Tuesday, August 28, 2012

School and class

I was listening to a BBC debate on the British education system last week. It was notable as a cultural experience. Many of the same issues that appear in the "American education crisis" appeared in the program: whether the important issue is testing or non-testable aspects of education, like music or art or values; the decline of test scores, and what to make of a recent renormalization of some standardized tests (A levels); the value of vocational school versus a more academic track; what to teach, and more importantly, what not to teach, since one can't teach everything that is societally accepted as "good for kids"; the value of free schools (which I think are the British equivalent of charter schools.)

Like many of the similar debates States-side, there was little discussion of the fact that economics factors at home are still the leading indicator of academic achievement in both the US and the UK. This was very frustrating. Though I do appreciate the panelist who pointed out that that students from poorer families were by far more likely to enter vocational programs rather than middle class families with a family history of college education. Similarly, I wanted to smack the audience member who commented that maybe the problem was that upper class children were being deprived of their full potential by not encouraging them to become car mechanics.

Privilege. I know its an issue everywhere. The different forms of it in different countries strike me. For instance, I am fairly certain that poor families here actually means poor families, and is not code for "poor brown kids." But the racism that sets my teeth on edge in the US was just replaced by classism in this debate. The amount of discussion about whether or not a student was capable of learning things like physics or Shakespeare was dumbfounding. There really does seem to be a portion of British society, (or at least of BBC radio 4 listeners) who believe that some people (upper class people) are more intelligent than other (poor) people. Like all discriminatory views, I got the impression from the debate that for many people (such as the moderator) this was known to be a politically incorrect view, but was still held (at least subconsciously).

On whole, this debate was as useless interms of actually informing me on what good policy pathways could be as the ones I listen to in the States. But I walked away with one sad thought. In the US, we love to talk about failing teachers. This is sad and frustrating and untrue, and the meme has permeated the public consciousness, and it seems that many Americans believe that teachers are lazy and incompetent. But teachers are adults. How much worse must it be to grow up in a society where the discussion about education is not whether or not your teachers can teach you, but whether or not you are capable or learning?*

The second part of the debate appears tomorrow.

*There are definitely policies that are set up not to teach poorer students, and there is an underlying (and sometimes spoken) belief that these students can't learn, but I haven't heard it as part of mainstream debate in decades.


  1. I think this is pretty incredible, I love that ANYONE can learn; I think it's a shame that in some cultures "learning isn't cool" but I firmly believe that anyone of any class, given the fundamentals can excel.

  2. LOL! Well, of course Brits think that way. In a country that has collapsed from superpower to poodle in under 50 years, snootiness is all they have left :)

    I have felt there is a fundamental difference between Americans and British. It always amazes me how the US talks about being overtaken by kids from China and even India, when the US is easily millions of miles ahead. Its because Americans believe that they owe their success to good choices they have made as a nation: liberty and entrepreneurship. It follows naturally from this belief system that if any other nation...China..India..anyone.. were to make those same choices, they would be just as successful!

    The British see their former superpower status purely as a function of racial supremacy. That way they can believe that British have just formed some kind of larger white union with America. It helps them deny their poodle status.

  3. Speaking of racial supremacy, Mocklion, you just crossed my line of how racist a comment I will allow on my blog. I have no love for British colonial policies, or many other things about the culture, but I cannot stand quiet and let you say this in this forum.

    I am putting my foot down on your trolling. My blog is a place where I try to create a community. I do not want to invite comments quite this rude to that community. You are welcome to make any comment you wish. If I feel like any future comment is, or has the potential to be too offensive to people, I will delete it without further ado.