Public ideas

Don’t blame the poor

A lady of genteel upbringing, inconvenienced by the volume of traffic, was once heard saying “motoring was so pleasant before the working class could afford cars”.

Peter Sainsbury has alerted us to a similar sentiment in the UK, as described by Times journalist Caitlan Moran – Don’t blame the working class for all our ills. It’s a thoughtful and slightly whimsical piece, commenting on Britain’s lack of social mobility and the impoverished gene-pool of that country’s upper class. But it’s also a subtle warning of how ideas of class or group superiority can sow the seeds of public policies based on ideas of eugenics, and we know where those ideas took the world between 1933 and 1945.

We might self-righteously believe that Moran is writing about an old class-ridden and socially backward society on the other side of the planet, but have we not come across some of that thinking, expressed in hushed tones, in the Robodebt inquiry?

The modern classroom – conditioning children to tolerate noise and confusion

The Grattan Institute has published a sharp criticism of open-plan school design, where children are taught not in classrooms but in teaching spaces in large open-plan rooms shared with several other groups. The article – Faddish classroom design may be harming our children – by Anika Stobart, Brigette Garbin and Jordana Hunter, covers research on open-plan classrooms and finds no evidence that they are educationally effective. They find that open-plan classrooms are noisy and that too much noise is bad for learning.

Is it possible that the researchers have missed the real purpose of open-plan classrooms? Maybe they are designed to condition children for their later experience of the open-plan office, a noisy and distracting environment detrimental to creativity and productivity, but which, with the help of a few partitions, helps sustain symbols of hierarchical authority.