Phil Collins and the latest column response

I should really keep a notebook of all the fatuous columns in the Times that I respond to — or try to, and definitely wish to — on this blog. Perhaps that way I could find it easier to filter out the dross and not be bothered by it.

Phil Collins, writing with apparent authority in the Times, states that “It doesn’t matter what age your child starts school“. Now, that may not sound all that fatuous to you, and indeed I’m inclined to agree with his view that children don’t really need to start school full-time until 7 (though whether their parents need them to is another matter); though Collins probably misrepresents the Swedish system, where there is probably a reasonable transition between pre-school and school, to the extent that it isn’t as dissimilar to our system as many make out.

But the subtitle is “Your genes are more important than education”, and here the fatuousness becomes a bit more apparent. I’m not sure where Phil Collins gets his scientific backing for such a confident statement, and one that would appear to go against the grain of real-life evidence, but he doesn’t cite to it in the text, so obviously it isn’t all that important. Even if there were a general link, however, to suggest this, Collins would still be wrong, because the real world is stuffed plain to see with exceptions.

Such as myself. Primary school washed over me, and believe me that you need to experience that to realise that primary school does teach you something. In my case, it taught me to read, write and add up to a reasonable extent, but that was the bare basics. I tended to daydream in tests, and lose concentration, which means that even if I had had a stunningly high IQ despite failing to learn most information that wasn’t contained in a work of fiction, I probably wouldn’t have passed an IQ-based common entrance exam. This may have been down to mild Aspergers syndrome, it may have been something else, it may just have been developmental issues. Ultimately, I don’t know, but what I do know is that if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to secure a place in a semi-independent music school, my academic future might have been far less pleasant.

Certainly, if I’d been tested for either a Grammar school, or to see whether I was University-capable, at that age, I would have probably come out negative. So would John Prescott, who managed to go to University despite failing the common entrance. So would many people with dyslexia, discalclia and dispraxia whose problems are overlooked by the education system (and it does happen, just as much as the many people who are allegedly wrongly diagnosed). In fact, so would all the people who failed to get anything out of their education because of bad circumstances in their background and development, which inhibited their true skills. There’s a reason education is such a long process, and why we don’t start selecting at the young age we used to; and that is that all the evidence shows that it was a policy which didn’t work, and led to many talented people slipping through the net.

This isn’t to say that the comprehensive system is necessarily working best, either, and that there isn’t scope and potential for selection within education. But rigid selection, with an “in-or-out” attitude is bound to fail, because schools aren’t perfect, and they never will be. It’s bound to treat the pupil harshly, as if they’re a commodity that can be analysed in simple terms at the age of 11. And so attempting to draw from age someone starts school not mattering that half of their years in education do not matter, and that ‘genes’ are the more important factor is just plain wrong.

It’s impossible to assess exactly what the makeup and implications of a person’s ‘genes’ are anyway, which adds to the fatuousness. But at the end of the day, what was the point of the provocation? Nothing, it would seem — the valuable content of that column could be summed up in a couple of sentences, if not less. Collins attempts to twist a perfeclty sensible idea in nonsensical ways — and it ends up shooting him in the foot, anyway, as would be patently obvious to most readers that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and fails to back up his attempts to stir controversy. The Times should feature better content than this.


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