Guest Blog: Teach PPE in schools

Nikhil Venkatesh 

What do Danny Alexander, Ed Balls, David Cameron, Yvette Cooper, William Hauge, both Milibands, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bill Clinton, Toby Young, Stephen Hester and Rupert Murdoch have in common? Two things: they are all very important people, with more than their fair share of influence over the rest of us; and they all studied* for a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE).
The subjects that make up the PPE course are vital for an understanding of the world (and of how to change it), and should be available to all. Our country’s ruling class, as this BBC article notes, is made up of PPE graduates. However, in Britain at least, these subjects are restricted to a select few who have the means, fortune and intelligence to get onto the famous course at Oxford*. My view is that Britain would have a far more open, informed and democratic society if PPE subjects were taught in state schools.

Philosophy (for a far better article on the teaching of philosophy click here)

Quoted by Julian Baggini in The Philosophers’ Magazine, senior fellow in the public understanding of philosophy, Angela Hobbs, made the case for teaching children philosophy. She says a knowledge of philosophy creates ‘a bright, inquisitive teenager’ – and surely having an ability to ask and understand questions such as ‘What is good?’ ‘What is happiness?’ and ‘What exists?’ makes for a more rounded person. The philosophical method, ‘the ability to construct and analyse an argument,’ Hobbs says, is something that ‘you’re going to need whatever you go on to do after you leave school.’
If philosophy teaches one thing, it’s to question accepted truths. A country of philosophy scholars would never let a politician get away with saying that he has all the answers; it would always ask ‘How do you know? What do you mean?’. A philosopher can see through a media image, can analyse and criticise any argument, and can understand the plight of others. A philosopher wouldn’t be surprised that our ruling class of PPE graduates has conspired to stop us learning these skills.


Politicians on all sides continually complain about hostile newspapers indoctrinating voters, about low turn-out, lazy assumptions and apathy from their electorate. But how can voters be expected to understand the complex world of politics with only a very basic (or often no) political education? Maybe if everyone knew what the EU did, we’d be able to debate it without sentimentalism and xenophobia. If we were all well versed in the virtues of different voting systems, last year’s referendum would not have descended into the orgy of lies it became. If people realised where the roots of our political parties are, non-voters would make more of an effort to see that they’re not ‘all the same’. Once again, politicians and media workers (mainly with PPE degrees) like the status quo – despite publicly decrying apathy and ignorance – because it gives them the power to pull the wool over people’s eyes.


You don’t have to be a Marxist to see that a full understanding of the world must have economics near its core. Just by reading a ‘pop economics’ volume such as Tim Harford’s excellent The Undercover Economist, one can find out why coffee prices differ so much, how insurance works, the differences between free and protected markets, what the banks got wrong, and how to target aid. It’s not difficult; it’s just important – that’s why our elites don’t want people to know it. Those with an understanding of economics would be able to work out how their car insurance, wages, taxes and prices work, and what to do about it. They wouldn’t be so easily duped into thinking all Greeks are work-shy, or that huge spending cuts are the only way to bring the deficit down. (NB: Interesting point –Chancellor Osborne is one of the few top-level politicians not to have ever studied economics.)

So there you have it – a manifesto for the introduction of PPE to Britain’s schools. When Michael Gove (an English graduate, which is why he’s only Education Secretary, and not PM) reads this blog and adopts all of my conclusions, we’ll end up with a happier, freer and cleverer population, with an understanding of the things that affect them, and how to think logically.
You could make the point that my analysis makes the philosophical fallacy of assuming that a correlation between two things implies cause and effect; that I ignore the political reality that people who studied together at university will help each other into top positions; or even that I am overlooking the economic implications of introducing three new subjects to the curriculum. Oh well; it’s probably because no-one’s ever taught me PPE.

*Bill Clinton studied, but dropped out, so never got his degree.
*Several other universities now offer PPE, but generally based upon the Oxford course.

Originally posted here on The Collected Thoughts of a Pretentious Teenager.


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