Dear Prime Minister, (can I call you Treez?)
I gotta hand it to you Treez, this Grammar School shizzle is one bold move. That you, as our unelected Prime Minister, completely without a mandate, have stuck your statement-bejewelled neck out and spoken up for the expansion of selective schools can only be described as revolutionary (especially as it’s already breaking out into this week’s icky class-war).
I mean, I understand as well as the next pleb that the job of our schools is to ensure that all our kids become fully-functioning tax-payers. And we all know we need plumbers and bin-men every bit as much as we need corrupt bankers and unelected Prime Ministers.
Let’s just clarify some shizzle though:
The Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘clever’ is: “quick to understand, learn and devise or apply ideas”. Like, say, a rich drug-dealer…
‘Able’: “having considerable skill, proficiency or intelligence”. Like a really successful hooker…
‘Intelligence’: “the ability to aquire and apply knowledge and skills”. Like a professional bank-robber…
Nowhere does it specifically say that being clever, able or intelligent means being ace at maths. People who are ace at maths are no doubt all those three things but by definition, only as much as say, an excellent street-cleaner.
Let’s go back a bit.
Once upon a time there was a fella who was clever and able and intelligent. His name was Socrates and he lived in ancient Greece. You’ll know about him because you went to Grammar School, but to re-cap:
He had loads of brill ideas about how to be a wise person and how to get everyone else to think about how to be wise people. He did this by assuming everyone else knew more than him, until they proved otherwise.
Bombing about the dusty streets of Athens, he’d march up to people (ok, mostly men) and ask them why they cared so much about money and reputation and so little about wisdom and truth. He wasn’t exactly the life-and-soul of the party, I grant you…
But he lived by the premise that everyone in the world reveals themselves as intelligent when treated as if intelligent. And he didn’t mean intelligent at identifying 3D shapes.
The 19th Century Transcendental Philospher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, had a similar approach. When he saw the same uneducated woman turning up to his public talks, he asked her why she kept coming and she replied, “it’s just that I like to listen to you because you speak to us as if we were all intelligent”.
Imagine a politician doing that! (Soz Treez, but you know what I mean).
As our ancient pal Socrates said, “if I had engaged in politics, I should have perished long ago and done no good to either you or myself…he who will really fight for right must have a private station, not a public one”.
By public, he meant ‘establishment’ and by ‘establishment’ I mean YOU. And by ‘he’ he meant…erm…fellas, but those old Greeks were a bit down on women having ideas. The point is, there can be no true intellectuals in politics and Socrates was what we might now call a ‘public intellectual’, which according to the late Edward Said is:
“Someone able to speak the truth, a courageous and angry individual for whom no worldly power is too big and imposing to be criticised and pointedly taken to task. Always an outsider, he or she speaks to, as well as for, a public and is properly on the side of the dispossessed, the unrepresented and the forgotten.”
But I suppose he would say that, being a public intellectual an’ all…
By his description we are currently blessed with many outstanding public intellectuals. Frankie Boyle, Billy Bragg, Russell Brand, Grace Petrie, Grayson Perry and Michael Rosen are all examples of the publicly intellectual beast. (And most of them didn’t go to Grammar School btw). Speaking of beasts, you could pop Katie Hopkins into this bunch, but being privately educated and writing for the Daily Mail makes her too establishmenty insiderish to qualify, no matter how much she bleats about being unrepresented and forgotten.
Now I’m totally with you that not everyone wants to be a public intellectual, or a banker or an international arms-dealer, but according to Socrates (whose ideas have kinda informed modern civilisation), absolutely EVERYBODY is clever, able and intelligent. Even Brexit voters! Even poor people! Even radicalised Muslims!
Instead of addressing us, and educating us, as if we are simply the sum of our money and reputation, our standards in mental arithmetic and spelling, our potential to earn the big money when we grow up, how about we proceed by assuming that we are ALL capable of wisdom and truth, and definitely when we’re still only eleven?
How about we fill up ALL our schools with ace teachers and loads of resources. We could call these new and richly invested-in schools something that reflects their inclusivity and breadth of curriculum, I know, how about ‘Comprehensives’?
Treeza, imagine what we could do if we truly embraced the idea that ALL our eleven year old children are intelligent and wise. At least until they prove otherwise, at which point they can sod off and become politicians!
I do hope you’ll give my ideas some careful thought Treez, especially considering they come from the heart of a self-declared public intellectual who went to a lousy Comprehensive, innit…
Ps. Keep up the statement necklaces! A future as a fashion-guru to the politicians awaits!