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December 8th, 2010


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01:25 pm - Sauve qui peut
Many people are talking as if excluding clever people from University is a problem for the clever people. And of course in the short term it is. But in the long term it's a problem for the University. And in the longer term it's a problem for the entire bigoted system which produces the University.

The worst of 'em talk as if working class people are actually cognitively impaired. Comment 13 here for example:
There have been a number of studies purporting to show that cognitive ability – measured by IQ – is not evenly distributed between the social classes. Studies I’ve seen suggest something between one and two standard deviations difference between the highest and lowest social groups...an upper middle class kid would be anything from 9 to 30 times more likely to have the IQ score needed to get into Oxbridge

The well meaning talk as if the problem is that working class people may have high IQ but are not educated to express their ability. Comment 15 from the same thread:
State schools do not teach good work habits to able students. If you can get As in most subjects simply by turning up, never meet a real challenge, never need to do more than a couple of evenings homework a year, then you never need to learn how to work hard or independently. For equal IQs, I’d choose a middle class student over a working class one for these reasons.

But in fact we know that state school pupils, if admitted to University, out-perform public school pupils (in terms of translating A Levels into degree grades). I also know that the characterisation of state schooling given here is bizarrely incorrect. We also know that our Universities are cluttered with people who lack the ability to make the most of the educational opportunities.

I was talking to someone today who was off to teach a Masters class, and she was saying that she expected the majority would have had problems with reading and writing at the level required by the course. They do however have plenty of money to pay the course fees. Are we to believe that there are no young people available with the aptitude and interest to engage with this course? No - the capable young people are there but they are turned away.

Turning away the clever youngsters and accepting those who are bored by learning, just because the latter are from a 'better' class or have more money will eventually undermine the institution which practices this. And nowadays that is almost every institution in our country. It makes me laugh when I see spokesmen defending their practices - PR will not save you, you must save yourselves. And first you have to realise that you are digging your own graves.

(24 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:andrewducker
Date:December 8th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
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Middle/Upper class kids are likely to have had better teaching (and specifically better teaching on how to pass exams). This means that a working class kid that gets the same grade is going to have worked _harder_ to get there, and had to overcome more.

The idea that the middle/upper classes are genetically superior is just laughable, and not supported by anything I've read (I believe there are genetic influences to intelligence, but find it incredibly unlikely that they follow class lines).

Edit: In any case, it's massive waste to not take people as far as their potential will let them go, just because their parents don't have the cash to support them.

Edited at 2010-12-08 01:37 pm (UTC)
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
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I am very much of your mind on all these points. I too feel there may be a genetic component to intelligence, but the idea that the social classes in the UK are genetically isolated populations is a - well, it's insane. And that the working classes have experienced lower selective pressures, to the extent that they are actually genetically inferior. It's madness.
From:huskyscotsman
Date:December 8th, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC)
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The idea that intelligence is a single linear scale is silly too.
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)
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I also think that there is an element of will and determination expressed in performance in intelligence tests, and just in general in life, so intelligence is emotional engagement as well as intellectual skill.
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From:watervole
Date:December 8th, 2010 08:15 pm (UTC)
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There IS a genetic component to intelligence (plenty of evidence, even when you exclude some flawed studies). However, I've not seen any evidence that the distribution follows class lines, and even if it did, the nature of the bell curve means that you would still find some highly intelligent children at the bottom of the social spectum and vice versa.

Selective pressure is stronger in the working class - but what is being selected for is a highly complex mixture.
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From:tehomet
Date:December 8th, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)
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Quite! :D
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From:communicator
Date:December 11th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
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I don't know what's happening to Unis in Ireland - that's where you live? - I imagine it's even worse.
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From:dalmeny
Date:December 8th, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC)
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I just wanted to write that I very much appreciate your recent posts on this. It makes my blood boil. I'm in Australia now, but I was educated at a UK state school, though it was formerly a fee-paying one. My partner is Australian working class and went to one of the worst schools in the state. The comments you quote are both repugnant and deeply misinformed.

I'd write more, but it's 1 am here.
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2010 03:24 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. This and wikileaks are fascinating me at the moment. It's almost like real history is happening, or teetering on the brink of happening.
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From:nineveh_uk
Date:December 8th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
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One thing that annoys me about many of the "don't blame us" arguments presented is that they elide the most disadvantaged children in the country with the majority population, and imply that they are making heroic access efforts because anyone who isn’t at a private school needs outreach and special help to get to Oxbridge. This simply isn't true. 90% of children go to state schools, a very large number of them have the basic AAA, and yet their pupils still aren’t getting in and at some point you have to stop blaming the victims.

Some pupils, who are significantly socially and economically disadvantaged, do need major help in informing them about opportunities, raising aspirations, encouraging them to stay on and so forth, potentially financial help, and some of them, though of very high intelligence, probably need this to go to any further education at all. But a hell of a lot of pupils just need a level playing field, to have access to the same information about the system that the children at private schools can take for granted. Knowledge of the best course to apply for in your circumstances, which college will be interested in you, the huge amount of preparations for interviews, teachers who have been told exactly what is being looked for in written work that is submitted and so on. The lower-middle class boy or girl at Elsemere Secondary School who gets excellent A grades but didn’t get in doesn’t need her aspirations raising – s/he needs to have been told that that college s/he wants to apply for will dump her as soon as they see her A-level combination, and she should try college X that likes it. She needs not to be up against a system that privileges people who have spent 12 years being groomed for the interview and judged as a bit shy and unlikely to benefit when she isn’t as polished a performer. She needs her teachers to have the same information (and I am absolutely not blaming the teachers, who have no way to get this information unless they are part of the privileged group) about what her essays need to look like. And so on. Not special measures, just a level playing field.

This is why the summer schools someone was trumpeting at me elsewhere* are so tokenistic. Yes, for the most disadvantaged groups they provide a way in for a very small number of lucky pupils. But they do absolutely nothing about the more insidious situation that means the large number of people making a lot of small decisions adds up to a very big bias. You don't need conscious discrimination to produce a discriminatory result. You just need not to bother to see how unconscious discrimination is working.

*I was told that I was mean and hurtful for belittling the work of the admissions office.
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
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There is so much to unpack once you start looking. '(They) just need a level playing field, to have access to the same information about the system that the children at private schools can take for granted' absolutely.
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From:nineveh_uk
Date:December 8th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
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Then there's the role of the colleges in admissions, almost entirely unlooked at in the present discussions, and yet exerting enormous influence at the heart of the issue...

Unfortunately I am not entirely confident about this:

Turning away the clever youngsters and accepting those who are bored by learning, just because the latter are from a 'better' class or have more money will eventually undermine the institution which practices this. And nowadays that is almost every institution in our country.

because Oxbridge can up its cleverness quota at post-grad level to maintain its academic credentials, whilst making sure it admits the connected at UG who will continue its influence in major state institutions, and the continuance of financial systems to its benefit (though the last government's removal of state payment of the additional college fee was a great leap).

(Apologising for massive spamming, but Oxbridge self-congratualtion really gets my goat.
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From:snowballjane
Date:December 8th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)
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the huge amount of preparations for interviews

Oh gosh, yes. It's 10+ years ago now, but my Oxford interviews were awful! It was the first time I'd ever been interviewed for anything, the first time I'd been in a room with someone called 'Professor', possibly the first proper one-on-one conversation I'd actually had about literature with an adult. I was rubbish!

I'm glad I applied though, as without those interviews, I doubt I'd have got into Durham, because by then I knew what to expect from interviews - and from the whole scary 'staying in college for interview' experience. I do wonder how much Oxbridge could improve matters simply by not insisting on going first.
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From:sheenaghpugh
Date:December 8th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
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Jeez. I was an admissions tutor for some years, and learned soon enough that if you have 2 candidates with three Bs at A-level, one from Lord Snooty's Academy and one from Bogstandard Comp, you can bet good money that Tarquin from LSA, with every advantage, has already reached the limit of what he can do and is going to get no better; in fact when deprived of his favourable staff-student ratio he'll quite likely sink. Whereas if Jake from BC could get Bs under very poor conditions, he will do far better when finally given the breaks.

However the system has a way of negating this: I recently heard of an ex-student who'd been turned down to do a PGCEd because he didn't have enough UCAS points. He has a First Class honours degree, yet they go back to a guide that's now completely irrelevant because he's gone beyond it!
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
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I suppose some college staff like to teach the Bash Street Kids and others prefer Lord Snooty and his gang?
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From:sheenaghpugh
Date:December 8th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
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Most teachers get more fun out of the ones with the most potential. I've known some, including my father, who preferred teaching those who found it hardest to learn because helping them was more of an achievement (or I suspect in his case because he just wanted to even things up for them) but not many.
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From:watervole
Date:December 8th, 2010 08:09 pm (UTC)
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The reason state school pupils out-perform those from public schools (assuming equality of A-level grades) is straight-forward. The public school pupils have had a better eduction overall and are pretty much at the peak of their ability.

The state school pupils have not had quite such a stretching time at school and still have space to hit their maximum potential.
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From:communicator
Date:December 9th, 2010 09:33 am (UTC)
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or you could say the public school pupils have been coached to pass exams at a better grade than they would have achieved, because that is the service the school offers to parents. Without that bought advantages they return to their 'natural' level.
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From:watervole
Date:December 9th, 2010 09:53 am (UTC)
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Going by personal experience here (one of my boys went to a private school for a few years to avoid the bullying his brother had experienced), I'd say that a good private school does far more than just coach kids to pass the exams.

Henry was a year ahead of his age group when he returned to the state system and spent most of the next year twiddling his thumbs (and losing the habit of hard work/study in the process).
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From:gair
Date:December 9th, 2010 12:28 pm (UTC)
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My personal experience is very much the opposite. I went to a private school for sixth-form where there were open-book Eng Lit A-Levels. In English classes, we were told which lines to highlight in our set texts - one teacher referred to them as 'strobalobs', meaning that we needed to be able to parrot them without understanding, like Bill and Ben, to show that we had 'read the text'. We were told what two questions were the most likely to be on the exam and advised to write out good versions of our best coursework essays on those topics into the endpapers of the set texts, then copy them out in exam time (my best friend actually did this, and she was neither stupid nor lazy, so I suspect a majority of pupils did).

The private-school students I teach at the Russell Group university I work at show every sign of having been taught in the same way I was. Many of them are painfully confused by the expectations of university-level teaching, and genuinely don't seem to understand that learning is something that they do, not something that is transferred to them by teachers. It's a horrible experience for them, for us, and for the able students who aren't there because A-Level results have no correlation with academic potential (this I think is proven by research), yet we use them to pick our students.
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From:watervole
Date:December 9th, 2010 12:37 pm (UTC)
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It may depend a lot on the age group. Henry's private schooling was before he reached GCSE age, so it was all focused on learning rather than passing exams.

They also had a strong emphasis on sports, which I regard as a good thing. It was a relatively small school, the head knew all the children individually.

The way your school did things is terrible - and demonstrates that A-levels need re-designing. I think the problem is worst in the arts, but the sciences aren't immune. I recall a girl who could do complex statistic tests perfectly, but had no idea what they were for.

There is some correlation between A-level results and academic potential, but I'd be hard put to say how good a correlation. (I'll bet you can't find a study that shows no correlation)
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From:gair
Date:December 9th, 2010 12:51 pm (UTC)
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Well, I think we need to redesign the class system, rather than A-Levels: there shouldn't be a distinction between private and state schools such that either (a) the only way to avoid bullying is to go to a private school, or (b) (some/most) private schools teach to achieve assessment results rather than to equip students with skills and knowledge. Though redesigning A-Levels wouldn't go amiss.
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From:happytune
Date:December 8th, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
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Agree with the vast majority of what's being said here. Would say, though, that the idea of a 'maximum potential' of any individual has been discredited over the past 10 years or so. We all have unplumbed depths. Which is kind of a cheery thought, I always think, particularly for children and young people battling explicit or more unspoken prejudice.
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From:communicator
Date:December 9th, 2010 09:34 am (UTC)
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I think you are more optimistic than me about human potential, and many other things. But it is true that I think what hampers people is often complacency on one side (the privileged) and lack of confidence on the other.

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