Friday, January 26, 2007

Reading comprehension

It is always dangerous to make reference to a book if you haven't read or understood it. This is a lesson Peter Wilby might have pondered before writing an article mentioning 'The Rise of the Meritocracy' by Michael Young, describing it, no less, as 'much misunderstood', and then writing an article about education policy including sentences like "Upward social mobility needs to be matched by at least some downward mobility if we are to have a true meritocracy", or "[a balanced intake] would raise standards at all levels and avoid creating schools, so common in urban areas, that have a preponderance of low-ability and unmotivated children, dragging down the few bright classmates they have as well as depressing their own ambitions. Labour MPs hope this will open a road to something resembling true meritocracy."

For those, like Peter Wilby, who haven't read (or have read, but not understood, though it isn't awfully difficult) the Rise of the Meritocracy, it is well worth a look. I don't think it spoils it to reveal that Michael Young's view is that meritocracy is, in fact, a Bad Thing, and the idea that social mobility is related to a true meritocracy is one which he would have found unutterably silly, and is, indeed, is one which he specifically demolished in the book.

Next week, Peter Wilby references George Orwell's 'much misunderstood 1984' to argue that the government has a duty to tackle the threats to our security posed by Eurasia and Emmanuel Goldstein.


At 2:59 pm , Blogger Chris Brooke said...

Peter Wilby has written about The Rise of the Meritocracy before, and here (which seems to be an extract from the same piece as this week's Graun piece), and it doesn't seem to me to be obvious that he's misunderstood the book in the way that you've suggested. Of course he knows that Young was gloomy about the advent of meritocracy, and he calls the book "much misunderstood" (I think) simply because of the widespread assumption among the political class that meritcracy is obviously a Good Thing.

At 3:13 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

Fair play to him for recycling an NS article of nearly a year ago in this week's column, and, to be fair, the other Guardian article you linked to does suggest that he knows what Young was actually on about.

But that makes it all the more curious that he's engaged in today's piece with the idea of a 'true meritocracy' created through greater social mobility and a balanced intake into comprehensive schools. The notion of a 'true meritocracy' as something to be desired sits awkwardly with the description of Young's book as 'much misunderstood', though I accept that it is the way that, say, the Prime Minister uses the word 'meritocracy'.

p.s. While you're here, can I put in a request for more elefant blogging on the Stoa? I am content with diversification into rhinos etc., but not at the expense of the elefant.


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