Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

I first locked horns with Michael Rosen, the former children's laureate, on Sky News about four years ago. We were debating the merits of trying to teach all children the best that's been thought and said and quickly got on to the subject of whether the grammar school education we'd received would be appropriate for everyone, or just those who passed the eleven plus. My view, then and now, is that it would. His view, if I remember it correctly, is that grammar schools aren't suitable for anyone, gifted or otherwise. He had only survived his by the skin of his teeth.

Since then we've clashed a few times. He's been an energetic critic of the coalition's education reforms, writing a monthly column in the Guardian entitled 'Dear Mr Gove'. I've always found it slightly irksome that he's introduced as an expert on primary education when, in fact, his reason for opposing the government is because he's a militant socialist. Not just a Guardianista, but a regular contributor to Socialist Worker . To be fair, he doesn't make any attempt to disguise his radical politics. In every debate he participates in, it's only a matter of time before the bug-eyed left-wing zealot emerges from beneath the woolly-jumpered exterior.

Coincidentally, we've both just written books on the same subject -- what parents can do to help educate their children. Mine is called What Every Parent Needs to Know (co-written with Miranda Thomas), while his is called Good Ideas . What's remarkable about the two books, given that we're at opposite ends of the political spectrum, is how similar they are. I don't just mean that they contain exactly the same advice when it comes to homework and the like. I mean that the fundamental aims of the books are virtually identical.

For one thing, we both think it's beneficial for parents to get involved in their children's education. The evidence is incontrovertible. Two American psychologists called Betty Hart and Todd Risley discovered that by the age of four, children of middle-class professionals will have heard, on average, 32 million more words than children of welfare recipients. This finding -- known as 'the 32 million word deficit' -- helps explain why middle-class children do so much better at school than poor children. …

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