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Creeping Elitism or Crappy Education

Collingwood School, UK, 1950

Collingwood School, UK, 1950

Elitism generally refers to the (wrongful) centralization of power to a minority group which shares a particular ability, trait or character, such as wealth, education or breeding. People mostly hate elitism purely because it excludes them, but it is a natural fact of society that people with similar interests form groups. Unions and business clubs are the same thing in this regard, except that business clubs tend to work in their members’ interests far more often than do unions!

There is nothing wrong with having a lot of money. I doubt anyone, after some consideration, would have any objections to have plenty of it, but what gets one’s ire up is the way in which money is obtained, especially if it was by immoral means. There are wealthy people who have reached their status fairly and squarely on the foundations of good ideas, good management and good business principles alone, but the truth, if it were known, would probably be that the majority of the filthy rich did whatever it took to get there – all within the law of the land, of course, but rarely within the confines of moral law. They see life and money as a game, where understanding and exploiting the rules (and exploiting those who don’t understand the rules) is more important than trying to play fairly and not crush one’s opponent.

A similar situation exists with education. There is nothing wrong with being intelligent, educated, academically accomplished, but growing numbers of people with academic degrees are obtaining them undeservedly, getting ‘helped’ through, followed by getting plum jobs and so forth. In the Financial Times, an article appears bemoaning the “shocking” rise in elitism among the Professions in the United Kingdom. It describes how, among groups such as lawyers, fewer and fewer ‘outsiders’ are admitted into the ranks. The profession remains within families, who, by means of the wealth generated by the profession, are able to afford to send their children to the private schools which feed the universities which in turn train the lawyers. Internships and other important appointments are then given to the favorites, either on the basis of long standing friendships, club membership or family ties. It’s a typical story of the class divisions which the English speaking world seems unable to shake off.

The problem with the public debate is that the wrong phenomenon (elitism) is being identified as being a problem. The real problem is the erosion of meritocracy.

Elite groups are an essential part of a functioning society. Academics are rightly entrusted with the task of giving society timely advice on topics which they are experts on. The wealthy are entitled to do whatever they wish with their money, within legal limits. Doctors are entitled to support each other, protect their profession and advise society on medical issues. The same for lawyers, teachers, nurses, shop owners, cleaners, anybody.

What society is lacking is the freedom for someone from the bottom to rise to the top by his own merit. It is not the fault of the professions or professionals, but the abject failure of government to provide an adequate standard of free education for its constituency. Because state run education is so inadequate, universities are naturally looking at private education for its intake because those schools produce literate, numerate adults. The students from these schools continue to do well in university, not because they are more intelligent, but because they are better supported, both socially and financially.

Bright students in state run schools suffer from poor quality teachers, poor quality teaching materials, large class sizes, lack of resources and low morale. To get an equivalent score to that of a privately educated student, a state educated student has to work harder and put up with lower expectations placed on him.

It wasn’t as bad as this in the past, because in the past, to be a teacher was a serious vocation, a respected profession, like being a doctor. You had to be above average at school to become a teacher. It was possible to fail a teaching degree if you weren’t good enough. Teachers graduating from universities were of a guaranteed minimum standard, such that whatever school someone went to, he could be almost guaranteed to receive a good and fair education, as long as the individual himself was enthusiastic and hard working. With the decline in teaching, the semi-adequate graduates look like geniuses when placed next to their peers. As a result, they get all the well paid jobs at private schools, with small class sizes and luxurious facilities.

So, what passes for elitism is merely the fact that those who understand the inadequacies of state run education are doing what they can to ensure that their own progeny is not disadvantaged by government incompetency. No doubt there are, additionally, elements of corruption and pockets of racial supremacy, but by and large the problem lies squarely with government.

The solution? Pay teachers what they’re worth, and the previously better situation will gradually return.

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