Another day, another slightly unhinged exposition of the British educational system
. Today, inevitably, it's George Monbiot in the Guardian
swinging wildly from generalisation to calumny as he excoriates the public schools. Since Monbiot went to Stowe, notoriously the safest repository of the thick aside from the backbenches of the Labour party, a degree of latitude should be granted, but there are limits.
But the damage goes far beyond this skimming. British private schools create a class culture of a kind unknown in the rest of Europe. The extreme case is the boarding prep school, which separates children from their parents at the age of eight in order to shape them into members of a detached elite. In his book The Making of Them, the psychotherapist Nick Duffell shows how these artificial orphans survive the loss of their families by dissociating themselves from their feelings of love. Survival involves "an extreme hardening of normal human softness, a severe cutting off from emotions and sensitivity". Unable to attach themselves to people (intimate relationships with other children are discouraged by a morbid fear of homosexuality), they are encouraged instead to invest their natural loyalties in the institution.
I went through this system myself, and I know I will spend the rest of my life fighting its effects. But one of the useful skills it has given me is an ability to recognise it in others. I can spot another early boarder at 200 metres: you can see and smell the damage dripping from them like sweat.
This is, to put it kindly, absolute bollocks. I was an early boarder, and I have proved so thoroughly incapable of forming close emotional attachments with anybody as a result, that I marched up the aisle, damage no doubt dripping off me as I went, and got married. To describe me as 'an artificial orphan' is simply ridiculous. And, candidly, I doubt whether George Monbiot can even recognise people at 200 metres, let alone diagnose their early education - it's rampant bullshit of the first water. But, quite apart from pseudo-scientific diagnosis of all our wonderful psychiatric disabilities, there's some more pseudo-historical analysis as well.
This [emotional stunting] made them extremely effective colonial servants: if their commander ordered it, they could organise a massacre without a moment's hesitation (witness the detachment of the officers who oversaw the suppression of the Mau Mau, as quoted in Caroline Elkins's book, Britain's Gulag). It also meant that the lower orders at home could be put down without the least concern for the results. For many years, Britain has been governed by damaged people.
To describe the suppression of the Mau Mau as a massacre is a grotesque simplification of Caroline Elkins's book, which was itself a grotesque simplification of the Mau Mau uprising. To state, as fact, that 'the officers' in Kenya were all public school educated, unless Monbiot can smell the damage dripping off people at a distance of 50 years as well as 200 metres, is demonstrably untrue into the bargain. And what the hell does he mean by 'putting down' the lower orders? The Peterloo massacre? The miners strike? Is he blaming the playing fields of Eton for these?
The problem of what to do about private schools and the class-bound system they create has been neatly solved by the Guardian columnist Peter Wilby. He proposes that places at the best universities should be awarded to the top pupils in each of the UK's sixth forms, regardless of absolute results. Middle-class parents would have a powerful incentive to send their children to schools with poor results, and then try to ensure that those schools acquired good resources and effective teachers. They would have no interest in sending their children to private schools.
Hurrah! Lets abolish any idea of objective achievement! Lets also abolish the control of universities over their own intakes! If the Government have absolute control over the process of selection for higher education, it can't help but lead to improved standards right? After all, look at the wonders it's done for secondary education.
Labels: education, Media