Friday, 30 September 2016

Utopia: Some thoughts on education, class and society.

Image the island of utopia

It is a universal given, that education and social class are inextricably entwined. For 'class' read a pyramidal relationship between individuals and groups. It is largely an economic one and a matter of who has control over whom. Any society of sixty million people, as in ours, (though many of course are much larger) require stability to operate. Chaos brings suffering for all. For this reason, it is a statement of the obvious, that not everyone can be in charge, and so it follows that the brightest are best to fill these rolls.

Generally speaking rewards increase with elevation. There may be nothing wrong with this principal but it has got completely out of control. Humans can be selfless but the opposite characteristic is far more common, and rewards are never enough it would seem. We all realise that possessions are temporal and life is short, but this does not stop people wanting to accummulate things and display them - what has been called 'conspicuous consumption', a term coined by Thorstein Veblen well over a century ago. To get a handle on western world view and where we are now in economic terms, we need to link it to Max Weber's idea of the 'protestant ethic'. (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. 1905)

This is why particularly the pay of bosses should operate within what is considered fair and reasonable by the people as a whole. Trouble is that this can mean individuals and companies that provide employment and prosperity, transferring to more liberal climes, making the situation for the many worse. It is a delicate balancing act. The danger is used as emotional blackmail by the beneficiaries to prevent action being taken. Blair famously said he was "relaxed about wealth", a philosophy he has undoubtedly put into practice since relinquishing the post of PM.

But getting back to education, as long as money can get results in specialist educational settings, those with an abundance of it will reinvest, to ensure their progeny maintain the advantage. It might be called a 'vicious circle' that perpetuates the status quo, excluding the others. Qualifications and academic achievement are the key to all top jobs, which by virtue of selection based on ability to pay, is kept within the confines of a select group, with a whole range of social indicators and barriers.

That, my friend, is the British way of doing education in a nutshell. All power to the elect and the devil take the hind-most. In its place we need to reinvigorate the notion of "commonwealth", into which all contribute and all draw out, according to genuine ability or need, and that none should take less than they need or give less than they can afford. In the five hundreth anniversary of More's 'Utopia', isn't it time we made strides to achieved it?

1 comment:

  1. "The island of Utopia is in the middle just 200 miles broad, and holds almost at the same breadth over a great part of it; but it grows narrower towards both ends. Its figure is not unlike a crescent: between its horns, the sea comes in eleven miles broad, and spreads itself into a great bay, which is environed with land to the compass of about five hundred miles, and is well secured from winds. In this bay there is no great current, the whole coast is, as it were, one continued harbour, which gives all that live in the island great convenience for mutual commerce; but the entry into the bay, occasioned by rocks on the one hand, and shallows on the other, is very dangerous. In the middle of it there is one single rock which appears above water, and may therefore be easily avoided; and on the top of it there is a tower in which a garri-son is kept the other rocks lie under water, and are very dangerous. The channel is known only to the natives, so that if any stranger should enter into the bay, without one of their pilots, he would run great danger of shipwreck; for even they themselves could not pass it safe, if some marks that are on the coast did not direct their way; and if these should be but a little shifted, any fleet that might come against them, how great soever it were, would be certainly lost.

    There are 54 cities in the island, all large and well-built: the manners, customs, and laws of which are the same, and they are all contrived as near in the same manner as the ground on which they stand will allow. The nearest lie at least 24 miles distance from one another, and the most remote are not so far distant, but that a man can go on foot in one day from it, to that which lies next it. Every city sends three of their wisest senators once a year to Amaurot [the capital] to consult about their common concerns; for that is chief town of the island, being situated near the centre of it, so that it is the most convenient place for their assemblies. The jurisdiction of every city extends at least twenty miles: and where the towns lie wider, they have much more ground: no town desires to enlarge its bounds, for the people consider themselves rather as tenants than landlords. They have built over all the country, farmhouses for husbandmen, which are well contrived, and are furnished with all things necessary for country labour. Inhabitants are sent by turns from the cities to dwell in them; no country family has fewer than forty men and women in it, besides two slaves. There is a master and a mistress set over every family; and over thirty families there is a magistrate.

    Image taken from: Utopia
    Created by: Thomas More
    Publisher: Arte Theodorici Martini
    Date created: 1516
    Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
    Shelfmark: C.27.b.30"


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