Wednesday 21 December 2011

Meritocracy, Family and Education

In "The rise of meritocracy", Young explains how 'the cult of the child' took over from social class as being the most significant driving force behind educational and professional success. The triumph of the socialist movement gradually led parents to go to increasing lengths to get the best for their children: ballet classes, music lessons, reading groups...
"The cult of the child became the drug of the people; inspired by hope, vitalized by ambition, the whole nation began to advance as never before from the moment that the Labour Party came to a standstill" (The rise of meritocracy, pp111-112)
Not surprisingly, Young explains, this led to some distortion of the meritocratic organisation of society, where it was those who had access to the best opportunities - who increasingly tended to be the children of the rising working classes who did best, at the expense of those whose IQ scores were kept low through the lack of access to educational opportunity.
"the children of top trade unionists and Labour Ministers, and of other outstanding working men, were not becoming manual workers themselves. They were in attendance at grammar schools and universities, training for commerce and the professions, very large numbers of them even going to public schools."
The unions too had to adjust: becoming more technical (so the mineworkers becomes the  mine technicians, textile workers becomes the  textile technicians). Some unions dealt with workers (for example, the Association of Science Workers) with higher IQs, and they became highly influential in the TUC: the aquisition of IQ has been the chief determiner of social success, and the high-IQ unions sought to defend 'unfair' means of acquiring IQ (so they exposed the 'IQ crammers' for example).

In this way, education drives the society of "the rise to meritocracy". IQ becomes the mark of social standing and the gateway to professional success. But this means that the lower classes are also the least intelligent. Young muses on the "likely events of May 2034" which
"will be at best an 1848, on the English model at that. There will be stir enough. The universities may shake. There will be other disturbances later on as long as the populists survive. But on this occasion anything more serious than a few days' strike and a week's disturbance, which it will be well within the capacity of the police (with their new weapons) to quell, I do not for one moment envisage" (p151)
His reason is that
"without intelligence in their heads, the lower classes are never more menacing than a rabble, even if they are sometimes sullen, sometimes mercurial, not yet completely predictable. If the hopes of some earlier dissidents had been realized and the brilliant children from the lower classes remained there, to teach, to inspire and to organize the masses, then I should have had a different story to tell. The few who now propose such a radical step are a hundred years too late. This is the prediction I expect to verify when I stand next May listening to the speeches from the great rostrum at Peterloo" 
Young was somewhat perturbed when New Labour seemed to take the idea of meritocracy seriously. Maybe it was there before them, but there are many parallels between this spoof history and what we now see unfolding in front of us. Most telling is the increasing power of education, and the organisation of society around educational success. One only has to read 'degree certificates' for 'IQ', and the menacing threat of the Higher Education Achievement Record and other such REAL initiatives start to appear in a sombre light.

The delicious note that the publisher puts at the end of Young's book tells us that
"since the author of this essay was himself killed at Peterloo, the publishers regret they were not able to submit to him the proofs of his manuscript, for the corrections he might have wished to make before publication [...] The failings of sociology are as illuminating as its successes."

Be warned!

1 comment:

Ruby Claire said...

But to those who know the sociology of Walls Road, it is a good idea. Rent universities attract the maverick intuition of many who run hedge resources.

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