I cannot be sure and must beware of the post hoc fallacy, but I think I may once have done some good in the field of public education. I asked a question of Trevor Philips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission at the "Battle of Ideas" conference at the Barbican in 2012. He had wondered aloud why boys and girls from Chinese and Indian families do so much better in Britain's schools than white children, whereas black boys do far worse. I ventured to suggest that, whatever else it proved, it showed the Left had been wrong for decades in accusing teachers and/or "the education system" of racism. What kind of racist, I wondered, favoured Indians over Pakistanis, or Chinese over whites? He asked me, "if it's not racism what is it?" and (as the crowd shouted me down) I said it was culture. I said I had lived in China, where education was regarded as the most valuable of goods and I suspected the same was true in India. "If black British mothers treat their boys like Indian and Chinese mothers treat their children, they will get the same results," I said to howls of derision. That may be the least racist sentence I have ever uttered, but the cries of "racist" didn't abate until I retreated into my happy obscurity.
At that point Trevor was a lifelong, much respected member of the "Labour movement". Now he is discredited, spurned and has been denounced as an "islamophobe". I hope I helped him on his way that day. I was reminded of that moment when reading Hans Rosling's book "Factfulness" recently. This passage in particular brought it to mind;
In 1972, as a fourth-year medical student, I studied at the medical school in Bangalore. The first class I attended was on examining kidney X-rays. Looking at the first image, I realized this must be kidney cancer. I decided to wait awhile before telling the class, out of respect. I didn’t want to show off. Several hands then went into the air and the Indian students one by one explained how best to diagnose this cancer, how and where it usually spreads, and how best to treat it. On and on they went for 30 minutes, answering questions I thought only chief physicians knew. I realized my embarrassing mistake. I must have come to the wrong room. These must not be fourth-year students, these must be specialists. I had nothing to add to their analysis. On our way out, I told a fellow student I was supposed to be with the fourth-years. “That’s us,” he said. I was stunned. They had caste marks on their foreheads and lived where exotic palm trees grew. How could they know much more than me? Over the next few days I learned that they had a textbook three times as thick as mine, and they had read it three times as many times. I remember this whole experience as the first time in my life that I suddenly had to change my worldview: my assumption that I was superior because of where I came from, the idea that the West was the best and the rest would never catch up. At that moment, 45 years ago, I understood that the West would not dominate the world for much longer.
Rosling tells the story against himself and dates his understanding of the outdatedness of "Western" ideas about "developing countries" from that moment. It's a good illustration of that, certainly, but it's also an explanation of why, for example, there is a higher proportion of both Indian and Chinese doctors in British hospitals than of their respective ethnicities in our general population. It's a disparity that literally no-one is attributing to "structural racism" and there is something to be learned from understanding it.
No doubt some were better-educated elsewhere from a textbook three times as thick that they read three times as often. Others had mothers not yet fully assimilated into our culture who would have taught them at least to read the thinner text book more times. Just as I am optimistic that Pakistani-origin Muslim girls in Britain will be easily lured from misogyny into the local way of thinking about women, I am pessimistic that - in a generation or so - Anglo-Indian/Pakistani/Chinese boys and girls will have dumbed-down like everyone else in our state-organised schools and colleges.
Dumbing down our education system to protect our coddled young from “pressure” was not a good idea. As Rosling's story (and my own sad experience of "mixed ability teaching" and "Cuisenaire rods" in my bog-standard state schools) tells us, it’s been going on for a long time now. We now have coddled students taught by coddled teachers who were themselves taught by the first of the Western coddled. Without the "tiger mothers" in our immigrant populations we Brits whose parents couldn't afford private education would have no collective memory of what it is to be taught with rigour, free from concern for our fragile "self-esteem." The tiger mothers have been distant enough from local culture throughout to resist and so continued to demand more – thus scoring all those boast-worthy offspring in white coats and lawyer suits.
The young lawyers I worked with in China were the product of a culture that has valued education above all other things for millennia - since the power of the Emperor was first quietly supplanted by a mandarin class appointed by competitive examination. A Chinese mother, however humble, could see her son (admittedly only her son at that stage) rule the greatest nation on Earth if she pushed him hard enough at school. That kind of ingrained notion dies slowly. When I visited India for the first time to meet the parents of Mrs PII before our marriage, I was struck on my six hour road journey from New Delhi to their home by the sheer number of roadside advertisements for educational institutions – far more than for consumer goods. She tells me that many of them are scams and rip-offs preying on the hopes and dreams of poor parents, but the fact remains the demand is there.
The educational success of Chinese and Indian children in our system is due to the sheer bloody vigour (going on ferocity) of their parenting. We all, black white and beige, need to learn from that. If the post-war changes in Western education have proved anything it's the wisdom of the old adage "Spare the [now of course metaphorical] rod and spoil the child." Spoil too many of your children and you may doom your civilisation. Would legislators with any intellectual rigour have passed this resolution in the California State Senate? Would anyone educated with any rigour be committing the crimes against history, commonsense and reason occurring daily on the streets of Britain and America?
I say to any parents reading this – your children are neither fashion accessories nor playthings; they’re humanity’s future. Get on their case and give them no damned slack at all. For all our sakes.