The same day that I read the New Yorker article that spun off into my post about the hedonistic treadmill of life causing political havoc, I also read this Staggers book review by Andrew Marr, that may explain Theresa May’s political philosophy: anywheres v somewheres. The particular section that caught my interest was the following:
[…] Nowhere is [the book] more provocative than in Goodhart’s assessment of the huge postwar expansion in British higher education. He rightly points out that our somewhat unusual tradition of “boarding universities” separates young people from their parents and communities in ever greater numbers. Universities become the prime seeding ground for liberal/Anywhere identities: indeed, according to a recent survey, only 11 per cent of academics voted Tory in the last general election, and 90 per cent voted to remain in the EU.
How to resolve this? Exclude more working-class kids from university? The problem with The Road to Somewhere, which I predict will become a private manual for Theresa May’s conservatism, is that it underplays individual historical events to portray a seemingly inevitable shift. And, having done so, it does not quite provide a convincing solution for the problem.
The article, and I suppose (but cannot substantiate for lack of access or interest to read it) the book itself, do not expand on the idea of universities being hatching grounds for “liberal elites”. I cannot deny that assessment as firstly I find it to be an opinion, and secondly there’s some polling to back up the notion – but I want to split it up.
Not one of my friends from University voted to leave the EU. Obviously not an unbiased observation as I self-select my friends, and I have such charms that I even had my friends’ parents convinced to vote to stay as not doing so would mean difficulties for me. (At least I have written proof of such a sentiment!) But not all of my friends are anywheres, who abandoned their hometowns after finishing their degrees.
In fact, some of them viewed attending University as a rite of passage that meant going away from home for three years, learning about the world, and then returning to their “normal” lives with that knowledge informing their future lives. They work in jobs that don’t necessarily require a degree, or jobs in completely different sectors to the areas they studied. They work in office environments as much as they work in community organisations. But still they felt they benefited from attending university and taking up opportunities that came through this (such as travelling abroad, taking up extracurriculars inexpensively, attending non-degree related lectures). And still they comfortably matched the assessment of voting “liberally”, to remain in the EU.
I am a fan of the fact that Universities foster a liberal mindset, but I realise how exclusionary attendance v non-attendance is. In the village I live in there are many nice people who seem to like me, few of whom I can be sure of to have attended University. And most of them also of an older age, say, that of my parents (those two facts may be related, as a job in the trades used to be far more prestigious and on equal footing to pursuing degrees). They will have had concretely different experiences to those that I and my friends made at University. I cannot blame them for having voted to leave the EU, as I know many of them have, and they haven’t done it to bring me harm because they believe the changes that the future bodes will be good for everyone, including me.
I don’t know if it has been proposed before, but I think that to foster more critical thinking within the constraint of fewer means, teenaged children should go on one-year school exchanges within the UK. It would be best to leave it as late as possible, to avoid any ideas of undue influence given my agenda, but I understand that schooling here can finish at age 15 year already, so that would have to be the cut-off.
I have a feeling that if it hasn’t been proposed before, it’s because it sounds daft. It may in fact be daft. But it’s possible that these exchanges could foster a greater understanding of other communities, and their needs. It could lead to more cooperative approaches between different people. It could lead to greater foresight in decision-making. It wouldn’t incur many costs with a student-for-student exchange, and could in fact be government-sponsored with an eye on the “return on investments” by adding value to the economy. It might not do any of that, but by goodness, it’s worth a try to remove a distinction between anywheres and somewheres, I believe.
(Photo credit goes to the International Disaster Volunteers)