Monday, 8 August 2016

The Discrimination Game

The United States Declaration of Independence states: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.’ Well, that’s a nice ambition but we all know it’s a crock of shit. Not only are all not starting out equal, it is an undesirable outcome anyway, as equality can only be achieved by pushing standards and expectations downwards, something which seems to be the purview of dictatorships and communism... and the British state education system.

It has done its job well, the National Union of Teachers, Jokers, Obfuscators and Bolsheviks. (NUTJOB) Raise the prospect of grammar schools as Theresa May has done and out come the placards and the angry condemnations of elitism and cries of “Unfair!” Nothing’s ever fair these days, is it? But what is fair anyway? A decent crack of the whip seems like fairness, so denying access to selective schooling for brighter kids looks manifestly unfair to me.

But the system has worked well to promote anything but excellence as a watchword. With the result that the following was a genuine exchange I watched on Twitter:

A: I oppose selective schools. As someone with a learning disability, I am not happy when my tax funds my own discrimination.
B: They do not discriminate but offer opportunity to all children
A: So they don't subject children to maths and English exams? How could a person like myself pass them?
B: So because you have learning problems all other children should be denied the opportunity of a grammar school?
A: No they can exist but they can not be allowed to discriminate.

Variations on that theme – you must never discriminate – popped up all over the commentariat but what do you do when you choose one pair of shoes over another? What do you do when you give the job to the best applicant? Discriminate is not a dirty word but its constant use as a pejorative has put it in the category of hate speech when in fact it is the basis of all choice. If one person is the same as another we may as well pair up with the first other human being we encounter. If we had never discriminated the human race might have ended up looking like the denizens of the island of Doctor Moreau. (Some say it already does)

Of course we need selection and streaming in schooling – that is far more ‘self-evident’ than equality to anybody who has actually thought about it. But it should be remembered that being academically gifted is not the only way pupils can excel. The soft bigotry of low expectations has led us to abandon those who fail under the current comprehensive nonsense to a life of drudge. What about also nurturing physical skills such as crafts, or the mental acuity of many who don’t achieve in exams but go on to become successful in business despite their education?

If you want a truly comprehensive system then you need to take one lesson from the grammar system and that is to discriminate. Only by selection and specialisation will you ever produce anything close to those so-called equalities you dream of. And of course if the state won’t do it the parents will; is it fair that only the offspring of parents who have the means to influence their child’s schooling? You would ban grammars because some parents are better able to prepare their kids for an entrance exam?

Hands up if you can spell... anything, really.

Life, unlike the Olympics, is one long bout of selection in which we all compete in different ways. The true equality of outcomes is that we all die in the end; nobody wins in the long run. But it’s not the winning; it’s the taking part. And some never participate to their full potential because they languish in mixed ability classes when they could be flying. If grammar schools are unfair then one-size-fits-all comprehensives are tantamount to child cruelty.


  1. Equality of opportunity - yes
    Equality of outcomes - no