Theodore Zeldin on ‘what is worth knowing?’

What is worth knowing? It’s a good question, given how much there is to know and the impossibility of knowing more than a tiny fraction of the total.

ZeldinTheodore Zeldin’s latest collection of essays, ‘The hidden pleasures of life’ (Quercus, 2015) considers some of the big challenges we face as human beings in his distinctive way; sharing highly individual stories, including his own, to illuminate the universals. Like all his work, it is full of warm humanity, openness to the experiences and perspectives of others and an ability to shift between boundaries and levels of all sorts including the personal and the social.

Simply reading the list of questions which head up each of the essays is thought provoking. As well as ‘What is worth knowing?’ the 29 essay titles  include: ‘What is the greatest adventure of our time? How can prejudices be overcome? What is the point of working so hard? What more can the young ask of their elders? What does it mean to be alive?’

Each of these weighty questions is addressed with a light touch, never dogmatically, moving quickly between ideas while doing them enough justice to get the reader pausing for thought and returning to the thought many times.

Each page has its own different header; this encourages browsing and gives a flavour of what one might find, and each of these headings could be a worthwhile theme for the kind of conversations which Zeldin believes we should all have more of. The page headings for ‘What is worth knowing?’ for instance are:

Too much knowledge. What the Chinese did with knowledge. Islamic and enlightenment encyclopaedias. What use is information if there is no wisdom? What can history and art add to wisdom? ‘Things are not what they appear to be’. How I select what I want to know. Knowledge is the child of disagreement. Science is rooted in conversation. The first moments of waking in the morning. Freedom from preordained targets. An alternative academia.

As an academic and an historian, Zeldin loves knowledge and values research: “I have pursued knowledge … with unquenchable passion”. Nevertheless, he recognises that:

“Education has been a panacea for virtually all human ills for many centuries, and yet, despite all the marvels it has brought, some of humanity’s worst follies have been perpetrated by highly educated individuals and nations.”

He reminds us that we have always had a problem with too much information, as well as too little, because one can never know enough. Encyclopaedias are the ‘ancient monuments’ which reveal this:

“…the most significant encyclopaedias have been those that have not just tried to make information available in an easily digestible form but have given it meaning, to ensure that it leaves people feeling nourished rather than bloated.”

Zeldin doesn’t despair about the ‘blizzards of information’ which we face:

“The information I have accumulated in my head does not all point in the same direction. Instead of disturbing me, this gives me a sense of freedom. Learning is only a beginning.”

Zeldin’s own answer to the question ‘what is worth knowing?’ is:

“What matters is not just how much knowledge I have, but what I do with my knowledge. The process of creating something useful and beautiful out of what I learn does not resemble building a house out of bricks that have been ordered in advance. It is more like painting a picture which gradually takes shape.”

He argues for a kind of ‘knowing through dialogue’, which emphasis the dynamic, transactional aspect of knowledge and its acquisition:

“It is … impossible to know in advance what is worth knowing: only when one piece of knowledge meets another piece of knowledge do they discover whether they have anything to say to each other, and the link is made by the unpredictable spark of an individual imagination… What is very much worth knowing is the shape of the pattern that I impose on the facts that pour into my head, and the shape of the sieve that discards so many of them. That becomes visible only by comparison with other people’s patterns and sieves.”

Zeldin also makes a strong case for broad, liberal, multidisciplinary learning:

“Now that each branch of learning has become so specialised, demanding that attention should be concentrated for many years on a few minute details, the interaction between amateur skills and expert learning has become more precious than ever.”

Aphoristic assertions abound; ‘communication is a battle with uncertainty’, ‘knowledge is the child of disagreement’… while these may not appeal to everyone the overall effect is to engage you at every turn in a profoundly human dialogue about the continuum which includes information, knowledge, know-how and wisdom. Without discussing schools, curricula or pedagogy, this short essay says a great deal about what education should and could be.

‘What is worth knowing?’ is well worth reading and the whole collection is highly recommended.

See also:

What is powerful knowledge? (August 2015)

Learning to love liberal education (October 2014)




Posted in Culture, Education, Philosophy, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arguments against selection

grammar schoolsIt looks like the ‘grammar school debate’ is about to be revived within government, so it seems a good time to dust down the case against selection. Here are links to 4 of my posts on this from last year, including ‘Unlimited potential’, the chapter I contributed to The ins and outs of selective secondary schools (Civitas, March 2015)

Secondary selection in England

The problem with this debate is that it is mostly fixated at the institutional level and the success or otherwise of particular institutions, notably grammar schools. This fails to recognise the bigger question about what we want from the whole system. Grammar schools don’t exist in a vacuum, their existence requires the existence of secondary moderns, however you dress them up or rebrand them. Every other form of institutional selection also has consequences which reverberate throughout the system.

The debate should therefore be located at the level of the system. We should be asking ourselves what we want from the system and how it can ensure the best opportunities for all young people. Once we shift our focus to this level, it becomes obvious that policy, planning, resource allocation, quality improvement, accountability and inspection all need to take more account of the experience and opportunities of every young person in every school, locally, regionally and nationally.

So, rather than our current worst-case coupling of ‘hands-off’ at the macro-level and excessive interference at the micro-level, Government policy and interventions should be designed to promote whole-system thinking, to incentivise area collaboration, to develop system leadership and accountability and to reward whole cohort improvement.

Shifting our gaze towards the whole system would also require us to call into question the prevailing market philosophy which regards schools as atomised providers, or chains of providers, competing in a far from perfect market where the success of the few is predicated on the failure of the many.

We can argue about all the selective practices used to label, classify and segregate young people and skew the market. But perhaps we should move beyond this to consider instead what our shared aims and values are for the whole. This might give us some chance of creating an education system in which all schools can thrive and every young person flourish.

Unlimited potential (part 1)

This makes the moral, philosophical, political and pragmatic case against educational selection. Summarises selective practices in education and the egalitarian position in contrast to notions of fixed ‘potential’. Considers some of the arguments made in favour of selection as well as curriculum and structural implications including the way that selection and marketization reinforce divisiveness.

“Education in England is riddled with selective assumptions and practices from top to bottom. Learners are routinely selected and segregated into different provision, particularly at secondary and tertiary level; by prior academic achievement, by faith group, by gender, by wealth, class and ability. We have never had a national education system, let alone a fully comprehensive one. What we have is the result of a tension between comprehensive and selective tendencies operating in a context of market competition between unequal schools in an unequal society. We need to question our acceptance of selective practices and ask: why support institutional segregation?”

Unlimited potential (part 2)

Considers the issue of selection at 16 which is widespread and increasing. The politics of selection and some of the most recent research evidence available about the performance of selective systems in England and internationally. Concludes with the case for a revitalised and modernised comprehensive national education system as the best way to promote excellence for all.

“The comprehensive school is a successful and popular expression of solidarity which transcends all social differences. The idea that children and young people should be educated with their neighbours and their peers in a learning community which reflects the composition of the geographical community they live in is still valid, even if some have abandoned it. A comprehensive system discourages competition for positional advantage by school, and seeks to ensure that every school and every student can flourish.”

From the conclusion:

“What does a genuinely egalitarian approach look like in relation to education? It means rediscovering and proudly championing the virtues and achievements of universal public services. The comprehensive school or college is a place where citizens experience equality. People are treated with equal respect, meet and work with others on equal terms and have their individual needs met regardless of their starting point or ability to pay. It’s time we saw our successful comprehensive schools and colleges as the benchmark even if they don’t top the performance tables for raw exam scores. By doing a great job for all students, they pose a daily challenge to more selective providers to justify segregation. It is the advocates of more selection who need to explain what their proposals are for the education of all those students they keep out. Surely they should be raising their game rather than simply picking the low-hanging fruit?

Like other public services at their best, state-funded education providers model the social relationships of a more equal society. As Basil Bernstein rather depressingly reminded us: “education cannot compensate for society” nevertheless the fact that people’s experience of equality in one sphere is not mirrored in every other aspect of their day to day experience should be a source of anger and action rather than a reason for giving up on the egalitarian ideal. People clearly do not all engage with education from the same starting point and many face enormous barriers. However, the right kind of public education can challenge injustice and give people a lived experience of more equal social relations and practices so it is worth trying to compensate for society.

I absolutely agree with Anthony Seldon that “schools should be places of delight, challenge and deep stimulation where all the faculties that a student possesses can be identified, nurtured and developed” and this is precisely why people oppose selection. We need a broad liberal and practical curriculum for all young people, one which offers challenge, choice, depth, breadth, stretch and progression for all, which values both knowledge and skill and provides something to build on throughout life.

This is not a theoretical argument. When parents and potential students experience what being comprehensive means, in all its diversity and ambition, they respond very positively and continue to support the practice.

English education has yet to have its NHS moment but the founding principles of a single universal health service which meets the full range of people’s needs can be applied just as well to a national education system.

Schools, colleges and universities for everyone are better placed to promote excellence for everyone. The challenge is to renew and reshape the comprehensive system rather than abandoning it.”

From ‘Resisting selection’:

“The prime minister [David Cameron] has expressed his support for grammar school expansion in Kent. He says this is because ‘good’ schools should be able to expand. However, this fails to recognise that grammar schools are not isolated ‘good’ schools, but part of a system which has selection at its core. If you think a system of selection at 11 is wrong, then you cannot really argue that it is OK to keep, let alone expand, grammar schools. If you think it is right…well, then you would be arguing for it everywhere else too, like UKIP.

If academic selection and the 11+ are back on the political agenda then many of us will want to defend the comprehensive principle because we believe that the common school, college and university, like the NHS, are part of the foundations of the good society.”


Posted in Education policy, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Jean Jaurès: ‘what is courage?’

JauresJean Jaurès (1859-1914), member of the French National Assembly, leader of the Parti Socialiste Français and peace campaigner was an eloquent and compelling public speaker. One of his most famous speeches was his 1903 address to young people at the prize-giving at the lycée (senior high school) of Albi, where he himself had taught philosophy 20 years earlier from 1881 to 1883.

This speech is much more than a traditional ‘commencement address’ seeking to inspire and motivate its youthful audience on the cusp of adult life, although it certainly achieved that. As he later said: “how could I speak to these young people who are the future without sharing my own thoughts about that future?”

As a mature, experienced politician, both idealistic and pragmatic, Jaurès takes the opportunity to articulate his world view, starting with his commitment to the values of the 1789 revolution and his confidence in the potential of the republic to achieve social justice. He makes a strong case for peace and expresses his anticipation of a progressive liberation of humanity while reminding his audience that none of this will come about without concerted human activity. He appeals directly to young people to help realise the freedom and equality which are possible through courage and clear thinking.

Jaurès’ Discours à la Jeunesse fizzes with humanity and optimism; as fresh now as on the day it was delivered 113 years ago. The speech is full of contemporary relevance and merits to be read in its entirety. In this post I am quoting only from the final section, which offers a bold redefinition of ‘courage’ which still resonates today:

“The human race will be doomed if it is destined to kill forever. Courage today is not about keeping the dark cloud of war above the world; a terrible, though dormant, cloud which we delude ourselves will only burst over others. Courage is not about putting conflicts which reason can resolve into the hands of violence. Courage is about celebrating humanity not denying it.

For each of you, for each of your hours, courage will be about rising to the challenges of all sorts which you will encounter. Courage is not about handing over your free will to random forces or impressions, it is about keeping up the habit of work and action even in idle moments.

In the great chaos of life, courage is about choosing a job and doing it well, whatever it may be. It is about not flinching from the dreary details, it is about becoming an accomplished practitioner to the best of your ability. It is about understanding that the division of labour is a requirement of useful work while also keeping one eye on the wider world and taking a broader perspective. Courage is about being a worker and a philosopher all in one.

Courage is about understanding your own life, establishing, sharpening and deepening it while also co-ordinating it with the wider society. Courage is about making sure the thread in your loom doesn’t snap while also working for a greater and more fraternal social order where machines serve workers.

Courage is about acknowledging new developments in science and art, welcoming and exploring the almost infinite complexity of knowledge while clarifying the bewildering reality with a broad general understanding and organising and shaping it with the beauty of form and pattern.

Courage is about overcoming your faults, suffering for them but not being overwhelmed or side-tracked by them. Courage is about loving life and looking death in the eye, about aiming for the ideal and understanding the real, it’s about taking action and giving oneself to good causes unselfishly, without knowing what reward might follow.

Courage is about seeking truth and speaking truth, not about submitting to a great triumphant lie or echoing ignorant applause or fanatical jeers with our hearts, our mouths or our hands.

How poor would be our conception of life and how short our science of living if we believed that when war is abolished people will have fewer opportunities to demonstrate and experience courage or that we need to extend the military drum-rolls of the First Empire to quicken our hearts. They may have sounded heroic then, they would sound hollow now.

So, young people, you want your lives to be lived, honest and full. And that is why I have shared what I have with you in the way that I have.”

Jean Jaurès, Discours à la Jeunesse, 31st July 1903, Lycée d’Albi.

Extract translated by Eddie Playfair. Any mistranslations or clumsy phrases are mine.

See also:

Full text of the Discours à la Jeunesse in French.


Posted in History, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Instinct, heart and reason – Daniel Pennac on the refugee crisis.

PennacThe popular French writer and teacher Daniel Pennac, author of Chagrin d’école (translated as School Blues) and Les droits du lecteur (The Rights of the Reader) amongst others, has written a powerful essay on the refugee crisis for a book aimed at young people, with all the proceeds going to La Cimade, an organisation working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in France.

Pennac’s essay, entitled L’Instinct, le Coeur et la Raison (Instinct, Heart and Reason) was published in 2015 as part of Eux, c’est nous which translates as They are us. In it he outlines the basic humanitarian case for welcoming refugees and not labelling or stigmatising them.

As far as I know, the essay is not yet available in English so I have taken the liberty of translating a few passages here for English readers with my apologies for any resulting infelicities. If you want to support the work of La Cimade, please donate here.

Pennac starts by referring to the silence one often hears when it comes to offering help to people in distress, the excuses made for not helping and some of the fear-mongering language and images used by politicians and the media:

“[We have to speak] of men, women, children who have been bombed, shot at, tortured, terrorised, starved, whose towns have been destroyed, whose houses have been burned, who have already lost a father, a brother, relatives, friends. [We] have to speak of refugees fleeing on roads that are hardly roads any more to save their lives that are hardly lives any more. These are the people we need to speak of aren’t they? These people who we could be among, who could be me or you. Or us. But who are them.

And how do most of our politicians and media speak of them? What words do they choose? …They speak endlessly of Exodus, Masses, Hordes, Floods, Multitudes, Invasions…”

Pennac cries ‘Stop!’ and makes the reasoned case for France to welcome its fair share of refugees:

“Let’s just disconnect. Concentrate. Listen to another silence; that needed to think things through a bit.

How many of them are there really? The men, women and children fleeing these wars and knocking at our door?  500,000, one million, two million? How many are we in France? 66 million. 66 times more. Are 66 French people unable to welcome one of these people who are suffering?

Well, perhaps. How many are we in Europe? 508 million. Are 508 Europeans unable to welcome one or two people who are suffering? Well. Perhaps. Let’s add 318 million Americans, 36 million Canadians….

We can see clearly that this is not a question of numbers. But of will. If we want to welcome the man, the woman, the child who is suffering, we can.”

Pennac finishes with a brief historical overview of the history of migration to France from central European Jews fleeing persecution at the start of the 20th century, followed by Armenians, Russians, Spaniards, Italians, Poles and Portuguese and, in the 1960’s following decolonisation, Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians and West Africans. These were succeeded in the 1970’s by Chileans, Argentinians, Brazilians, Vietnamese and Cambodians and in the 1990’s by refugees from the war in former Yugoslavia, not forgetting the Greeks, Lebanese and Kurds…

“And we welcomed all these people. Making the case, despite an instinct of preservation, that the other can in their turn be of assistance, can in their turn be of support, can in their turn become French.

And it is all those twentieth century refugees, judged too numerous on each occasion, who, with us, make up the France of today.

Just as today’s refugees will, with us, make the France of tomorrow.”

EuxSee also:

Giving Peace a voice (August 2016)

Seeking refuge in poetry (September 2015)

Learning and xenophilia (October 2014)

Daniel Pennac, The Rights of the Reader (poster illustrated by Quentin Blake)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giving peace a voice.

picasso-peace1In 2016 so far, we have witnessed the horrific murder of a British M.P., the Orlando massacre, brutal attacks in Nice, Munich and elsewhere. Shocking terrorist atrocities in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and many other places account for nearly 10,000 deaths this year already. Other armed conflicts have claimed tens of thousands of lives across the world. These conflicts, notably in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Colombia have resulted in the movement of 23 million refugees and displaced people worldwide. An inadequate international response means the burden of these crises is being borne by those countries least able to cope…

This succession of tragedies overwhelms us with a feeling that violence and intolerance may be winning. How to make sense of such brutality and injustice? What to do faced with such threats?

Should we give up on the world, or those parts of it which seem to be broken? Should we turn into ourselves and deny any share of responsibility? Should we turn on each other in frustration? Is it possible to retreat into a protective cocoon and delude ourselves, individually or collectively, that we can escape or deny the reality of the world? Can we share the pleasures and joys of life while insulating ourselves from its terrors and insecurities?

We know from experience that turning away solves nothing.

When so much of what we value is under sustained attack, it can feel like the only appropriate response is silence. We fall silent because speaking and writing seem inadequate; superfluous. We find it hard to imagine that in such circumstances anything we say or write could be worth saying or writing.

We need to reflect.

But after the silence and the reflection, we need to speak and to act.

We need to cherish human life and human values, to turn and face the threats and assert that violence is not winning. Violence is evidence of weakness not of strength; it is the problem not the solution. We need to recognise that it is possible to be heard and to make a difference, that each of us can do something, both on our own and with others.

There are plenty of people speaking out and working hard as individuals and within organisations, to resolve conflicts, to challenge violence and address its legacy, to build mutual respect, human rights, equality and the rule of law. We can be among them.

So the only strong, thoughtful, and human response possible after the horrors of the first half of 2016 is a renewed commitment to defend our values and work for peace, non-violence and global justice.

“Peace is a never ending process, the work of many decisions by many people in many countries. It is an attitude, a way of life, a way of solving problems and resolving conflicts. It cannot be forced on the smallest nation or enforced by the largest. It cannot overlook our common interests. It requires us to work and live together…Peace can only be achieved through its own instruments: dialogue and understanding; tolerance and forgiveness; freedom and democracy.”

Oscar Arias Sanchez, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (Oslo, December 1987)

See also:

Educating after the November 13th attacks (December 2015)

Democratic emotions in the face of barbarism (April 2015)

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jane Addams and John Dewey

The Toynbee papers #2

Jane addams

An imagined conversation.John_Dewey_lib_large

Toynbee Hall, Commercial street, Whitechapel, 1921. Jane Addams of Chicago is greeting her old friend John Dewey who has just arrived.

John, my dear friend – welcome to Toynbee Hall. I trust you are well.

I’m so glad to see you, Jane. You seem very much at home here.

Yes, coming back is always a little like a return to my roots. Would you care for some tea?

Yes thank you. So what is it you have planned for us?

Well, I thought it might be worthwhile to gather together a few distinguished educationalists to share some ideas about the role of education in social reconstruction. We have been disgraced by this war and by the iniquitous peace which has followed it. Education must surely be our greatest hope for the future.

Indeed. We may have disagreed about our involvement in this terrible conflict but we must put everything we have into rebuilding and we certainly need some new ideas and new energy if we are to avoid such a disaster ever happening again. Who is joining us?

I’ve invited DuBois from the NAACP, his perspective is always worthwhile I think.

A good choice. I know him well and I’ve enjoyed corresponding with him. In fact I think I may owe him an article for his publication, The Crisis.

I’ve written several for him. Tagore, the Indian poet, is also in London and has agreed to join us. He has established a new type of school in Bengal – soon to be a university too.

Congratulations – a Nobel prize-winner! I gather he’s quite a remarkable person – we should be in for a stimulating discussion. I wonder, did you think to invite Bertrand Russell too?

No, I think one philosopher is quite enough, this isn’t the Plato Club! I want us to discuss practical ideas for action from various different perspectives. It did occur to me to invite commissar Lunacharsky or perhaps Nadezhda Krupskaya to tell us of the ideals and latest progress of Soviet education.

Ah, ‘Madame Lenin’ … I assume they are too busy to come to London – with the situation as it is.

Yes, well, I’ve also invited Dr. Montessori; Maria Montessori.

That woman? I really don’t think signora Montessori has much to contribute. Her ideas about education…

John, you know very well that she is widely respected and her movement is growing. I had the chance to meet her in Chicago and she gave us good advice for our Hull House kindergarten. I think she has a lot to say which will be of interest.

But I’ve looked into her methods, they’re half-baked, second-rate; all that ridiculous equipment… You know Kilpatrick has written a whole book debunking her ideas about children’s development. I can’t think why you’ve brought her into this.

Yes, well, instead of hiding behind the words of your protégé you’ll be able to take Maria on yourself in person shortly. But I won’t allow you to grind her down, I want a proper exchange of ideas and beliefs; a conversation, not argumentation or verbal jousting.

I cannot abide the woman, but of course I shall be the model of courtesy.

Is it possible that some of your disdain may be based on the fact that she is… well… not a man?

Nonsense Jane, it was I who welcomed her to Carnegie Hall when she first came to lecture in America. Besides, you know I have the utmost admiration for your own immense contribution and I believe you also to be ‘not a man’?

Quite, and now that we have the vote on both sides of the Atlantic, there will be no stopping us. The men have made war – it’s time for the women to help make peace.

And I am confident that many of us will be working alongside you enthusiastically in that respect.

Very well. I’m going to settle myself in and I shall see you at dinner.


Conversation imagined as part of ‘the Toynbee papers’

#1 Jane Addams and Toynbee Hall (January 2016)

Posted in Education, History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What is Social Capital?

The Economy of Ideas #5

What is social capital?

“Connections among individuals; social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”

Robert Putnam (b. 1941) Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community (2001)

The American writer Robert Putnam may have popularised the idea, but he didn’t invent it.  Jane Jacobs used it 40 years before in her brilliant analysis of how cities work at the human scale which included a searing critique of much of what passed for urban planning at the time:

“A good city neighborhood can absorb newcomers into itself, both newcomers by choice and immigrants settling by expediency, and it can protect a reasonable amount of transient population too. But these increments or displacements have to be gradual. If self-government in the place is to work, underlying any float of population must be a continuity of people who have forged neighbourhood networks. These networks are a city’s irreplaceable social capital. Whenever the capital is lost, from whatever cause, the income from it disappears, never to return until and unless new capital is slowly and chancily accumulated.”

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).

In fact, the phrase was coined in print well before, by Lyda Hanifan (1879-1932), who was the supervisor or rural schools in West Virginia and defined social capital as:

Lyda Hanifan “Those tangible assets [which] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely goodwill, fellowship, sympathy and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up the social unit.”

Lyda Hanifan The Rural School Community Center (1916),

The OECD offers us a more recent definition:

“Networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among groups.”

OECD Human Capital (2007).

The ‘capital’ metaphor is not necessarily helpful (see here). Rather than being something to be acquired and accumulated, these are skills to be developed and practised continuously in order to be of any use. This can be seen as an aggregation of practices between people which establish shared understandings and expectations and shape future interactions, even if they don’t always involve the same people. The ’social capital’ of a community or a society is a constantly evolving set of learned behaviours which form a web of relationships and are strengthened though use. It is this social-historical legacy of many interactions between people which can strengthen their sense of community.

Whatever the terminology, this kind of social ‘glue’ seems like a good thing to nurture; helping to build the mutual trust, respect and co-operation which make communities work well. However, just as it can promote inclusiveness and solidarity, ‘social capital’ can also have the effect of excluding new arrivals, non-members or those who don’t conform to the norm. In its inward-looking form, it can promote xenophobia.

As educators, we clearly want to help young people acquire the ‘social capital’ which can help them in life.  We know that students from disadvantaged backgrounds often lack the social networks and skills of their better-off peers even when they have with similar qualifications. This additional ‘capital’ is what can open doors for them and help them get their foot on the first rungs of a career ladder. Despite our best efforts, many highly qualified young people will find themselves playing a lifelong game of ‘social capital’ catch-up, with never quite enough to make good.

So we need to bear in mind that education does not in itself build a better, fairer world. We should be arguing for a society where opportunities are not so much determined by how well networked you are or how polished your social skills are and where a lack of ‘social capital’ is not just another barrier to getting on within an unequal economy. We may want to re-evaluate the way we use the idea of ‘social capital’ and start judging people less by how much of it they have and more by what they do with it.

See also:

The Economy of Ideas

#1 The marketplace of ideas (July 2015)

#2 Reducing culture to memes (August 2015)

#3 The global economy of care (May 2016)

#4 Capital as metaphor (June 2016)

Posted in Education, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment