The problem with the idea of giving people choice, in education or anything, with the aim of ensuring that everyone can access “the best”, is that in a world which admits the existence of the best and the rest, not everyone is going to be able to HAVE the best. Thus the illusion of “choice” actually removes choice from the majority of people who can’t access the best of whatever it is. As a side-effect it increases inequality, as “the best” can leverage their popularity and success to increase their influence and funding, however it comes in, and attract the best of whatever else is going, staff, candidates and so forth, whilst the rest slip ever further behind.
I was interested to read an article this week in, again, the Evening Standard, about a woman who had faked an address in a borough which had better schools than her own in order to get her child into that borough’s schools. Her defence was “Every mum wants the best for their child”. Well… Yes, but when did our thinking become so narrow that all we aspire to is the best for our own, and devil take the hindmost? What happened to “Every mum wants a decent education for every child” ax a rallying cry?
Again, on the day following the Scottish referendum, a friend shared a poem on Facebook by a saddened member of the Yes camp mourning for the lost opportunity to protect “the care of our children, of our sick, of our land”. It was obviously heartfelt, but I found myself wondering what the children, the sick, the land in the rest of the UK were supposed to have done in the event that Scotland had become a separate state. Look on yearningly and kick themselves for not having been Scottish, I suppose. I also wondered how long it would have been before we started to see health tourism North of the border from the rest of the UK, and immigration controls imposed by the Scots to protect “their” national health service.
In short, my concern about the Scottish referendum, and about cries for greater devolution of powers in the rest of the UK, is that they play into this whole narrative of “choice” which is constantly being pushed by the political establishment and business vested interests. Choice is not power, and it does not deliver equality. “Customise your latte! Have it exactly as YOU want!!” cries Starbucks whilst whipping their tax revenues away via Lichtenstein. “Choose the best school for your child!” cries the government as it directs funding towards academies run by its cronies. “Freedom! Self determination! Choose a better life for you and yours!!” cried the Yes party, whilst declining to explain exactly how it would be delivered. Am I entirely cynical to think that the fragmentation of political power and economic influence plays exactly into the hands of the neo-liberal movement, which likes nothing more than to wheedle away power from the majority under the guise of individual liberty?