Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Selection by ability is just natural selection

As Shadow Secretary of State for Education, David Cameron urged the Prime Minister ‘to allow schools to control their own admissions policies’. A perfectly logical corollary of this would be the creation of new grammar schools, or at least schools which are able to select by academic ability, whatever they be called. The Conservative Party has trumpeted so much about the need for ‘localism’, trusting the individual, and devolving powers to councils, that a Conservative education policy must, to be consistent, hand power to schools over selection, and to parents to decide what kind of school is best for their child.

But as Leader of HM Opposition, Mr Cameron’s policy has flipped. And it has not only flipped, but to even raise a contrary view risks accusations of being 'delusional', or obsessed with ‘right wing debate’, or of a 'pointless' unhealthy fixation with the redundant arguments of the past. If one were to believe Mr Willetts, it is simply a question of social justice, and grammar schools are no longer the motor of social mobility they once were. He would be wiser to look at examination results in Northern Ireland instead of in Kent, for there he will find a considerably higher level of attainment than in the rest of the UK, and that among some of the Province’s poorest.

Does not Mr Cameron understand that the Lord created human beings with infinite variety? Some are (with apologies to Mr Shakespeare) noble in reason or infinite in faculties; others, in form and moving, are express and admirable; still others in action are like angels, and a very few in apprehension like a god…

Why is it that sports colleges may select on athletic prowess; beauty and modelling colleges on looks; drama colleges on presence and acting expertise; music colleges on ability in counterpoint and harmony? And if a child shows neither aptitude nor ability in these areas, they are rejected. As cruel as this may be, is it not simply natural selection? There is no equality of outcome, but a sifting of the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff.

Yet Mr Cameron is concerned to protect the goats and the chaff from ‘hurt feelings’. But the problem is that a goat will never be a sheep, and chaff is useless for making bread. What business is it of government to force modelling colleges to take fat and ugly students, or music colleges to accept the tone deaf, or sports colleges to offer cricket and football to those in wheel chairs? Selection by ability not only accords with natural law; it obliges an acceptance of the truth, encouraging an accurate assessment of one's gifts, and that is an act of love.

Why is selection on academic ability at the age of 13 (Cranmer’s preferred threshold) so wrong, but not at 18? Should all have an equal opportunity to go to university? Of course. But should all have an assurance of an equal outcome? Not at all. Failure is a part of life – some win, some lose; some are in, some are out. If this is somehow artificially engineered so that all win, and all are in, the future is bleak. If Cranmer is sick, he wishes to be operated on by great physicians who have good degrees. Then he shall be healed. If he walks over a bridge, he wants only the finest engineers with the highest qualifications to have been involved in its construction. Then he shall have safe journey. And if he wants to be governed…

…well, why not fill Parliament with those who got poor GCSEs, no A-levels, and a poor degree (if any)? After all, does not everyone deserve the chance to be in Parliament, irrespective of aptitude or ability?

26 Comments:

Anonymous Voyager said...

I fear political opportunism is endemic and that we have a clique more interested in triangulation in the Clinton sense than any issue of principle.

Advised by an Hungarian Ad man who voted Green and Liberal Democrat in previous elections and borrowed his surname from an hotel chain; Cameron has set off convinced he has can be oily slick in getting a social position he craves. It is simply about getting the account and abusing anyone who gets in the way.

When you are descendants from a family of rich grain merchants, and an ancestor who chaired Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, and friends who all inherited wealth and places at Eton, it is hard to think of the little people as anything other than servant grade.

Anyone who has been at Oxford knows just how sneeringly condescending Cameron's ilke are about grammar school boys, and how much they despise the work ethos of those not born to status but who have to climb the ladder rung by rung.

It is a Conservative Party c. 1910 which likes chaps in dinner jackets but sees the rest as oiks and there is no point in differentiating between oiks.....or as Hamlet put it

By the Lord,
Horatio, these three years I have taken a note of
it; the age is grown so picked that the toe of the
peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier


Cameron, Letwin and their band of social elitists cannot stomach the thought of the peasant getting to near the heel of the courtier.

There attitude is that those who need selective education already have money to buy it on the open market...which was why Thatcher created no Grammar Schools but provided Assisted Places to Independent Schools....the grammar school had served its purpose for her and was no longer necessary now she could buy into Harrow

22 May 2007 at 10:12  
Anonymous Voyager said...

their attitude

22 May 2007 at 10:13  
Blogger The Ludingtonian said...

Your Grace -

This is not so much an opinion as a plea for enlightenment, as I find the whole debate utterly incomprehensible, regardless of which side's opinions I read. But then I am not a product of the British education system. As a result, I often wonder whether there isn't a large sub-text that is assumed by those who have been through the British system.

Grammar schools seem to be a great shibboleth for both the Right and the Left. Although I've not heard it said explicitly, it seems that the Left regard them with disdain approaching horror. One would conclude that, to them, grammar schools are the source of everything iniquitious in society. What is the source of this attitude?

Likewise, what is the reason for the Right's fascination with grammar schools? Is it the (presumed) quality of education that one receives at a grammar school or the mere fact that one has attended one that gives the advantage? If the former, can the same result not be gained by streaming by ability in a comprehensive school?

From the heat generated by the debate, I assume that the whole thing is rather more than a tempest in a teapot, but for the life of me I cannot see it as anything else. I await enlightenment.

22 May 2007 at 11:37  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Likewise, what is the reason for the Right's fascination with grammar schools?

It is NOT a Left-Right issue...do get out of that mentality. Grammar Schools started in pre-Elizabethan England to teach Latin Grammar....and did not charge fees ....Shakespeare went to one.....they gave opportunity to childen to gain an education and access to the best universities and professions.

If you don't come from a country where the top judges, I-Bankers, politicians, media types, athletes, pop groups - all went to the same private fee-paying schools you cannot conceive of a country where in the South fee-paying schools provide an education for which people in Northern England depended on Grammar Schools to provide.

The highest-paying jobs in England seem almost predestined for the output of a few private fee-paying schools. 19 of 73 Prime Ministers of this country attended the same school - Eton
College.

22 May 2007 at 13:27  
Anonymous The Recusant said...

What I want to fix your attention on is the vast overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence -- moral, cultural, social or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how 'democracy' (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient dictatorships, and by the same methods?
The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be "undemocratic." These differences between pupils; for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences must be disguised. This can be done at various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time. Let, them, for example, make mud pies and call it modeling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have I believe the English already use the phrase; "parity of esteem." An even more drastic scheme is now possible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma -- Beelzebub, what a useful word! By being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval's attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.
We may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when 'I'm as good as you' has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway, the teachers -- or should I say nurses? -- will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men.

Clive Staples Lewis (1959)

22 May 2007 at 16:27  
Anonymous billy said...

Our Etonian elite will keep finding jobs for their mates until we have a revolution.
It seems to me that problem is not selection but what you do about those who fail selection.
Currently, those who know they have failed academically have formed an underclass that has no expectations of work or status.. They are often from families where the previous three generations have not worked but have learnt to exist on dole money and petty crime.
What will be done to give them opportunity and self respect?

22 May 2007 at 18:30  
Anonymous Snuffy said...

Hmm yes. I think what you say is right. I am a teacher, and I find it very difficult to inspire in this modern day culture of 'everyone deserves praise for everything'. There is this weird opposition to hurting students' feelings. And as the students can move up every year without meeting any standards, and as the teachers are forced to 'catch them doing something good' and 'tell them how fantastic they are for doing it', the children are never really made to face the truth. Then everyone is surprised when they fail their GCSEs.

So I would add to what you say and suggest that insisting on standards and forcing children to meet those standards is not just what makes sense, it is also the ONLY way of motivating the not so clever ones, or the not so thin, sporty, or musically-inclined ones.

Having standards drives everyone to do better. And it is precisely because of this lunatic liberal behaviour that now, our exams all need dumbing-down.

22 May 2007 at 19:36  
Anonymous Observer said...

They are often from families where the previous three generations have not worked but have learnt to exist on dole money and petty crime.
What will be done to give them opportunity and self respect?


Simply put them into Sparse Regime Schools and run them on military lines and residential.

It is time to militarise parts of society - the Us has already started military academies in some sink areas with very positive results.

22 May 2007 at 20:07  
Anonymous Colin said...

"the problem is that a goat will never be a sheep, and chaff is useless for making bread"

Your Grace,

Mr. Cameron is well aware of these facts. After all, he is not stupid. But he is also aware of another fact: every individual has one vote at the next election and that is what counts.

"…well, why not fill Parliament with those who got poor GCSEs, no A-levels, and a poor degree (if any)?"

Would it make a difference? Studies have revealed that politicians have an IQ above the mean but are not very much above average. The explanation of scientists was: People of very high intelligence feel bored by the nature of politics, i.e. games of power. Naturally, there are a few highly intelligent politicans but the majority of MPs does certainly not fall into this category.

22 May 2007 at 22:14  
Anonymous Voyager said...

every individual has one vote at the next election and that is what counts.

That is a theory but not one used by modern politicians who seek to harvest votes from their opponents while driving up the abstention rate.

They fish in a decreasing pool as more and more people turn away from voting. John major had the high point in 1992 when Major secured 14,093,007 votes - yet in 1997 9,600,943 votes; in 2001 8,357,615 and in 2005 8,772,598 votes.

No party has secured as many votes as John major in 1992 and the Conservatives have lost close to 6 million voters.

The turnout at 61% was the lowest since 1918 when the franchise was extended.....and 16 million people do not vote.

Politicians employ advertising men to steal the customers from the other store by having special offers, or coupons, but they decide what is sold and ignore voter desires.

You can see what happens when Anthony Down's Mode1 of Economic Democracy meet Michels' Iron Law of Oligarchy........Britain has an 'Administrative Democracy' run by an Administrator Class which allows groups to pledge allegiance rather as a traveller can buy a ticket at a railway station but not be guaranteed a seat nor that he won't be crammed into a sardine can for the journey, if indeed it is not cancelled.....so-called Terms & Conditions.

The voters have turned off because parties are cliques and top-down impositions of interest-groups, not representative of voters but of corporatism and is why they hire canvassers and every function has now to be sealed with a money relationship

23 May 2007 at 04:53  
Anonymous Colin said...

"That is a theory but not one used by modern politicians who seek to harvest votes from their opponents..

Correct, Voyager. And it can only be done by appealing to voters in the middle of the political spectrum. The consequence is that the major parties become nearly indistinguishable and that they involuntarily are "driving up the abstention rate". Not many care to vote if it doesn't make any difference. Your and my comment are not contradictory but describe the same phenomenon from different perspectives.

"Politicians employ advertising men to steal the customers from the other store"

Again, you are correct, Voyager. But please permit me to emphasize a major difference. No matter in which store the customer shops, he gets a product for his money. In politics, no matter which party he votes for he only gets promises and hot air for his money.

"Britain has an 'Administrative Democracy' run by an Administrator Class"

That's correct again. Since "administrators" don't produce anything but are living from the producing population, one might also use the biological term to describe such relationship hoping for some additional insights. In biology such a relationship is termed parasitism. And which insights has parasitology to offer? "By modifying the behaviour and morphology of hosts, parasites may strongly impact host individuals, populations and communities." We all are witnessing the consequences in our communities and populations. That isn't anything new in human history. It has always been so. The roman empire, monarchy, dictatorship of the proletariat, confusianism, hinduism, islamism, welfarism, nationalism ... are superficially but serve the same function, i.e. to sedate the host.

"every function has now to be sealed with a money relationship"

For the host, it is better to receive money than only warm words. Welfarism is better than nationalism. However, even in the case of welfarism, only part of the money is given back which has been taken from the host. Welfarism for keeping the host cooperative is quickly approaching its limits. Therefore, other methods are required for keeping the host calm and cooperative. Its defensive mechanisms have to be weakened, e.g. by controlling the freedom of expression (e.g. on the internet), surveillance of its defensive activities (i.e. installation of a surveillance state), removal of centuries-old liberties, weakening of parliamentarism, installation of an undemocratic government system (EU constitution). Biology teaches us that the growth of parasitism inevitably leads to the weakening of the host. The course of the disease is known in biology and has been described manifold in human history: the rise and fall of empires.

23 May 2007 at 15:18  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Your and my comment are not contradictory but describe the same phenomenon from different perspectives

I saw them as complementary., I also see political parties are mere facets of the bureaucracy which puts out different reflections to bond its subjects......rather as Feliks Dzerzhinsky created "The Trust" as an opposition group in the late 1920s to bind all those plotting against the Communist bureaucracy to an organisation it had itself created


Perhaps the most spectacular success of the GPU/OGPU was the Trust Operation, 1924-1925. GPU agents contacted emigrés in western Europe and pretended to be representatives of a large group working for the overthrow of the communist regime, known as the "Trust". Exiled Russians gave the Trust large sums of money and supplies, as did foreign intelligence agencies. The Trust finally succeeded in luring one of the leading anti-Communist operators, Sidney Reilly, into Russia to meet with the Trust. Once he was in Russia, he was captured and killed. The Trust was dissolved, and it became a large propaganda success.

Public Trust in Institutions

23 May 2007 at 16:17  
Blogger Tony said...

Your Grace,

I would like to point out to your readers that as Shadow Secretary of State for Education, David Cameron did indeed urge the Prime Minister ‘to allow schools to control their own admissions policies’. That was the policy of the party and it was his job to advocate it.

But as Leader of HM Opposition, Mr Cameron’s policy announcement is very much his own beast. As leader he gets to influence policy direction according to his taste. I do not see that as a flip-flop, but someone using their position to assert their view.

That said, I disagree with my party leader's assessment on Grammar schools.

23 May 2007 at 16:17  
Anonymous Observer said...

I do not see that as a flip-flop, but someone using their position to assert their view.

Perhaps he can put Letwin out to grass and circumvent this much-vaunted policy review by telling us his conclusions and save the working parties wasting their time......Nadine Dorries does not seem unduly impressed

23 May 2007 at 17:34  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Hmm...

Not a 'conviction politician' then...

23 May 2007 at 17:34  
Anonymous Colin said...

"I also see political parties are mere facets of the bureaucracy"

Voyager, I agree because politicians depend on the bureaucracy and not the other way around as they often pretend. A German minister once told me that he has to obey his bureaucrats because otherwise the latter can mess things up, he gets the blame and has to resign. Such a mechanism became visible in Brussels when Mr. Verheugen, I believe he is the Vice-President of the EU, wanted to restrict the power of the bureaucrats. Suddenly, pictures appeared in the media showing him nude with his girl friend. Now, he remains silent. The bureaucracy everywhere is constantly in search for new issues of regulation to promote their own growth: economy, pensions, healthcare, gender mainstreaming, religion, social justice, immigration, terrorism, environment, smoking, global warming, fat food, education ... a never ending quest for more bureaucratic regulations until the majority of the population works for the state bureaucracy in order to control the remaining 10% who do the work.

23 May 2007 at 19:08  
Blogger Victor, NW Kent said...

Your Grace
I was born one of the rabble - very working class - but I gained a grammar school place.
I voted Labour by birth but parted with them over Tony Crosland's insanity.
Now I see that at the next general election I will have only the choice of the Liars, the Fops or the Wets. Which of these should I make rich?

23 May 2007 at 20:41  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Acts 9:18

16For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

17And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

23 May 2007 at 20:56  
Anonymous Colin said...

"In short order, society degenerates into a condition of low-intensity civil war, with each pressure group anxious to secure legislation aimed at enriching itself at the expense of the rest of society."

23 May 2007 at 22:18  
Anonymous billy said...

Observer said...
They are often from families where the previous three generations have not worked but have learnt to exist on dole money and petty crime.
What will be done to give them opportunity and self respect?

Simply put them into Sparse Regime Schools and run them on military lines and residential.

It is time to militarise parts of society - the Us has already started military academies in some sink areas with very positive results.

8:07 PM

Any experience here Observer? You have served have you?
I would hope for something that would give them self respect; not the same system that helped the Krays on their way.

23 May 2007 at 22:38  
Anonymous helena handcart said...

A poser for woolly-minded liberals:

If you needed a brain operation, would you choose a surgeon of proven ability, or one from a 'challenging' background and a lousy school whose was 'qualified' by future potential?

If enough woolly liberals had to make this decision I suspect the problem would resolve itself, or way or another.

23 May 2007 at 23:00  
Anonymous Amalfi van Krug said...

Congratualtions on your award for "Best Anonymous Blog". (Anonymous?)

The award is deserved, for your erudition and intellect is widely acknowledged.

Given your, ahem, immanency, may I collect the champagne on your behalf?

23 May 2007 at 23:08  
Anonymous Colin said...

Amalfi van Krug,

Thanks for the hint. I found the link to the award. The jury wrote: "His Grace" writes in the persona of the man who was burned at the stake almost five hundred years ago, even in emails and blog comments. The aim of this blog is to "investigate and expose religio-politics or politico-religiosity, whatever the cost" (or more specifically, conservative-Christianity and Christian-conservatism). He does this with moral seriousness and intellectual rigour, bringing some refreshing common sense to some of the touchiest subjects in British politics.

Congratulations, Your Grace! (Thanks Bob). And a big round of applause for His Grace as well as for some of his communicants who contributed to the success of the blog such as Mr. Voyager and Miss Jelly Bean.

23 May 2007 at 23:41  
Anonymous Observer said...

I would hope for something that would give them self respect; not the same system that helped the Krays on their way.

You are right...they went AWOL from National Service and the Army could not stop them becoming fully-fledged criminals.

This must be why the Government wants all babies and mothers screened for "criminal inclination" and to start a Child Database tracking natural born criminals so they can be monitored from birth.

Your observation no doubt persuaded the Government of this approach. The Americans have nevertheless used ROTC in sink schools to very good effect

24 May 2007 at 06:08  
Blogger Tony said...

Your Grace,

As well you know, in a team people must play the part the captain determines. In business I must follow the lead of my executive even if I personally would do something different in his position. I do not think Cameron lacks conviction.

In cabinet government there has to be some degree of concensus. Conviction politics would result in cabinet resignations every week if every minister or shadow quit over not having 'their' policy adopted by the party.

24 May 2007 at 09:08  
Anonymous Observer said...

Conviction politics would result in cabinet resignations every week if every minister or shadow quit over not having 'their' policy adopted by the party.

That isn't what it means....and the opposite is disastrous

24 May 2007 at 13:56  

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