Celebrating the Elite

Elitism is a dirty word in the UK today.  Well, at least borderline, though far from universally agreed.  It is fashionable amongst our politically-correct chattering classes to sneer at anything associated with an ‘elite’ – real or imagined.  Fortunately the fanatical extremes of Mao’s China or the world’s theocracies have never prevailed here, but there are certainly people here who’ll think the worse of you for having been to an Ivy League university (you’re privileged, that’s unfair), or for preferring good music to whatever happens to be in “the charts” (you’re a snob).

Now we’ve just held a huge orgy of the ultra-elite, yet somehow that’s OK: most of those same chattering classes are celebrating it.  Dissidents who decline to celebrate may have their own bandwagons (the hype, the barefaced fraud over costs, the disruption to life), but the event’s inherent elitism isn’t one of them.  Somehow, physical prowess and sporting excellence are OK where intellectual prowess and academic excellence are deeply suspect.

Something for everyone: the true spirit of mass participation.

That is, until now.  It seems some killjoy has done a bit of digging, and found that the olympics are elitist after all.  Not for the obvious reasons, but because too many of our successful athletes come from privileged backgrounds.  Worst of all, they went to fee-paying private schools.  It seems olympic success, just like academic success, can be bought by parents for their offspring.  Whoops!

A moment’s thought should tell you that’s blindingly obvious: parents who pay high fees in preference to a free alternative expect something for it, and they’re not entirely mistaken.  Indeed, barriers to entry to many elite sports are inherently much higher than to elite universities: you don’t aspire to something unless you have at least the facilities to practice it!  Among my own cohort, elite universities were an aspiration for some, elite football for others, but olympic sports such as swimming/watersports, anything equestrian, or winter sports were simply unthinkable: they’re not for the likes of us!

Anyway, now that the Olympics are officially elitist, will we start sneering at them as a bastion of privilege, too?  I don’t think that’s likely, but it does look like a riposte for when the forces of Political Correctness want to interfere with our top universities on the grounds that they select on academic criteria.

More interesting would be if it can provoke a debate that’ll eventually highlight the total absurdity of an education policy that allows schools to select pupils (commonly at age 11) on a wide range of different criteria such as sporting or artistic prowess (along with some that are altogether more dubious), but at the same time explicitly forbids selection on academic merit!

Posted on August 13, 2012, in education, politics, rants, sport, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. It’s a surprisingly hard line to toe, I think. On the one hand, I’m conscious of a broad correlation between Gini coefficient and undesirability of living in particular countries – countries with flatter wealth-distribution are generally more civilized (my socialist-leftie perspective). On the other paw, however, there’s nothing wrong with admitting people differ, and the aim should be to aspire to self-betterment, not dismiss those who “can do” (dangerously close to a Tory old-boys’-club attitude).

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