Let's stop this shameful elitism 1

October 15, 2004

With a little less flippancy and a little more thought, Gary Day (Opinion, October 8) would have made a more useful contribution to the debate on widening participation. Rather than bemoaning the deficiencies of "working-class people", he might have concentrated his attention on the disabling effects of the popular culture to which he made fleeting reference.

Instead, he did what many before him have done. He told a story that reverses the sequence of events in Plato's allegory of the cave. An embattled academic community seeks to preserve a scholarly tradition and the insights it yields. But the horde outside insist on being admitted and accommodated in ways that they find satisfactory.

The political theorist Michael Oakeshott unfolded this sort of narrative decades ago. More recently, Baroness Warnock has said much the same thing.

But, in 1997, only 14 per cent of social classes IV and V participated in higher education. The figure for middle-class participation at the same time was 80 per cent. Flippancy is not an adequate (and certainly not an attractive) response to this inequality.

Richard Mullender
Newcastle Law School

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