The Sutton Trust’s report into the effects of background and personality on earnings claims in the very first line that ‘To get the best jobs, you need the best grades’. Now, I don’t think that, in general, anyone would argue that good grades at school don’t at least improve your chances of earning more money in the future. Good grades won’t fix all of one’s ills, but they do, more often than not, help.
But what are the ‘best jobs’? The report goes on to state that the best jobs are those where the employee earns more than £40,000 a year (so all us teachers on our £65k plus holidays are laughing, right? Are you with me?!), and situates this within the economically unequal society that is modern Britain. Ok. Right.
I assume the Sutton Trust is trying to make a case for teaching, or incubating, a particular character trait – in this case, extroversion – in order to close the gap between rich and poor. Sounds good, yeah? All very noble. Well, I have a few problems with this.
Firstly, to elevate a particular character trait above others, and to therefore imply that – by jumping to their conclusion – some characteristics, and thus people, have more value than others seems to me both shameful and anti-educational. It appears fascistic, to not put too fine a point on it. No, I’m not overreacting: read about the NPEA schools in Nazi Germany.
Secondly, to judge a person’s character, and to thus apportion worth, by considering their economic output is, as David Didau writes here, shallow and superficial. It reduces us to what Douglas Adams called little green pieces of paper. And given that those pieces of paper have been increasingly quantitively eased over the past few years, what it might suggest is that we’re no more than binary data in the machine.
Thirdly, when I’m teaching history the last thing on my mind is the jobs that my students might one day have. Do I care about their prospects? Of course I do! But my main concern is for the love of learning, and in particular learning about history.
There’s a Stewart Lee story (I’ve mentioned it before) where he tells of a visit to Oxford University by Margaret Thatcher. When a student tells Thatch that she’s studying Norse literature, the Prime Minister replies, ‘What a luxury.’ I’ve no idea whether this is true, but it serves to illustrate a point: if education is purely about getting ‘the best jobs’, and the best jobs are defined by their salary, then society is in a poor state.
And who decided that a job’s value is in its salary, anyway? I doubt many teachers got into the job because of the salary, despite that recent advert. A great job might be one where you get to spend a lot of time with your family, or travelling, or with animals or making art out of bits of scrap metal. Bloody hell, even Mr Burns briefly admitted that for all his money he was unhappy!
A job is what we make of it, not what we make out of it. Sure, as we grow older and gain familial responsibilities, etc, money becomes more important. But it isn’t the reason for trying to be good at something, and being extrovert shouldn’t be a shining light because of forty thousand pieces of Nickel-Brass.