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Next entry: Joseph Epstein on The Kindergarchy
Previous entry: "When every child has access to a laptop with internet ..."
Friday June 06 2008

I am genuinely puzzled by this posting, at the Civitas blog.  Anastasia de Waal says that the new IPPR proposals for shorter holidays don’t tackle the problem of home background disadvantage (among all those children with disadvantaged home backgrounds); they merely institutionalise it.  The idea is to have shorter holidays, so that disadvantaged kids, whose family life doesn’t reinforce learning but causes learning to dribble away, don’t forget what they’ve learned over the holidays.  Not, on the face of it, a daft idea.  My doubts about such plans concern why all schools should be organised to suit (and solve the problems of) the disadvantaged.  Would shorter holidays be right for advantaged children?  If not, then maybe advantaged children shouldn’t be subjected to them, only disadvantaged ones.

But Ms. de Waal makes a distinction I just don’t get.  Is talking more slowly and more carefully to a kid who is a bit slow on the uptake institutionalising his slowness?  Perhaps it is.  But in the meantime, it seems like a good thing to do.  How else can you tackle his slowness of mind?

… many policies within the current education system (breakfast and after school clubs in many cases, for example) treat difficult home-lives as given realities. Yet whilst disadvantage is indeed a reality which those working in education must seek to overcome today and tomorrow, for policymakers it ought to be a challenge to be tackled (through better employment records amongst school leavers, for example) not simply a problem incorporated into future planning.

This sounds to me like a variant of the fallacy of the root cause, which says that trying to solve a particular problem is bad, because it leaves the causes of that problem unmolested, and even encourages neglect of such molestation.  But what if the cause can’t easily be eliminated, or even seriously reduced?  What if the cause is something really, really intractable?  Like: home disadvantage.  But what if home disadvantage can be worked around?  What if good education can be done despite home disadvantage?

Maybe shorter holidays is a lousy way of dealing with home disadvantage.  I don’t know.  But if Ms. de Waal thinks that, and that there are better ways for educators to tackle home disadvantage, she should say that, rather than object to the whole idea of tackling problems.  Anyway, I suspect this is not really a disagreement about tackling versus institutionalising, but between different ways of tackling.