Thursday, May 22, 2008

Case against discrimination based on socio-economic background

An article that appeared today on the BBC news web site, is provocatively entitled Working classes 'have lower IQs'. It's about a paper by evolutionary psychiatrist Bruce Charlton claiming that one reason why the children of the affluent are more likely to go to university is because they deserve to (to put it crudely); they are smarter. It look like the paper was first highlighted in today's Times Higher, less provocatively titled Elite institutions' class bias simply reflects 'meritocracy'. It has also already also been featured in various other mainstream newspaper websites (e.g. The Guardian and The Telegraph). Note that the Times Higher has a link to Charlton's article in full (in Word format).

Let's leave aside for the moment the question of whether it's true that richer kids are smarter. For my part, I am delighted that the government has been put on the defensive over this issue. This is the first challenge I have seen to the government's article of faith that universities are behaving badly by not packing in large numbers of working-class students. Lest we forget, this is the same government that introduced top-up tuition fees, and which still refuses to ackowledge their impact on the attractiveness of higher education, to people on low incomes. Of course, Charlton is going to get a barrage of flak for his article, some of which can be found in the comments section attached to the report in the Scotsman, for example.

Just to be ultra-topical, Labour's protestations of meritocracy do not chime well with their campaign in today's Crewe and Nantwich by-election --- as critiqued here, they are fighting a class war against the wealthy Tory candidate Edward Timpson. Their own candidate is the daughter of the deceased former MP Gwyneth Dunwoody (whose death is lamented by many, including myself). Fielding her daughter as candidate does not look very meritocratic to me.

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