If you were watching a film with Dennis Cummings, the special adviser to education secretary Michael Gove, and you knew his thoughts on education, you could be forgiven for expecting him to judge the characters on a purely genetic level.
Say for example you stuck ‘On The Waterfront’ in the DVD player, and found yourself welling up during Marlon Brando’s famous ‘I coulda’ been a contender’ speech. You could easily imagine the moment being killed by Cummings turning to you and pointing out that Brando wasn’t genetically pre-disposed to be a contender, so he never could have been one. No matter what circumstances were, he just didn’t have right genes. If you’re thinking, what about the human element, well…..you’re wrong! In fact, you’re probably just not genetically designed to be as smart as Dennis Cummings. Luckily the makers of ‘On the Waterfront’ didn’t think this way; and so decided not to have Brando’s on-screen brother lean over and interrupt his speech to explain the unfortunate issue of his rubbish genes.
In a 250 page thesis released weeks before he is due to step down as Gove’s adviser, Cummings claims that 70% of a child’s performance is genetically derived, and also asserts that billions of pounds are wasted on schemes such as Sure Start, “Most of those that now dominate discussions on issues such as social mobility entirely ignore genetics and therefore their arguments are at best misleading and often worthless.” The idea that education is is unimportant because of a person’s genetics is plainly ridiculous; you only need to look at those in government and examine their educational background to see that. Perhaps Eton has genetic entry requirements that we are unaware of.
When anyone with an agenda employs genetic science in their argument, you should have a bucket of salt to hand. Cummings is simplifying genetic science to a ridiculous degree and the implications of his points are dangerous. Whether intended or not, the point he raises is that some kids have bad genes and no amount of education is going to change that. (You might also want to avoid watching Gattaca with him).
It is not the first time that politicians have hijacked scientific ideas for their own interpretations of the world. In Adam Curtis’ film ‘The Century of The Self’ he discusses the way that American corporations and leaders employed Freud’s theories to control human beings. They were able to use his ideas to greater understand the desires that drive people, and how to use these theories to sell them cars, and to sell them ideas, and to keep them under the control. Out of this grew the idea of a person as a consumer; a mindless robot acting on base impulses.
With a philosophy like this, humanity, and compassion are simply trampled under foot. Genetic science is vastly complicated; and the idea that genetics are all that matter completely ignores the science of psychology and how a person changes at the critical stage of childhood. A child needs to learn compassion, love, and needs to be educated. She does not need to be treated as a vessel carrying worthless genes. And she does not need to be treated as an inconvenience who we are forced to spend money on.
And, anyway, he could have been a contender.