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Monthly Column, July 2002

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Oxford University 'wants the best'?

In the Daily Mail of 8th June 2002, it is reported that middle class parents are being put off by the violence in state schools (and high time too) so that the percentage of the population, at present 7%, attending independent (fee-paying) schools may increase.

Can it be that state schools, deteriorating all the way from the post-war inception of the Welfare State, have now become so bad that the obvious physical risks are overcoming the wilful blindness to the almost equally obvious psychological risks on the part of politically correct parents (and these days, who does not want to appear politically correct?)

Since it is impossible for anything realistic to be said about differences in innate ability and temperament, or the hostility to ability and certain personality characteristics within the educational system, the vague rationalisations that are uttered, and after some fashion believed in by most people, are totally misleading.

'It [Oxford University] wants the very best people regardless of their background', Mr Andrew Dilnot, the new Principal of St Hugh's College, Oxford is quoted as saying, and recently other people associated with Oxford University have expressed virtuous intentions about increasing the percentage of state school undergraduates from 'underprivileged' backgrounds. (Oxford Times, 2002.)

Oxford certainly doesn't want the best. If it did, it would long since have provided me and my associates with salaried academic appointments and opportunity to use our abilities in progressive research. In fact, it has practically no interest in the advancement of scientific knowledge per se, and has no more wish to believe in the existence of exceptional ability than the rest of the state 'educational' system. If you don't want to believe that something exists, you may well consider it unwise to give it any opportunity to show that it does.

When I talk to people these days there is a presumption that ability is evenly distributed over all categories of the population. If you draw attention to indications that this is not so, people are likely to challenge you to provide a politically correct way of accounting for them, and are offended if you do not, or if you question the assumption that, for example. parental encouragement or the lack of it is the only and sufficient explanation of a statistical difference in academic success between the offspring of 'middle-class' or successful families, and those of 'working-class' families.

So the new Principal of St Hugh's College and others who hold forth on this issue probably has in mind an underlying assumption that the intake of universities should be equally derived, pro rata, from those who attend state schools (93% of the population) and those who attend fee-paying schools (7%). In fact, even with a massive lowering of standards over the last fifty years and 'positive discrimination' in favour of state school entrants, Oxford has found it difficult to achieve an intake of 50% from the 93% of the population at state schools.

('Positive discrimination' in favour of state school candidates implies, by the way, 'negative discrimination' against people with high IQs who have been to fee-paying schools.)

Even nowadays, after so much 'social engineering' and redistribution of income, it may plausibly be surmised that the average IQ at fee-paying schools is a good deal higher than that at state schools.

It is also a consideration that state schools are hostile to innate ability and to the personality characteristics likely to lead to success. Auberon Waugh wrote in an article:

Of all the crimes and disasters perpetrated by British governments since the war …. I feel the only one to compare with Mr (now 'Lord') Stewart's murderous policy in Nigeria … is the imposition of comprehensive schooling. Quite apart from its exacerbation of class antagonisms - even in calm backwaters as Somerset, middle-class or hard-working children of any class are regularly beaten up as snobs - it has removed any prospect the working-class child might ever have had of improving himself, escaping from the miserable proletarian rut which the 'workers' create for themselves wherever they have the upperhand.' (article from the Spectator, 28.02.1981, published in Another Voice, Sidgwick & Jackson Limited, London, 1986, pp. 31-32)

and things have become far worse since then, although writers like himself who might draw attention to such things are even fewer and farther between.

It is very likely that a high proportion of those with IQs over 150 or so who go to state schools, are so discouraged and demoralised that they leave without making any attempt to get to university, or go to university in a bad psychological state and fail to complete the course or get an indifferent degree. I have known several people who fitted this description.

The higher their IQ the more antagonism they are likely to encounter from state schools and local education authorities, so if Oxford insists on 50% (or even more) of entrants being from state schools, it is ensuring an intake with a declining level of average IQ.

If Oxford really wanted 'the best', it would need to take into account that those with the highest IQs and the greatest potential for research are likely to arrive suffering from years of hostility, even if they manage to reach university at all. It would need to exercise 'positive discrimination' at the postgraduate as well as university entrance level. Those with high IQs who arrive at university after many long years of suffering, particularly under the auspices of the state system, and who may also be taking their degrees at far too late an age in terms of their own development, are unlikely to recover fast enough in the course of three years in the university environment to do as well as they need to do in their degree examination in order to have the sort of academic career which they so badly need to have.

And yet it may still very well be the case that they are among those most likely to make significant advances in research, or even to teach a subject in which their own exam taking came too late.

Celia Green
June 2002




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