The Myth of the Many and the Few

There’s at least one myth that we all grow up with that becomes so intertwined with our lives that we have difficulty seeing it as a myth at all.

I’m talking about the myth of the many and the few.

We go to school, and from the first year a process called ‘teaching’ begins. This is the laying out before a class of children particular sets of data which the society, through government or local authorities or some other means, decides that children need to learn. In the beginning, these sets of data include basic things like letters and numbers and how to put them together; as things progress, children are introduced to institutions around them - the Fire Brigade, the police, doctors and nurses and so on - as well as learning a little about the weather and geography and other selected topics. But as more and more sets are presented, and even from very early on in the teaching process, something else begins to occur: some children are able to grasp these sets of data quickly, others more slowly, and some really struggle. Some are able to concentrate and understand with relative ease; some find themselves easily distracted and the whole subject of schooling rapidly becomes a chore.

Into this picture, examinations or tests are introduced at younger and younger ages, leading to a further differentiation between children, this time supposedly measurable and ‘scientific’.

It seems very natural that part of the way the school system operates is that children are grouped according to their biological age. This means though, that, as the months go by, there is an arbitrary pressure placed on teachers and children to reach certain points or expectations about where children ‘of that age’ are 'supposed to' be. By the age of five, for example, children are ‘supposed to’ be able to do certain things with numbers and to have grasped phonics (the sounds of letters) to a particular level. By this point, even before education has really gotten underway, the myth has become part of most people’s reality.

It’s the myth that only some people are able to ‘make it’, while others, often the majority, must struggle or ‘fail’.

The school system, at least in England, exacerbates this as the years go by: children are ‘graded’ in a general and somewhat forg