Little_Mavis' rants and musings

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More privilege or an appeal for understanding

It feels like ages since I wrote the first part of my blog on privilege, that was the easy part. It had a distinct focus. Part 2 is more nebulous. Actually, now I come to think about it, it’s not really about privilege, it’s more about the assumptions we make.

We all make these assumptions. I’m as guilty of this as everyone else, but they still need to be challenged.

This is about assuming that you can understand other people’s life choices and experiences just by referencing your own. It’s the way we attack other people for not achieving things we have achieved, or justify our own success as being entirely our down to hard work and skill.

Sometimes it may be, mostly there are other factors. I am reluctant to use the word “luck” here because people interpret the word in different ways but I will use it as shorthand to mean “circumstances that happen to an individual that work in their favour and may not have happened”. I understand the whole “you make your own luck” argument as well as the “positive thinking” one but leaving aside the whole business of positive thinking and seizing your chances I still think that sometimes things go well and sometimes they don’t.

For many people there are circumstances which favour them in some way.

You will have all heard actors who are the offspring of famous actors insisting that they achieved their own success purely on merit. But think, even people like Nicholas Cage who changed his name to avoid nepotism have the inside track on how to go about finding work, finding an agent and so on. They have access to knowledge if nothing else. The same applies to people wishing to go into medicine or law. Knowing the system and having contacts is an enormous asset.

Similar reasoning applies to other situations. While you may have been able to talk your way into that lucrative job, or had the confidence to set up your own business, not everyone has the confidence to do the same. Just because you succeeded in certain circumstances, it doesn’t mean that people who fail in similar circumstances are somehow lacking in effort or application. Yes, there are doubtless feckless and lazy people out there but there are also many people doing their level best in difficult circumstances.

I count myself lucky. I am well-educated, articulate and generally (though not so much of late) self-confident. I had parents who cared and did their best for me. Not everyone has that.

There seems to be a widespread tendency just now to blame people for their lack of success, without acknowledging that there may be any other factors involved. I suppose all this is saying is remember your assets, both material and otherwise, and remember that not everyone has them.


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Privilege (Part 1)

I’ve wanted to write this for a while. It’s an awkward one, but one I feel strongly about. Much of what is going on in the country today touches on it and  my earlier blog,  about the students I used to teach touches on it too.

Firstly:  Education

There was a discussion on Radio 4 this morning about whether students from poor backgrounds should be given priority for university places over students from well-off backgrounds/private schools with the same qualifications.

Although there were plenty of “yes” replies, many of the responses seemed to say either “No, everyone should be treated equally” or “No, we should improve schools”.

There are so many wrong assumptions here

  1. Equally isn’t the same thing as fairly. If you set (say) me and my husband the same task of lifting a heavy weight he would do better than me. He is bigger, he is a man, I could have maybe made up a lot of the difference by training and becoming fitter but I doubt I could overcome that basic difference. The task would be equal. But to make it fair I would have needed some other advantage, such as a lighter weight or being allowed to use a lever.
  2. Schools vary. I do not honestly believe that private schools are inherently any better than state schools. There is evidence (can’t find it at the moment) that there is better teaching at state schools. Teachers in private schools have a much more captive audience. They can simply impart knowledge because the pupil’s parents have paid and the children have a different attitude to some in state schools. Classes are smaller. They are free to ignore the SATs and league tables which cripple teaching at state schools.
  3. Even brilliant schools cannot fix social problems. How can a child concentrate on school work (let alone homework) if they are not properly fed, or the home is unheated, or they have parents who have no understanding of why education might be important
  4. One of the big stumbling blocks for students from poorer backgrounds is the interview or extra-curricular activity. They haven’t had the social training to be comfortable with an interview. Some will cope but these are the exceptional ones. Relatively average students from the “right” background will sail through because they are in their comfort zone.
  5. There is research showing that students from comprehensives achieve better results than students from independent or grammar schools with similar results. Well of course they do. They have achieved by their own work and ability rather than from support, coaching, cramming and all the other things that come with the privilege of being wealthy.

So; what is my point?

If you went to a private school you are privileged. You have advantages not available to people from deprived backgrounds who went to state schools. Giving priority to those from poorer backgrounds with the same qualifications is not unfair. It is redressing unfairness.

Stop whingeing.

I don’t want to make this too rambling so I’ll leave the rest for another day.