Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On scepticism, grammar schools and segregation

I think it's always a good idea to interrogate what you believe. To challenge it every once in a while, step back from it and view it with the scepticism of a detached critic.

It's certainly the approach I've tried to take with my Christian beliefs. In my early twenties I had a bit of a crisis of faith, and seriously considered rejecting it completely. I remember praying at the time that God would give me passion and conviction only for the truth; not for what I'd been told as a child, not for the preferences and prejudices of the culture and people that I'd grown up with. Only for the truth. I remember as well coming across a number of people at the time who were intelligent, well-informed, well read and passionately anti-religious. I remember late night debates with one individual in particular who, on more than one occasion, I was convinced was on the verge of punching me. The fact that he was a martial arts instructor and had previously worked as a bouncer made the stakes feel a lot higher. 

It was quite a difficult time for me personally but it helped me to realise a few things that have been hugely important in the years since. I learnt that my beliefs stand up to the most intense scrutiny and are entirely defensible intellectually. I also learnt great respect for those who reject them. They, too, are often whole-heartedly committed to finding the truth and just because the conclusions they've drawn are different to mine, it doesn't mean that I can't welcome, appreciate and honestly engage with their doubts and challenges. Hopefully they would feel the same way about me. 

So what of politics? 

I don't like the Conservative Party. 

That doesn't mean that I dislike people who vote for them, or even those who openly champion them. I have friends and family who are members and I know that they're honest, good and kind people. I do disagree with them however, because I've only ever rejected what the Conservatives stand for. It seems to me that they prioritise the creation and accumulation of financial wealth above everything else, and I can't get behind an ideology like that. 

Maybe I haven't challenged myself enough on this though. Maybe I haven't opened myself up to the level of private and public scrutiny that has been applied to other areas of my life. I couldn't begin even to pretend that I'm the most well-informed of political observers and in all my views and beliefs, political or otherwise, I try to remind myself of the undoubted certainty that I could be wrong. Maybe I only think of the political right in the way that I do because of my family background. Maybe it's because I want to impress and get a pat on the back from the people I look up to. Maybe the social media echo-chamber has indoctrinated me to the extent that I've started to think of my opinions as merely common sense, when in reality they're anything but. 

There is some truth in all of these maybes. I have found it encouraging and affirming in recent weeks, however, to be able to articulate another reason why I don't like the Conservative Party. It's to do with grammar schools. And it's to do with segregation. 

More specifically, it seems to me that the Conservative Party like segregation. 

They seem to champion it quite often, and they seem to thrive off the tension that it creates. Public Sector vs Private Sector. The Young vs the Old. Strivers vs Shirkers. The Deserving vs the Undeserving Poor. Us vs Them, again and again. And it seems now that Theresa May wants to introduce (or rather re-introduce) another form of segregation: grammar-educated vs non-grammar educated. 

The various attempts at window-dressing can't do anything to disguise the fact that if selective secondary schools were to become the norm across the country then our children would effectively be segregated at the age of 11. In theory it sounds like a bad idea and in practice we know it is. Any number of studies have shown that the grammar schools of the past did very little to improve social mobility. Teachers do all that they can to avoid labels and divisions in the classroom, because it helps both to encourage the less-able and challenge any comfortable self-satisfaction in the brighter ones. Making division and labelling fundamental to the whole school system is not going to take us to a good place. The champions of the idea don't see it that way, of course. Some of them have good intentions which, I believe, are misguided. Some of them merely see another chance to reinforce their own authority through yet another form of segregation and the inevitable tensions that will result.  

Of course, I could be wrong. And even though I spend my working life trying to help the very kids who are likely to come off worst in all of this, and even though I find it very hard sometimes to detach myself from the emotion and frustration of it all, I'll try to stay sceptical.            

No comments:

Post a Comment