Why Being Wealthy Doesn’t Mean You Automatically Have More Aspirations Or More Life Choices

One of the things guaranteed to annoy me is when people assume that poor children all have low aspirations, and that ‘choice’ is something only preserved for the ‘middle and upper class’ children.  Life just isn’t that simple.

Reviewing more works from Dora Russell – one of Bertrand Russell’s wives and founder of a 1920s ‘progressive’ school – I came across this sobering quote:

“Moreover, she knew that even for children at a school like Beacon Hill, the possibilities for freedom were limited precisely because they were privileged children. The child of an architect, for example, would encounter barriers if he wanted to be a carpenter” (from Deborah Gorham’s wonderful paper – “Dora & Bertrand Russell and Beacon Hill School)

In some cases this won’t be true; some wealthier families will use their social networks and monetary capital to enable their child to take an ‘alternative’ path – maybe becoming an artist, or DJ, or as mentioned in the article: a carpenter.  Limits on choice are not the preserve of the poor though. For each time I’ve heard a poorer parent say they don’t think their child needs to go to university I’ve also heard a wealthier one say that their child must go, even if they really really don’t want to.  In fact, I’d say, that second situation is more common.

When I was young my dad would say there was no point having a big house because you can only rest your head on one pillow.  I’d point out that at least in the big house you’d have a choice about which pillow to lay your head on. However, if someone you love (& whose values you want to emulate) tells you only one type of pillow is acceptable, then that big house – no matter how large or great its array of choices might be – becomes absolutely, even tragically, superfluous.  Education should provide us with as many spaces as possible where we can rest our heads; anything less, and we’re selling our children short.

Categories: History, Philosophy of Education, Study of Education

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