Much is written about the top 1% in our society; the single percentage who were privately educated, have a family history of exclusion from the masses, hold the majority of the world’s wealth, and thus political power. This situation was borne out of the neo-liberal emphasis on the individual; that if you give someone the means to progress, through education, economic freedom, free market, etc., then society as a whole will prosper. Much of this thought is behind the promotion of social mobility, in particular enabling those who have been born into a low economic and social status, who without some help in terms of wider opportunity, will remain both inactive and unproductive.
The problem, however, is that the way in which positions of power are stacked with historic privilege, it is only this other 1% who are generally allowed in. So, if you take education for example, in the UK the idea is to stream bright kids out of their traditional path, and put them in a grammar school. The argument for this strategy is though less about the individual, and more about not losing a potentially important contribution to the development of society. What therefore happens, is this other 1% are fused into the middle classes, and out of their working class background. They go off to University and have to adapt to the middle class culture, or hide/exclude themselves, get a degree and work in a lower level civil service job, or go into some form of social care or teaching. Here, they are less able to influence policy, as they are right at the delivery end of conservative policies, whether it be the national curriculum, or front-line social work with the shrinking budgets from a shrinking state.
I may not have been this other 1%, but I did go to grammar school. I first of all didn’t want to leave my primary school friends who were off to the local comprehensive. But, when at the school, I don’t remember being particularly unhappy. I did make friends at the new school, but at the time didn’t think much about the fact they were all working class. We were probably about 1 or 2% of the yearly intake. And we all left at the end of our O levels, which was seen as a failure because the school wasn’t there to educate industrial apprentices. We were there to go to University – not Oxbridge, because even if you were a high achiever, which a couple of my friends were (I certainly wasn’t), your background saw you never recommended to go such lofty towers (btw, fair play to any working class person who goes to Oxbridge). Below is a poem (Scholarship Boys) from my collection, Precarious, and first appeared on Kim Moore’s site.
I don’t know if the amount of socially mobile working class children, or adults, amounts to more than the ‘other 1%’; but what I do know is that the Oxbridge elite are still there, in power, and no minority of working class students, will change that fact.
Unlucky enough to pass our eleven plus
we were claw-crane selections
from our class dropped into a history
the likes of us had never read.
Inducted with pictured corridors
of Spiritus Vicis spouting opportunity
from the mothballed grammar
of the cloak-wielding Headmaster
and his fountain of Latin characters.
Amo, amas, a matter of opinion
was to know our place. Our mouths
were swabbed for memories.
We were to become
someone else’s nostalgia.
By the time we left early,
five of a seven-year stretch,
we stooped off to the factories
that laughed at us
for taking the long way round.
You can buy Precarious from me for £8, including P&P (UK only)