I can feel a familiar anger rising, a quickening of my pulse, which experience shows I need to calm. Its not ok to get angry is it? It's, well, a bit common. No place for emotion in politics, no place for passion. Chip on my shoulder, you see. Angry lefty. Politics of envy etc etc. This whole class/privilege/education debate is like one of those arguments where someone tells you are being defensive and the only possible response you can give is "f*** off".
But I must try and get past that. As Melissa Benn has so brilliantly pointed out, we need to let the conversation begin. And that conversation, where it comes to so-called educational apartheid, is an uncomfortable one, because we are all desperate to avoid the issue at the core of it: human worth. Do we believe that some children deserve better than others because they happened to be born richer?
Because we really are largely talking about the wealth people are born with now aren't we? We surely can't maintain the pretence that you can work hard or save up to send your kids to private school anymore. It is ludicrous to talk of a lack of aspiration from the poor, and the fact that there are still those who do so smacks of the absurd lack of awareness of so much of the privileged classes. And even if there are those who manage to crack the great British immobility racket and get their kids to posh school from humble beginnings, if private school fees are equal to average earnings, one might argue if you can afford it from your earnings you are being paid too much anyway.
But I don't believe, in general, this is about how people earn and how they choose to spend their money. I believe it is about our willingness to accept without question people's rights to spend the money they didn't earn perpetuating the wealth and advantages of their children, at the expense of other people's children. Because it is simply ridiculous to say that the state system must simply miraculously 'catch-up', those who educate their children privately are actually harming poorer children, they are not simply dismissing them.
This is because the effects of inequality in education go so far beyond what is measurable and tangible, and into the realms of feelings, self-belief, self-esteem. The mechanisms by which we instil a sense of privilege and entitlement are very similar to the way we instil a lack of it. We are frail beasts after all, seduced by representational culture, pomp, architecture, grandeur. But we can be equally ground down by ugliness and shabbiness. When you educate a child in a beautiful building, with beautiful surroundings and the best possible facilities, you are telling them they are worth it, they deserve it. And when you send a child to a falling down building, in a horrible setting, with rubbish facilities, you are telling them that is all they deserve. And it is these innate senses of entitlement or entitlement, privilege or worthlessness, that each of those children will carry with them into every exam, job interview or indeed relationship. Moreover, these feelings are magnified by the knowledge of the existence of the other. I am not just entitled, I am entitled to more than him. I am not just worthless, I am worth less than her.
As a society, we must ask ourselves if, in the innocent hearts and minds of children, this is a process we see fit to allow. Or at the very least we must acknowledge that it happens, rather than trotting out the same old nonsense about this being a free country. But of course this is a dangerous business, because if we think about it too much we might get angry about it, and find ourselves assuming the 'f*** off position' playing right into the hands of those who believe their genteel education has given them the edge in terms of reserve and eloquence.
Or worse than that. If we start connecting with a sense of worth based not on external influences and messages but on our inherent and equal human dignity- those whose fragile and precarious sense of themselves rests on their material wealth, as well as those who have been conditioned not to value themselves because of their lack of it- then chaos might ensue. We might start to value and celebrate what we could make and do with our hands, hearts and souls. We might start to believe in ourselves.A people such as that would be very difficult to manage. Or control even. And almost impossible to make any money out of. So we couldn't have that.
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