Advantages of maintaining ignorance

28 January 2010 by Jennifer

There’s a saying that “knowledge is power”. But sometimes ignorance has advantages too.

I’m a fan of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. It’s a while since I read any of her books, but my quotes collection includes a good crop of thought-provoking ideas from her.

Found myself thinking about this one, from the book Tendencies:

Knowledge is not itself power, although it is the magnetic field of power. Ignorance and opacity collude or compete with it in mobilizing the flows of energy, desire, goods, persons. If M. Mitterand knows English but Mr. Reagan lacks French, it is the urbane M. Mitterand who must negotiate in an acquired tongue, the ignorant Mr. Reagan who may dilate in his native one.

Autonomous education in the Badman Review

This is reminding me of Mr Badman’s persistent lack of understanding of autonomous education (AE). As we said in AEUK’s submission to the Select Enquiry,

The author’s call for further research into AE sits oddly with his disregard of the available material.

When Mr Badman was meeting people in the process of “researching” his Review, various people told him about AE. And there are plenty of books and research relevant to it. But this information received almost no acknowledgement in the Review, and as far as I can tell, had little or no influence on Mr Badman’s own understanding either.

As a result, the Badman Review completely fails to recognise the incompatibility of autonomous education with Mr Badman’s proposed monitoring scheme.

If Mr Badman and his team had allowed themselves to learn about AE, it would have been most inconvenient for their beliefs about monitoring.


I’m thinking too of Mr Badman’s statistics on Child Protection Plans (CPPs). The other week at the Bill Committee, he was still talking about these stats as though they prove something, despite Graham Stuart MP carefully explaining to him back in October that they don’t.

The following exchange is taken from Question 85 at the Bill Committee on Tuesday 19 January 2010:

Graham Stuart MP: I must say that I am rather disappointed that, following our exchange at the Select Committee sitting, you have not reflected in any way on the child protection plan figures …

Graham Badman: I reflected a great deal on our exchange of views, I promise you. I did go back and look at the figures and I came up with exactly the same conclusion.

That session also produced this little gem:

Graham Badman: I fear we are in danger of going round in the same circle. I am afraid I fundamentally disagree with you. You think I am wrong; I think you are wrong.

Graham Stuart: It is maths.

(Hilarious or tragic? You decide.)

I’ve spent a quite preposterously enormous amount of time looking at those CPP statistics, and I assure the reader that they don’t warrant Mr Badman’s faith in them. (Details to follow when I’ve finished writing about it.)

But if Mr Badman and his team had allowed themselves to learn how statistics actually work, it would have been most inconvenient for their ability to convince other people that EHE children were at higher risk. It sounds so much more convincing when you throw in a few numbers!

It’s a human thing

It’s a very human thing to find it uncomfortable and unsettling to have your ideas overturned. Even though in principle I’m a great believer in finding out the truth, I’m sure I’ve felt that feeling a few times, and perhaps been somewhat reluctant to consider a new idea because of it.

(I wouldn’t claim to have done it quite so persistently, and certainly not in the context of being paid thousands of pounds in a professional capacity to report what’s true and known. But, “nothing human being alien to me”, I can empathise with the temptation.)

In my family of origin, this kind of behaviour would be satirised with the phrase “I have made up my mind; do not confuse me with the facts” :-)

It can be especially painful for humans to have to “climb down” when they’ve taken a position in public and gone on and on about it. In this respect I have some compassion for Mr Badman, even while feeling cross and impatient with him. I wonder if he does actually know at some level that he’s got some things wrong, and just can’t contemplate the loss of face that would be involved in admitting it. It might not be very popular with the people who hired him, either.

But you see, one of the advantages of maintaining ignorance is that you never have to climb down like that.

5 thoughts on “Advantages of maintaining ignorance”

  1. who was it said while saving your face you’re losing your pants (american)

  2. It seems to me that Mr Badman’s opinions were already firmly in place even before he started his ‘research’. He just highlighted the points that confirmed his beliefs and ignored those that did not.

    Lyndon Johnson. “While you’re saving your face, you’re losing your ass.”

  3. @Mike (and everyone)

    To be fair to Mr B, I think I should add that the DCSF’s keenness to believe Mr Badman appears to at least equal his keenness to believe himself. Their attitude to the statistics produced by his team has been, shall we say, “uncritical”.

    In this context, someone alluded on one of the lists to an episode of Yes Minister where Jim Hacker asks “can we nobble the Commissioner?” and Humphrey replies something like “If we pick the right Commissioner, that won’t be necessary”.

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