Childhood is such a lottery. You could quite literally be born anywhere,
to anyone, for some it is a - if not the - golden period of their
life. For others it is a painful period best forgotten, then they spend
the rest of their lives coming to terms with it. We are all familiar
with the ' Nature vs. Nurture ' debate, if not the intricacies of the
debate itself, however perhaps pure luck plays the greater part.
I often wonder how I came to be born where I was, into the family that
I was, but there is neither rhyme nor reason to this argument beyond
luck. The reason I mention this is because of the government's noble
desire to bring some sort of equality of opportunity into childhood.
During the last few weeks we have had two events that highlighted this
desire. First the Chancellors haranguing of Oxford University for being
elitist in its selection policy, the second being the announcement that
those organising musical chairs at Kindergarten and Junior Schools across
the country should make sure that every child has a seat!
Let's start with the 'musical chairs' announcement, I rather enjoyed
musical chairs at school, it was a bit of fun, sometimes (not often)
I actually won. What I am certain of, is that losing didn't cause any
major long-term damage. What I am even more convinced of, is that simply
running around chairs until the music stopped would soon get boring!
I am totally against bullying and physical intimidation, but surely
we have gone too far. Life doesn't provide a chair for everyone - for
want of a better analogy - isn't it better to learn that lesson at an
early stage in life?
We have moved from 'Spartan' times, when newborn infants were left
in the hills overnight to see if they were tough enough to survive,
to the present day when non-contact and non-competitive sport is a child's
lot. What is the point of eroding competitive sport yet introducing
league tables for academic performance? Or rather where is the balance,
don't young minds develop as variedly as young bodies?
However we may wish it to be different. Life is not fair, nor is it
unfair, it is merely indifferent as to whom it favours and whom it frowns
on. Your genetic heritage, a random gift - until Genetic Modification
takes over - makes some more likely to succeed than others.
As the 'good book' says, ' Ye shall reap as ye sow', which begs the
question as to what sort of members of society we will be reaping in
the years to come?
Already employers are saying that we are producing a nation of youngsters
who don't know the meaning of work and who expect far too much of their
We do ourselves and ultimately our children no favours with these policies
and are complicit in producing an 'Euro legislation dependent culture'
On one hand politician's talk about the burgeoning global market, on
the other, our children are increasingly growing up with the false impression
that they are all playing on a level pitch - they are not. Personally
I cannot see the merit in this egalitarian philosophy, when it is being
practiced in isolation. Britain will be home to lots of well-balanced
and happy kids, but they will be devoid of a sufficiently competitive
edge to cut the mustard in the cut and thrust global market.
Forget about the irrelevancies of last week's University debate, the
true injustice is what is being allowed to happen to our pre-school
and junior-school children.
Standards need to be raised, self-discipline needs to be instilled
and competition of all sorts needs to be encouraged not frowned upon.
If the government really wants an egalitarian society, why test children
at all? What is the purpose of testing, at 7, 11 and 16, if the government
truly wants all children to have access to higher education? The truth
is that there is an elite even in a meritocracy, some children are simply
brighter or more talented than others are. Penalising those with a 'poor'
genetic background is surely just as arbitrary as penalising those,
who go to Private School.
Why not let them all simply go to university? Surely testing has as
much to do with how the government projects itself to us, as it does
in actually benefiting children.
The chancellor seems to think that all those who go to Private school
are from privileged backgrounds, which simply isn't true. Many parents
scrimp and save and endure financial hardship in order to give their
children a better start in life by sending their children to Private
school. If our state schools were as rigorous in their standards or
as well funded as our private schools, there would be no need to make
The area that the government should be tackling but probably quite
rightly avoids because it is looking for a second term is parenting.
If a working man can afford to buy a season ticket to his football club,
smoke and go on holiday once or twice a year, then he could probably
afford a better education for his child if he made the sacrifice, many
do. If state school pupils matched the hours that Private school pupils
have to endure, more could undoubtedly be fitted into the curriculum
and so on. The one area that private school pupils do perhaps have an
advantage in is accrued from boarding.
By the time they reach University they are in general totally used
to operating independently, and require very little time in settling
into University life. It is perhaps this factor, which gives them an
edge in interviews and to that end they are a 'Known' entity.
This government though it seems would prefer to dodge those difficult
areas and wants to govern a homogenised mediocrity, which it can spoon-feed
its policies to. Our children, our future, will be happy consumers,
just as long as they have a 'chair'.
Meanwhile those burning with injustice and ambition, fostered in a
competitive environment from further afield will actually be grabbing
their opportunity to shape the future and making sure they get a slice
of the cake, rather than waiting for someone to dollop it out.
Childhood has never been so cosseted as it is now - it used to be the
age of innocence, now it is being turned into pure fantasy and not in
a positive way - neither has our children's future's been under such
©DAVID RUTHERFORD 2000