Theories of Potential and the Creation of Inequality
Annual Education Lecture, King’s College London, June 23rd 2015:
When it comes to people, the word potential has come to mean very different things to different readers. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that educational establishments should be well funded and governments should take all necessary steps to create an environment where all children can grow and reach their full potential. A familiar reaction to such progressive rhetoric is to cast doubt on the idea that many children have much potential and to then suggest that just a few need to be sought out and specially nurtured. This drives growing inequality. Inequality is created, maintained and defended by the theory that different people are of greatly different worth; that their children have hugely varying potentials; that inequality is inevitable; and that all is roughly for the best in the best of all possible worlds. However, more compelling evidence suggests that we have the potential to think, dream and become better than this. We are not born knowing, we do not learn from being plugged into a machine without the help of others, and we all have great potential. But that potential is collective, not individualistic, and will not be fully realized while we are so diverted by the search for the ‘golden child’ – the mythical individual with the greatest inherent potential of all.
These were the slides shown in the talk (also available via Slideshare):
And updated version of this talk will next be given in Oxford on Friday 18th September 2015, details here.