipod

If you want to download my interview with Nigel Warburton on God and the Problem of Evil on to your ipod, search for "Philosophy Bites" on itunes.

There are lots of very good short interviews with philosophers available there for free.

Incidentally, Nigel tells me that last week these interviews were ranked very high on US itunes (something amazing, like number 20 out of all downloads)

"The Jesus Light" - switched back on

Sebastian made an interest comment on my "The Jesus Light". I reproduce it here for discussion...

I think the bishop's argument was shortcircuited by the overly ambitious heading of the talk. Trying to prove "Jesus is our Saviour" in a philosphical discussion is impossible. However, making a strong - even winning - argument for the existence of God, even a personal God, is a different matter, and that talk about 'feeling an inner light' is a very strong argument indeed. We humans have something like a sex-drive towards God: If there were only male men on earth, and they had never seen a woman, they would still be yearning for women. They couldn't describe them. They wouldn't exactly know what it is they desire, but they could give you an idea: "Something gentle, beautiful, that you can take in your arms and in your bed, something you can talk to and sleep with.." etc.

Well, it's kind of the same with this other thing we yearn for, called 'GOD'. And for every yearning there is some kind of satisfaction - that's just an empirical fact: Hunger, Curiosity, Exhaustion. Every lock has its key. Of course, when I find that key, it might be very different from what I imagined, but I will immediately recognize it, because it quenches the exact thirst I was feeling. Only the dimmest Christians (or Muslims, Buddhists etc.) will fail to admit that when God finally reveals himself to them, they will not be surprised. And the 'tooth-fairy' argument would be quite out of place here: Nobody would fall into a state of lifelong depression because his childish fancy for this myth was disappointed. The yearning has to be fundamentally deeper in order to be taken earnestly. The yearning for God is of that nature.

What do we think?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ban private schools?

It’s probably worth recapping and summarizing some of my points:

I am exploring the suggestion that we ban private schools. You have come up with a great many objections, including these seven:

1. The state cannot deliver quality education.

My response. Then let’s have a voucher system in which the state and private schools compete for children. But with NO TOP UPS. And no alternative. This allows private provision and healthy competition. But all schools remain funded by general taxation. And the rich cannot buy their children a better education by "topping up" the voucher's value.

2. The middle classes will still have an unfair advantage by being able to move close to the best schools.

My response. We can deal with this by making the value of the voucher dependent on the socio-economic intake of the school. The more wealthy all the parents sending kids to a school are, on average, the less any voucher spent at that school is worth. Adjust the voucher values accordingly and you can make sure that the middle classes won’t clump together around the best schools. The incentive to send your kid to a school with lots of middle class kids will be balanced by the disincentive that the school will, as a consequence, be that much less well funded (note we can actually let the market determine the cash value of having lots of middle class kids at a school, and adjust funding to compensate)

3. Parents will play the system by, e.g. pretending to be poor single parents when they’re not.

My response. This pretence will give them no advantage. Think about it….

4. Funding is not the issue. It’s things like peer group etc that really make the difference to the quality of schooling.

My response. The variable value voucher system deals with this – by not just leveling the playing field in terms of amount spent on education, but also by ensuring a much better social mix. To repeat, we won’t have the middle classes clumping round all the good schools, leaving working class ghettos.

5. Banning private schools won’t have any affect on the inequalities that exist within the 93% who currently are not private educated.

My response. First, even if this was true, it wouldn’t be a reason not to ban private schools. Just because a measure deals with only one layer of inequality, not all, is not a reason for not introducing it. Second, in any case, the variable voucher system will have a major affect on dealing with inequalities within the 93%. For the richest won’t now have an incentive to buy near middle class schools.

6. Reducing the quality of education available to the top 7% does nothing to help the others.

My response. Yes it does. Half of all Oxbridge places currently go to those 7%. They also dominate the high earning, high status professions. On the assumption that native wit and talent is distributed fairly evenly across the social classes, this means that brighter, more talented children are losing out in terms of life chances because the parents of small minority paid for a superior education. By going private, you aren’t just helping your own child’s life chances, you are also damaging the life chances of other, more talented children.

7. Parents have a right to spend their money on a better education for their children, if they so wish.

My response. If buying your child a private education had no effect other than to improve your child's education, then no doubt this is true. But what if, by buying your child a better education, you are thereby damaging the life chances of other, more talented children? Which you are.

Consider my earlier analogy: if Oxbridge adopted a private school model (i.e. dropping selection by ability and instead flogging off places to the richest 7%, who then, as a result, went on to dominate the high-earning, high-status professions) there would rightly be outrage (see my earlier post on this analogy). Such a university system would be considered grossly unjust, highly socially divisive, and, worst of all, a shameful waste of the country's talent.

I don’t yet see why we should view private schools any differently.

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.

Ban private schools?

John said:

I think we are agreed that those currently paying for private education or buying houses in the catchment areas for good schools are those most interested in a good education for their children.

To which I responded:

Good fu**ing grief. Is this really what you meant to say?

Anonymous then said:

I'm a little confused by this, are you saying that you believe all parents care about their children's education or am I missing the point which I must concede is quite possible.

I should explain - my shock was at the implication of John's statement. First, it implies that those who cannot afford to send their kids to private schools or buy houses near good schools do not care as much about their children's education. In other words, lower-middle and working class people don't care as much about their children's education.

I find that rather offensive.

Imagine someone drawing the conclusion that black people don't care as much about their children's education because they don't tend to send their kids to private schools or buy in posh neighbourhoods and you'll get my point, I think. In that case, the way in which the conclusion is drawn would be indicate a certain sort of bigotry. Well, here too, I think.

It may be that people who can't afford to educate privately etc. don't care as much about their children's education. But the fact that they don't send their kids to private schools etc. certainly doesn't establish this

To suppose it does requires a certain sort of middle class mind-set!

Isn't it obvious that the main reason the lower orders don't send their kids to private schools or buy houses in posh neighbourhoods is simply that they can't afford to.

Second, John also ignores those who can afford to send their kids to private school or buy homes near to better schools, but choose not to do so on principle. And there are such people (I know a few). Of course these people care about their children's education. Passionately. Just as much as John does, I bet. They just have rather different moral and political principles to John.

Arguably, rather better principles.

I'll be returning to Georges' arguments shortly...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ban private schools?

Two things. First, I said I would give some reasons why we might expect some general improvement in education in non-private schools if we ban private schools. Here are a few:

(i) Ideally, I would tax the top 7% more – the equivalent, over their lifetime, of what they would spend on privately educating their kids. And I would spend it on schools. Now I believe state school kids get about £5k per head. Private school fees average £8k I think. So there would be some additional money. However, it would be spread very thinly. So not a major increase in funding for state schools.
(ii) However, several of you have said that funding is not the issue. It’s other things, like peer group, etc. that matter. In the system I suggested, there would be much greater mixing of social classes in schools. True, 7% of kids will now lose out on the concentrated peer-effect of private schools, but then the increased social mixing might well benefit other kids, for there will no longer be any entirely working-class "ghetto" schools. It’s hard to predict how much of an effect this social mixing would have.
(iii) One very broad educational benefit would just be the greater mixing, with children coming into contact with a much wider range of other kids. I do consider that an important benefit. In the long term, it creates much more of a sense of community, of being in society together, rather than a hermetically sealed off “us and them”. But you may consider this unimportant.
(iv) Those who are privately educated and privately educate their kids have a vested interest in making sure state provision is not too good. In fact, it is in their interest that it not provide anything more than the bare minimum required to get the pleb jobs filled Yet this small group wield very considerable power in the media and in government. By removing private schools, this vested interest of a small minority actually to stunt state education is removed. As I say, once the “elite” are forced to send their kids to the same schools as the rest of us, I think we’ll see them battling very hard to get standards improved.

I admit, however, that the effect of banning private schools may not be to bring state schools up to the current private standard (it certainly won't bring them up to the standard of the most expensive private schools). However, I don’t see that matters much, for the reasons I have given in earlier postings. As I said, if you want the very best native talent working on a cure for cancer, ban private schools.

Second, many of you suggest, like Gordon Brown et al, that the cure for the current situation (especially the shameful waste of native talent) is to bring state schools up to the private level. That will never work. Here’s why:

(i) Several of you have said it is not funding that’s the issue, rather it’s things like peer group. And it’s impossible for everyone to go to a school populated by the upper middle classes. So you have already provided me with one very good reason why state schools can never be as good as private schools, no matter how well-funded they may be.
(ii) Second, even if state school funding is increased, those that can afford to do so will simply spend more in order to maintain the differential.
(iii) It is not possible to fund every state school to the level of Eton. The taxation required would cripple the country. So, while private schools exist, there will always exist a small minority who have a very significant educational advantage bought for them.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ban private schools?

I'll be turning to the question of why we should expect an improvement in education on the system I suggest in a separate blog. Here I just want to respond to a couple of points made by Jonathan.

Here's the first:

The per-capita funding to the state comprehensive attended by a good friend of mine was four times that of the state comprehensive school I attended. The schools were of a similar size, though mine was in a (relatively) affluent area, hers next to a sink estate. Guess which one provided the best exam results. Clearly funding is not the key issue.

This is anecdotal evidence, somewhat like arguing: my granny smoked forty a day for forty years, and she never got lung cancer, but Auntie Betty, who never smoked, did, so when it comes to lung cancer, smoking "is not the key issue".

Funding may not be the only issue, of course, when it comes to education. But then when did I say it was? I am quite sure that peer group, home background etc. all play a very significant part too. And the system I suggested is intended to affect these things too, by ensuring that we don't get all the posh kids at one school, all the working class kids at another.

The suggestion that levels of funding have little to do with the quality of eduction provided by a school is often made by defenders of private schools. But it is ludicrous claim. If it was true... well, let's save ourselves a mint by slashing the funding of state schools by half!

Jonathan, you also said:

I think we are agreed that those currently paying for private education or buying houses in the catchment areas for good schools are those most interested in a good education for their children.

Good fu**ing grief. Is this really what you meant to say?

Jonathan also says:

Others have talked about possible gaming of the system - one more anecdote. Another friend, at university this time, was distinctive as a first year who owned both a new car and a mobile phone (at a time when such phones were rare amongst the working population), yet still drew a full means tested grant (her parents were divorced and she took the expedient of declaring the income of only her non-working mother). And she had received, of course, the benefit of private schooling.

Yep, more anecdotes (a very "Daily Mail" style of argument, this). All systems are "played" to some extent. What we want is to minimize the playing.

Now notice that the system I suggest actually has the advantage of minimizing any playing of the system. In my system, the voucher's value does not depend on the parent's income. It depends on the income of all the other parents.

Let's use the tax system to determine income. To fiddle my system, parents will have to fiddle their taxes. Substantially. And collectively. For, there is no incentive for any parent to do so in isolation. If I fiddle my taxes to make myself look poorer, that won't effect the value of my voucher. Or the vouchers of the kids attending my daughter's school. So what's my incentive to fiddle, then?

There is none!

Rather than my system "not being thought through", it seems that this particular criticism is not well thought through.

As for schools not being able to grow, actually, they do so all the time. And companies setting up schools in this system can of course design for growth (like building a house in such a way that it can easily be extended). Not much of a problem I'd say.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ban private schools?

Here's a suggestion. Let's a have a voucher system with no top ups. A voucher is the only way you can purchase your child an education.

Let both the state and private firms compete for these vouchers by providing schools.

Schools can select by ability if they wish.

Let's add a further feature to this system - the value of the voucher is not fixed, but is dependent on the socio-economic intake of the school. The more middle class and well-off the parents are, on average, the less the voucher is worth. The more impoverished they are, the more its worth.

This last feature deals with the effect of people moving to the vicinity of highly middle class schools to get their kids in. That school would now receive less funding than the school with working class kids down the road. Take your voucher to that other school, and it's worth more. And so are the vouchers of the other kids at that school.

The precise difference in voucher value can be fine-tuned over time, to cancel out the effect of the middle-classes gaining an advantage by moving nearer to middle-class dominated schools. (In fact, by increasing the difference, we could ensure that they actually tend to flee from them.)

Incentive to run a good school? Private companies will extract their profit from the vouchers, competing with each other by two means - providing better schools so as to attract more pupils (so they grow) and by efficiency - the more efficient they are at providing quality education, the more of the voucher they can take in profit. But take too much in profit and standards will drop and parents will chose to send their kids elsewhere. So we have a healthy marketplace, if you like that sort of thing.

My guess, incidentally, is the state schools will drive the private schools out of business. But let's put it to the test!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ban private schools?

Georges spotted the same Guardian article as I did here. It reports findings that by the age of three, children from poorer homes are already significantly behind in terms of development.

This is not directly relevant to the debate we are having here, though it does raise many related questions. In particular, notice that nowhere is it even suggested that the difference in development across social class between children at the age of three might be partly genetic/innate. The assumption made by the paper, and apparently by the researchers, is that native wit and talent is distributed fairly evenly across the social classes.

The fact that such differences in development might be even partly down to genetic differences is, for many, simply unthinkable. Certainly unsayable. (personally, I don't think they are genetic, despite Potentilla's earlier comment. but find it interesting the way this possibility is simply airbrushed out of the picture in The Guardian).

Georges, just to remind you: I would be equally happy with all schools private, and vouchers with no top ups. If you don't rate state provision on principle, fine (though it strikes me that for many, if not for you, "public bad, private good" is an article of faith, not a well-supported hypothesis).

In the next post I will answer George's request that I come up with a concrete alternative proposal to the current system. It'll be back-of-an-envelope stuff, but I'll give it my best shot.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Interview on the problem of evil

There is a 15 minute interview (Nigel Warburton interviewing me) on the problem of evil and the existence of God available here.

It's an mp3. I understand it will also be available as an ipod download on itunes shortly...

Friday, June 8, 2007

Law debates His Holiness (no, not that one)

By the way, while vainly trawling the internet for any mention of me, I just discovered a video of me debating His Holiness Shivarama Swami at UCL on the existence of God here, if anyone's interested.

Ban Private Schools?

Thanks for all the comments. Yes, Potentilla and Barefoot Bum, the "taboo" objection I had in mind is that, as a matter of fact, the lower classes are genetically dimmer, less well-motivated, etc. That's the explanation for why the upper middle classes tend to dominate the high-status, high-earning professions. This is a juicy topic I shall return to later.

In the meantime let me respond to a few of your other comments.

Jeremy - I am talking about native, i.e. innate, wit, intelligence and drive. On the (possibly false) assumption that this is distributed fairly evenly across social classes, then we clearly don't have anything approaching a meritocracy (given "merit" is based on the abilities etc. that the education process starts with, rather than finishes with).

This is one of the ambiguities of talk of a "meritocracy". Seems to me it would be odd to describe as a "meritocracy" a system in which native talent etc. is distributed fairly evenly across social classes, but, because the top seven percent pay for a far "superior" education, their children end up far better educated (and/or far more confident, far better connected, far-more "posh"sounding, etc.) and as a result dominate the high-status, high-earning professions. Certainly, however you describe it, it seems to me that such a system (i) involves a great waste of native talent, and (ii) involves very considerable injustice.

Potentilla - yes - the "right to educate your child privately" objection. Well, consider an analogy. Suppose that Oxford and Cambridge decided to drop selection on the basis of academic ability (other than to a reasonable minimum standard) and select instead on the basis of cash. Their fees go through the roof, with the result that only 7% of parents can afford them. Other universities find their funds dwindling, their best staff fleeing to now-loaded Oxbridge. With their vastly superior funding, Oxford and Cambridge produce highly-polished graduates who then out-compete others for jobs, with the results that they dominate the high-status, high-earning professions.

What would be the public's attititude to this? Many, I think, would consider this a shameful situation. The majority of the nation's native talent would be wasted. There would also be great resentment and frustration, and a sense of a country divided. There is a very good case, I think, for preventing such a situation arising. Of course, this would involve denying rich parents the right to buy their children a superior university education, and, thereby, a ticket to the front of the good-jobs queue. To which the response of many would be "tough". And rightly so, I think.

Some of you may think this is a bad analogy. Others may think that such an outcome (Oxbridge becoming like a private school) would be no-bad thing....

Georges - I'm making no assumptions about the motives of each and every parent that send their kid to a private school. I am only concerned with the outcome of their doing so, and the justice of their being able to do so. I am just exploring those two questions.

Some other points:

I am not assuming a private education is educationally superior (or I don't have to, anyway). Merely that it provides a very major advantage to kids in terms of their life-chances. It may do this in other ways (i.e. not being being educationally better, but by making them sound posh and confident, making them better-connected, etc.)

I notice, by the way, that some objectors say private schools don't provide a much better education, which is a reason for not banning them, whereas others say they really do provide a better education, which is reason for not banning them.

BTW, I am not necessarily objecting to selection. When Grammar Schools were introduced (selective, non-fee-paying) a lot of working class kids suddenly found their way into university and beyond. Perhaps that's the way to go....

Barefoot Bum: Yes, the rich will find other ways to give their kids an advantage. And yes, Jacob, the kids of the upper middle-classes have other advantages too. A few will be able to afford to send their kids abroad. That doesn't mean it's not a good idea to take this particular mechanism away from upper-middle-class parents (if it is particularly unfair). After all, ensuring there's no racial discrimination in the workplace won't prevent racism manifesting itself in other ways. And fitting window locks is a good idea, despite the fact that burglars will in some cases find another way in.

I think Joe Otten's point is a good one. Native talent is just as undeserved as privately-nurtured talent. In both cases, it's the luck of the draw. I may find myself having to defend redistribution of wealth and other rewards towards the congenitally thick.

Lastly, the suggestion that without private schools we may never get that one wonderful scientist who will cure cancer - I don't buy that. First, on the assumption that native talent is fairly evenly distributed across the social classes, given that only 7% of it receives a superior private education, and thus gets a vastly improved shot at getting into Oxford to study medicine, etc. then, as a result of private schools, we are currently missing out on much of the non-privately-educated 93% of innate, genius-level talent that's out there. Secondly, ban private schools and, yes, I admit you will probably end up with some drop in the quality of education received by those applying to Oxford. But you will now be able to select for native talent far more effectively. You'll be accepting far fewer highly-polished second-raters, and replacing them with rough diamonds. So, I suggest, the outcome at the end of university education will be much improved - many more polished diamonds, as opposed to lots of even-more-highly-polished second-raters (note that, even now, state-school pupils outperform their privately educated peers at Oxford - why? because they have more native talent.).

Remember it is the education they receive at University that turns children into doctors, researchers into a cure for cancer, etc. As long as schools are able to bring kids up to a reasonable standard, I think the gains made by having more of those with native wit and ability studying medicine and science at Oxford will more than compensate for the fact that none of them had the earlier educational advantage of going to Eton. We will have more genius-level talent working on a cure for cancer.

Also remember, as I said earlier, I would be equally happy with all schools privatized with a voucher system in place but No Top Ups (everyone has the same amount to spend). So the point about the inability of the state to deliver quality education, etc. is simply not an objection.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ban private schools?

Some of you think my concern is with elites. It's assumed I am anti-elite. Actually, I'm not.

Some of you think I want to ensure no one is educated above a certain threshold. Not so.

It is the kind of elite we have that concerns me at the moment. Many today (e.g. Tony Blair) believe we should have a "meritocracy", with those who are most talented, work hardest, etc. rising to the top, rather than, say, those born into the aristocracy, or those who can buy the most influence.

A meritocracy involves an elite too, of course. Notice I'm not objecting to a meritocracy .

The problem is, private schools are one of the key mechanisms by which a small minority - the upper middle class - are able to pass wealth, power and privilege down from one generation to the next, forcing more able and talented children into more menial work while their own dear little second-raters get to cash-in.

While private schools continue so dramatically to distort the way native wit and talent is wedded up to reward, power and influence in this country, it is difficult to see how we can have anything approaching a "meritocracy", if that is what we desire.

(though of course it depends in part on exactly what we mean by a "meritocracy".)

There is one very obvious objection to what I have been suggesting that no one has dared mention yet. Who'll be brave enough to say it?!

Ban private schools?

Let's get started on examining the case for banning private schools. I was guilty of a little hyperbole, perhaps, when I set the question up. Let's look at some figures.

The percentage of children that are privately educated in the U.K. is just 7%. Yet this small minority dominate, or have a strong grip on, many of the traditionally high-status professions.
Some examples:

70% of barristers in top chambers were privately educated (only 5% went to state comprehensives). More than three quarters of judges were privately educated.

More than half the UK's leading journalists were privately educated, a percentage that has risen over the last two decades. Only 10% went to state comprehensives (the rest went to grammar schools).

A third of MPs were privately educated.

A third of the leaders of the top 100 FTSE companies were privately educated.

These figures are from the Sutton Trust. Other resources here. My guess is that you would find a similar situation in medicine, etc.

I'll briefly respond to some of your initial comments. Barefoot bum: you favour total privatization because you don't trust the state to provide anything other than second-rate uniformity.

OK then privatize all schools, and indeed, introduce a voucher system. But with NO TOP UPS. That way, we get all the variety and choice we might want, and healthy competition between schools too, if that is what you favour.

But with no top ups, all children now have an equal chance of success. The system no longer heavily favours the children of a small minority.

Curiosis suggests I must also favour banning cake because not everyone can afford it. Obviously I don't. Look, by all means allow those who have worked hard and achieved wealth, etc. through their own abilities to enjoy the rewards. Including cake.

But children who simply have their advantage bought for them have not earned that privilege.

And that privilege is at the expense of other children who may have more native wit and drive, but, because they attended a crappy comprehensive, never got the chance to thrive.

The current system, I shall argue, results in the top professions being dominated by a bunch of second-rate hooray Henries. That is not fair or just. Nor is it good for the economy. For the real talent rarely gets to work the levers of power. Those levers are worked by the second-raters whom Mummy and Daddy bought a ticket to the front of the queue.

Nor will state schools get any better while it is in the interests of all those privately educated MPs and journalists - who are busy privately educating their own children - that they not get better. For it is in their interest that state schools remain second-rate, indeed, that state schools not provide anything more than the bare educational minimum that the lower orders require for the economy to remain healthy.

If you really want good education for all, force the children of those in power to attend the same schools as the rest of us. I guarantee they'll be better overnight!

So, I have come up with some reasons why banning private schools might be a good idea. And I have, I think, dealt with all the objections you have raised so far.

But I am sure you'll have more!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Philosophy Bites launches

Philosophy Bites promises to be an excellent resource - downloadable interviews with the philosophically great and good (and also me - a temporary slip in standards).
Have a look here.

They kick off with Mary Warnock and Simon Blackburn.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Ban private schools?

I want to raise a question that many will consider just silly. Ought we to ban private school education?

A while ago, Labour party policy wonks used to talk about "blue-sky" thinking. "Let's be prepared" they said. "to think the unthinkable. Let's put away our political dogmas and ideologies and consider what actually is going to deliver the best and fairest deal for everyone."

[Incidentally, "blue-sky thinking" always turned out to involve privatization - of the postal service, of transport, of social services, of health, etc. etc.]

Well, I want to try a bit of "blue sky thinking" here.

True, the suggestion that private schools should be banned - that all children resident in the UK should have no option but to attend state-funded schools - will strike many as ridiculous.

Many will say banning private schools is impossible. There are legal obstacles (such as European human rights legislation), as well as social and political obstacles, they'll insist. So it's not even worth considering.

Well, I am not so sure it is impossible. In particular, I suspect that if they majority of people in this country realized the extent to which their own children's chances of success are crippled by a small, wealthy minority intent on buying their own often second-rate kids a leg-up at others' expense, we might well find a rising tide of opinion moving against private education.

But in any case, whether or not it is impossible to ban private schools, it is surely still worthwhile pondering their legitimacy. Which is what I plan to do over the next few blogs....