Friday, 16 May 2014

If anything's amoral in our education system, it's the state of private school elitism

Chloe Hamilton in The Independent

As a loud and proud state school alumnus, I was left in open-mouthed horror after reading the comments made by the chairman of the Independent Schools Association, which claimed state educated children leave school without a moral compass.
Apparently, my poor, harangued teachers were simply too busy teaching me, and I quote, “the basics” (we’re not too sharp, us state school kids) to spend time lecturing me on right and wrong.
Chairman Richard Walden says the sports teams and debating societies much loved by private school students ensure they leave education well-rounded individuals.
State schools, which seemingly don’t provide extra-curricular activities, are too preoccupied by league tables to provide children with the rounded and enriching education that will give them the moral compass they need for life.
There is so much wrong with Walden’s comments that I won’t spend too much time pointing out the school backgrounds of the current cabinet show state schools certainly have no cartel on the production of amoral people.
But it’s worth remembering David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt, to name but a few, all went through the private sector. I’ll leave you to dwell on that.
Firstly, I take issue with Walden’s suggestion that privately educated children leave school well-rounded individuals. How can a student who interacts only with people of his own class and tax bracket be considered a balanced individual?
A system which thrives on elitism cannot be relied upon to teach sound morals. State schools, populated as they are with children from every background imaginable, teach tolerance and understanding. As a result, a state school student is more likely to graduate with a proper understanding of the world around them than someone who spends years debating with fellow Tarquins and Beatrices.
Also, and this is coming from someone who studied ethics at degree level, I’m dubious about whether morals can be taught in the classroom. Morality is, in some respects, learned behaviour, picked up from parents and peers, as well as from teachers.
The day I first walked through the gates of my state primary school, I knew that pushing someone over in the playground was mean and helping someone who had been pushed over was kind. My parents, like many others before them, had instilled in me the basic principles of right and wrong before I started school.
Morals are not tangible things that can be acquired simply through study. They require practice and experience, both inside and beyond the school gates.  
But my main issue with Walden is not that he’s incorrect, but that he implies morals are things that can be bought; that students whose parents can’t afford to purchase a gold-plated moral compass for upwards of £30,000 a year will leave education amoral beasts, sent out into the world with no concept of what is right and wrong.
Just as I believe education cannot, and should not, be bought, I think putting a price on a child’s morality contradicts every decent principle we try teach them.
Private schools do not have a monopoly on morality and the notion that everything has a monetary value is what makes the sector itself so defunct of morals. 

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