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Can social progress go into reverse?

We don't like to think so—but the case of grammar schools proves that there's always a risk

By Gavin Kelly  

©David Davies/PA Wire/PA Images

Straight line or zig-zag? Different views exist as to the typical trajectory of social progress. Is it a process of incremental gains which consolidate and steadily accumulate over time or does it resemble a jagged and erratic journey—strides forward followed by sharp reversals?

Societies, like people, generally like to think of themselves as steadily advancing. Buried somewhere in our collective unconscious is a Whiggish mind-set: old problems are steadily addressed even as new ones emerge, lessons are learnt and prospects raised. This faith in inevitable…

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