Tuesday, 18 April 2017
A Guardian article by Hashi Mohamed was thrust into my timeline over the weekend along with a negative mini-review suggesting it was some form of paean to a mediocre socialist education. The headline ‘Telling children 'hard work gets you to the top' is simply a lie’ does, indeed, suggest a diatribe against the evil capitalist adjuration that all must try harder, all must work longer but, actually, it was so much more optimistic than that. Expecting to hate it I did what I suspect the original tweeter had not and actually read the article.
Hashi is Somalian by birth and came to England as a child refugee at the age of nine, speaking virtually no English. Since then he has, as the expression goes, dragged himself up by his boot straps to become both a barrister and a broadcaster. I listened to his documentary ‘Adventures in Social Mobility’ on Easter Sunday and found him engaging, remarkably well spoken and almost persuasive. I say almost because despite his barrister’s training in argument I thought there was a fundamental flaw to his thesis.
His point is that no matter how hard you work your social class is a major barrier to advancement. At first glance this seems to be another bulwark in the resistance of certain parts of the establishment to the reintroduction of grammar schools; rich kids succeed, poor kids fail, this is unfair, so don’t give better-advised kids the opportunity to gain an advantage. But Hashi himself is proof that this isn’t an immutable fact. His circumstance almost couldn’t have been worse and his early British schooling didn’t promise much, but his own epiphany came on a visit to his extended family in Africa as a young man and drove him to work harder and get to what many would regard as the very top he seems to deny.
You should read and listen to Hashi’s story – he tells it better than I could – but if you do I think you will see that actually he gives the lie to his assertion. Of course, working hard won’t get everybody to ‘the top’; after all there is only so much space on the apex of that pyramid. But not working hard is unlikely to yield any result at all. What is likely, however, is that if you do put in the effort to improve your lot you can pass your gains on to your children. The history of immigrant success in particular is of working harder so you can send your kids to that better life by passing on that work ethic and its fruits..
One thing is for certain and that is that giving up, not striving at all and languishing on benefits is likely to do the opposite. So you have a choice: make no effort in life, set a bad example to your kids and end your days in torpor and bitterness and rage against the system. Or get off your backside, give it all you’ve got and keep on giving it. You may not get as far as you dreamed, but your children might just pick up your baton and run with it. In the race to the top, either a sprint or a marathon, hard work is still the best chance you’ve got.