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Showing posts from June, 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... I realize I have a few loose ends to tie up re private schools...

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 f

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 acco

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 sta

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 childre

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 entire

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 si

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 cance

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, ju

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...

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 f

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 t

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

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.

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 politi