I Am Radically Repeating What I Was Told (2)
That Frontier Spirit

Just Surrender to the Will of Clever People

When it comes to authoritarian presumption, it seems that leftist intellectuals just can’t help themselves

Is having a loving family an unfair advantage? Should parents snuggling up for one last story before lights out be even a little concerned about the advantage they might be conferring? 

So asks ABC’s “educational broadcaster” Joe Gelonesi, before turning for an answer to a mind even loftier than his own:

Once he got thinking, [political philosopher Adam] Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions — from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories — form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations. So, what to do?

Dr Swift, whose interests include “sociological theory and Marxism,” starts with the obvious. Obvious to him, that is:

One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.  

It’s a bold move, one that’s been suggested many times, typically by people bedeviled by totalitarian fantasies and insatiable spite. Thankfully, our concerned academic shies away from such directness and even praises the family and its “love-based relationships.” Instead, he wants to, as Gelonesi puts it, “sort out those activities that contribute to unnecessary inequality from those that don’t.” Dr Swift’s definition of “unnecessary inequality” will soon become clear.

What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children.

What “we” will allow parents to do. For their own children. 

Our expert in “social justice” and “egalitarian theory” proposes a test (or rather, an excuse) for statist interference. An excuse based on “those unique and identifiable things that arise within the family unit and contribute to the flourishing of family members.” One thing is immediately flagged as impermissible:   

“Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,” he says. “It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to a private school.”

Yes, spending your own earnings on lawful and private things – things that may give your children a better chance in life, perhaps better than your own - these things, you see, aren’t needed and therefore they shouldn’t be permitted. Whether any given parent or child might feel otherwise, perhaps based on their own experience of state education - and whether their views ought to carry more weight than the opinions of a passing stranger - are, oddly, unaddressed.

Conceivably, there are quite a few parents and children who would like to escape a state education similar to my own, where those deemed overly studious ran the risk of being bullied, tormented or whipped across the face with bootlaces, thanks to the attention of the school’s dozen or so budding sociopaths, who amused themselves, in corridors and in class, with apparent impunity. A state school, a comprehensive, where objects of discernible value were routine targets of vandalism and theft, and where the teaching of basic grammar was thought inegalitarian and therefore superfluous. A conceit embraced by other ‘progressive’ educational establishments

But it’s not all Thou Shalt Not:

In contrast, reading stories at bedtime, argues Swift, gives rise to acceptable familial relationship goods, even though this also bestows advantage.

Ah, this “we” would allow.

Swift makes it clear that although both elite schooling and bedtime stories might skew the family game, restricting the former would not interfere with the creation of the special loving bond that families give rise to. Taking the books away is another story.

No, “we” won’t take your books away. So there’s that. 


We could prevent private schooling without any real hit to healthy family relationships.

Sadly, Dr Swift doesn’t say whether he has any personal experience of the state education system that he thinks the rest of us should make do with in the name of “social justice.” But perhaps he could share his comforting words with some of the children left at the mercy of such schools, where, as one national survey of teaching staff puts it, “a climate of violence” and “malicious disruption” is the norm, the assaulting of staff and pupils is commonplace, with almost half of those surveyed witnessing such behaviour “on a weekly basis,” and where vandalism of personal property is “part of the routine working environment.” Perhaps he could share his wisdom with the children being bullied daily for being clever, enquiring or polite. A fate I escaped, narrowly, thanks to a proficiency in throwing chairs, thereby deterring lunchtime assaults. Such were the thrills of the state education to which our leftist academic would have your children forcibly consigned.

But let’s close on a happy note:

“I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,” quips Swift.

One more time:

Parents reading their children bedtime stories… are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children.

Readers may also wish to ponder the oddness of the idea that caring, functional parents, parents who make sacrifices for their children, have something to atone and apologise for. That, having done the best they can for their children and having given them opportunities, they have sinned against “social justice.”

We’ve been here before, of courseSeveral times

Via Tim Blair



In the comments, several readers note that Mr Gelonesi’s article, and the comments by Dr Swift, serve chiefly to advance the notion that those who escape state education are doing wrong and, implicitly, should be stopped. And yet the practical and moral consequences of banning private education aren’t examined at all in the article, even briefly. No-one even registers the sheer arrogance of the idea. It’s simply assumed by both parties that doing so would be good and could have no downsides worth noting. Because – magic words - “social justice.” There’s apparently no expectation that the presenter and his guest might pause to consider the fallout for the people who would be victims of their homogenising fantasy.

But this fits a wider pattern in discussions on this subject. The people who presume to confine the rest of us to state education are very often people with little or no first-hand experience of it. Certainly no experience of less glamorous state schools, where the scenarios above were, and are, commonplace. (Names that spring to mind include Zoe Williams, George Monbiot, Polly Toynbee, Kevin McKenna and Arabella Weir. All Guardian contributors.)  

A few months ago I checked the Ofsted report for my old state school – now a ‘community arts college’ – and it made for grim reading. “Attainment in key subjects” – English, maths and science - is rated “low” and “well below average.” Indiscipline and absenteeism are major issues. And it’s worth pointing out that during my stay the school was pretty typical of others in the area. In local terms, it wasn’t regarded as a failed school; it wasn’t remarkable at all. It was how many state schools in the area were. That’s what you were given. But wishing to prevent children from escaping such schools is pretty much a default attitude among our leftist intelligentsia. It’s a standard social marker of the Guardianista class. And the witlessness of that attitude was expressed rather neatly in a Normblog Q&A profile of the novelist Meg Rosoff:  

What do you consider the most important personal quality?


What personal fault do you most dislike?



If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be?

Outlaw private education.

Yes, a professed dislike of mediocrity can apparently coexist with a desire to restrict the educational opportunities of children and thus impose substandard uniformity. Private education would no doubt be outlawed for reasons of compassion, by people who care.   


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