I often wonder what would’ve become of me if I’d’ve had to sit the 11-plus. There’s no way I would’ve passed it, my maths is atrocious for a start. This fact makes me reflect on the nature of modern education, my own experience of HE, class politics in the UK, and my father.
If the 11-plus creams off the students with IQs in the top 25%, then this must leave a lot of still very clever people in the remaining 75%. It makes me think about the nature of ‘working class intellectuals’. Imagine, in the past everyone did the 11-plus but the remaining 75% didn’t get in to grammar schools. This leaves a lot of curious and intelligent people left to take up manual working class occupations. I believe this is where the figure of the working class autodidact might have come from, and why such a person has become rarer in modern times, as they have been able to transition into the middle-class more easily without the obstacle of the 11-plus in most areas of the UK.
This makes me think about my dad. My dad did not pass the 11-plus, but he was a very capable man who was a self-employed plumber and whom built up his own small business. He had to do many calculations in his work and a lot of ‘pricing’ to work out the charge for his labour. I often thought that my dad was a gentle and reflective man. He liked to read. This is not the usual figure that one thinks of when they think of a plumber. However, when I used to work with my dad as a labourer during the summer months as a teenager I saw other tradesmen who were like my dad. They weren’t rough or gruff. Although I didn’t know their educational background it made me think that they might be similar to my dad. What if the 11-plus led to this sort of ceiling in which a lot of people whom today might be in more middle-class jobs were sent down a more manual route. Would this have been a road I would have gone down if I’d’ve had to sit the 11-plus? Unable to pass the exam, would I have been forced down a career in the trades, a career path I have massive respect for, but which seems totally unsuitable to my temperament and interests?
This then makes me think about the nature of modern higher education and imposter syndrome. I did pretty average at school, not great in my A-levels, but once I got to university I started to do really well. However, I’ve always felt that even though I have a degree, a Masters and am now doing a PhD, that I’m an intellectual fraud, as I’m just not that smart. My main strength is that I’ve always loved to read and to look at an issue from many different kind of angles, but I’m not that quick-witted. I sometimes think of myself as an educated thickie. My main crutch is the word-processor. Thoughts appear to me in a somewhat jumbled fashion, but if I take a lot of time with them I can fashion them into something vaguely coherent. The computer allows me to edit my words and eventually come up with something half decent. Take the computer away and I find it difficult to write coherently. So, I might say that if it wasn’t for the computer then who knows where I’d be? Maybe I’d be a plumber like my dad.