Monday, 10 March 2014

Equality from the Beginning

A tiny percentage of people get to enjoy a disproportionate share of the wealth created by everyone's work. A vast number are dragged along, over or under the breadline depending on this week's shifts. And they're the lucky ones, who have received the miracle of private sector job creation; two and a half million people have no job at all. There's general agreement from people Right and Left that both inequality and unemployment are serious problems, so why are our attempts to solve them so ineffective?

The big ideas we have are higher taxes, or lower ones, for the rich; job guarantees, training, slashed benefits for the poor. These are solutions that apply only to adults. We go to work on the problems of inequality and unemployment at the precise point we stop teaching people what society is, and what to expect from it. What are these teachings, and can they explain why the problems we experience as adults are so intractable?

What looms largest over school, from the teachers' and the students' perspectives, is that some kids are really good at it, and others are really bad. Most people find themselves in the middle but the message is just as significant: some people are better than you, others are worse. The 1% probably didn't go to your school but the justification for their existence did. Society has a top and a bottom.

Our idea of improving education is not to challenge this idea but to entrench it. Michael Gove recentlyboasted of a 'historic period' in state education, because there are fewer schools where over 40% of children fail to get Cs in English and Maths and more children are taking the academically respectable subjects of the English Baccalaureate. So there's nothing wrong with the hierarchy, as long as a respectable percentage of poor children reach a middle class level of academic achievement, and are then taught how to act middle class.

The Left's big counter punch to thisnarrative comes from the baby botherers. They say that schools struggle valiantly but arrive too late to stop poor children becoming unemployable adults. Lack of early years intervention leaves our heroic teachers trying to salvage irreparably damaged goods. Let's say we went all in on this and invested billions in the National Child Rearing Service, giving every kid a structured, word-rich infancy, what then? We line them up, as equals, on the school starting line and say may the best man win? Is that fairness? Lack of language skills is only catastrophic for later earning potential because school is obsessively concerned with them and no others. This plan treats school, an organisation 100% in our control, as fixed and tries to change the way millions of families raise their children to better fit in with it. That's crazy, no?

Evil twin of our failure to solve the problems of inequality and unemployment is our submissive reaction to that failure. We have the choice to force change, either through the ballot box or Parliament Square. We've done neither, and it could be because passivity is something else we were taught at school. All our work there was set and judged by those in authority. We spent our school days doing what we were told. After school, if we were good we got to spend more time doing activities supervised by adults. If we were bad we were put in detention to learn to obey.

A question for lovers of liberty. If you want your child to reap the social benefits of going to school, but without suffering the stigma and shame of being branded 'low ability' are you free to choose this? Is there a Free School where you can send your child to learn freely what interests them, free of judgement?

Equality from the Beginning is a decentralised revolution. We don't aim, like the revolutions of the past, to change the personnel of the powerful. We aim to redistribute power from the top to the bottom. The revolution won't happen through a general election or a mass uprising, it happens when your local school adopts a curriculum in which all find a path to success and none are labelled inferior. Inequality is a problem we're failing to fix as adults, it's time to try equality from the beginning.

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