I’m getting very bored of the link up between social mobility, IQ and education, but, alongside my boredom there is disquiet and I am still trying to work out why that is (apart from the obvious). So, I’m going to take the three things, one at a time.
So, I’ve written about this concept before, (you can read last week’s post here) but maybe I haven’t been clear enough. I don’t think, when people talk or write about social mobility today that they actually mean what either I think the term means, or the term says.
To me, when I conjure up an image of social mobility, I think of Hyacinth Bucket or Margot Leadbetter. Caricatures of women climbing the social ladder, and being made fun of in the process. A male equivalent? Harold Steptoe, maybe. Men and women pretending to be better than they are, gardening in their yellow marigolds, playing snooker with a cue poking out of the window, ‘aping their betters’ and branding themselves as Lord and Lady Muck. No class, and certainly no breeding.
OK, so those characters are fictional, but they represent an image of social mobility that I think many of us hold in our collective imaginations, and many of us have experienced; the slow sloughing off of working class roots (although, if my own experience is anything to go by, they run deep, and they are not easily dismissed).
I don’t think that public commentators and organisations mean social mobility. I think they mean an economic ‘mobility’ whereby the individual, by dint of hard work, ‘makes good’. Instead of relying on the apparatus of the state for things such as housing, healthcare and education, they are able to earn enough to own their own homes, buy private health insurance and education for their children.
I think these are two different things.
I’m not going to spend much time writing or thinking about IQ. I’m not an expert in it but I do know this: it has been used in Western society since the day it was invented and its history is troubling and sad. People have been forcibly sterilised because of it. People have been discriminated against because of it. Lives have been undervalued and lost. To be honest, the thing I mostly think about it is when people boast about their own, or their genius child’s and, if there is anything that having a child with Down’s syndrome has taught me it is this: IQ is no guarantee of anything that matters in life. A high IQ is no guarantee of health (although I do understand the arguments about odds – to which I reply, when you have a 1 in 7000 chance of having a baby with Down’s you still could), it is no guarantee of being a decent person and it is certainly not the benchmark for love.
To me, IQ is just another one of those labels that gets in the way. As a teacher I firmly believe that we have a duty to meet the needs of the children in our classes without prejudice, and that includes notions of IQ.
Which brings me to education. The marrying of notions of social (economic) mobility to education is, to me, troubling. As a young person, I marched around the streets of Exeter (in the rain, no less) chanting ‘Education is a right, not a privilege’, in the first of the student protests about student loans. I believe that education should be free at the point of delivery, and that we have an equal right to it. I support ideas of a lifetime education; not everyone wants to go to university at 18, and that’s OK.
What I don’t support, however, is the close tying of education to economics. The getting of a good education is not directly related to the getting of a well-paid and fulfilling job. The role of teachers is not to turn out compliant, hard working citizens (who will never need public housing, healthcare or education for their children). I reject the notion of a utilitarian schooling.
This is why I feel so troubled by the current arguments that are swirling in my field. It’s difficult to disagree with declarations that every child is entitled to access ‘the best that has been thought and said’ and made. I add made because I take my children to museums, art galleries and places of cultural and historical significance regularly as I consider it their right to participate in the cultural and intellectual life of this world regardless of their age or abilities. I did so as a teacher and I do so as a parent.
And that’s it, I suppose. An education isn’t about fitting a person out to be a good little worker, and only accessible to those who conform. It’s something else entirely.