Monday, 8 August 2022

What's the difference between the Tories and the Taliban?


It’s neither the start of a joke, nor a trick question. And the answer, in the specific case of education, is ‘not a lot’. The Taliban select on the basis of gender: they effectively exclude all girls from education, since girls have no role in the economic or social life of the country, and need to know their place. The Tories want to select at age 11 on the basis of parental income*, providing the children of the wealthiest 20% with a better education than the rest, who need to know their place in society. It’s a difference of detail rather than of kind. Both see education as a means of serving the interests of their god rather than those of the children – in the case of the Taliban, that’s Allah, whilst for the Tories it’s Mammon, as in the case of Sunak’s proposal to ban any education which does not confer a significant earnings advantage on the student.

Neither sees, nor is capable of seeing, any advantage in having an educated populace (indeed, it’s something that both fear, probably with good reason), and both are utterly incredulous at the idea that education should ever be about providing fulfilment for individuals. For the Tories, the idea that there are social advantages in having well-educated people (for example, to serve in a volunteer capacity in their communities) rather than using their education purely for selfish personal gain is something that they not only can’t begin to understand, but that they see as a positive threat. Better education has, from the perspective of the Tories and the Taliban alike, an unfortunate tendency to lead people to ask more difficult questions.

The final, and most depressing, similarity is the degree to which they have managed to convince so many people to agree with them. It wasn’t just their weaponry which gained the Taliban control of Afghanistan; the populace (well, the men at least) largely welcomed them back. And the Tories aren't imposing their will on a reluctant population – people actually voted for them, in large numbers. Just as many rejoiced at having their freedom of movement curtailed, so they also rejoice at having the educational opportunities of their children constrained.

Afghanistan under the Taliban is a failed state; the UK under the Tories is rapidly becoming another. In both cases, restricting educational opportunities is just one specific example of how and why. Time to head for the exit.

*Yes, I know that they actually want to select on the basis of tests and exams, but we have at least 60 years of research which tells us that parental income is an extremely good predictor of success in those exams. And the few exceptions who sneak through merely serve to put a veneer of meritocracy on what is in essence a system designed to maintain the privilege which comes with wealth.

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