The crucial thing for me however, is that our raw material and money is of our own making and if we are able to attract desirable partners or purchase nice homes then that is all right and good. Of course good genes play a part but Vanessa Paradis undoubtedly works hard to look as good as she does and women ought not begrudge her ability to make Jonny Depp dote upon her. Likewise, help from our families either financial or the nurture that led us to forge good careers plays a part on our ability to buy nice homes but the bottom line is that you get a mortgage based upon your job and to keep a job you have to work.
A proposed academy in Wandsworth, London has come under criticism for being located in an area that means it will provide free education to wealthy families and exclude poorer families. I’ll not go into the left-wing rant of The Observer as I’ll just annoy myself but it’s here for those wanting to read it.
It’s a topic close to my heart at this week the fiancé and I put in an offer on a house. Just as Rowenna Davis describes Wandsworth as a leafy family friendly suburb, so too is the Gloucester suburb of Linden where we hope to move. I sympathise with families that cannot afford to live in Wandsworth or Linden but equally feel that there is nothing shameful about my ability to purchase a house there.* Likewise it’s unfortunate that not everybody can send their children to the school they want to but it makes sense for schools to operate catchment areas and this will understandably affect house prices. It’s tough on poorer families but I see no reason for me to be penalised especially when the fiancé and I pay higher tax due to our higher income.
The argument seems to centre on a philosophical argument. I think I should be allowed to buy better state funded education for my children as my taxes pay for that education and I am the kind of person that will lend my skills and money to supporting the school (ie. I will attend all fairs, buy raffle tickets and sit on the PTA). In short, I see people as self deterministic and believe I should be allowed to influence both my future and that of any children I may have. A key motivation for working is the lifestyle that my salary can fund.
The alternative philosophical argument rests on the notion that there is an external standard of fairness and that individuals should be limited from manipulating the playing field to suit their own purposes. Personal responsibility is set aside as wealth and success are considered based upon good fortune rather than hard work and it is thus unfair for these “virtues” to gain advantages. Crucially, children ought not have their futures determined by their parents’ wealth but instead have the same opportunities irrespective of background. The first argument rests upon fairness to the parents, the second upon fairness to the child.
The problem is that the people we are is largely determined by the care we receive in our early years. The nature versus nurture debate is increasingly leaning towards nurture being the key element (genes are important are far less influential on our personality than was thought a few years ago) and as such the social classes largely replicate. This is not because successful wealthy people create genetically similar children but because successful wealthy people nurture and raise similar children. Thus you are more likely to go to university if your parents did. Creating equality requires supporting poorer and less educated families and Sure Start programmes seek to achieve this but regularly face criticism.
This is absolutely crucial stuff and I wholeheartedly support empowering all children irrespective of their background but I cannot help but feel responsibility ultimately lies with the parents. My upbringing created the view that the world is there for the taking and hard work can make anything possible (and so that we’re clear, my father was emancipated from his family for much of his twenties so everything he did, he did alone) whereas there are plenty that are quick to complain about fairness of the high salaries of those in economic classes above them. This is what limits people. Of course realism is important (I was never going to be a supermodel for instance) but passion and optimism are what carry us. Take your raw material and run with it and if you want a good school for your kids then find a way but more important than their schooling is fostering their self belief. I want a house near a good school but it’s the wanting it that will stand my potential child in good favour far more than the schooling itself.
Take that attitude and you are fair to the parent and the child and rather than grumble about new schools in nice areas, you put that energy to something more valuable.
* Fingers crossed! It has been an enormously stressful week and until the keys are in my hand I’ll be stressed as hell.