24 January 2007

Comprehensives: worse than prison

The hypocrisy of the mainstream media. The double standards.

A whole book could — and should — be written about the topic. If it were, it wouldn't of course get published. The last thing the MSM does is permit genuine criticism of itself. Phoney critique, yes. So if you want to pretend (say) that the media is inhibited about presenting sex, or injury/suffering — which is nonsense but a trendy thing to say — you could no doubt make a TV programme based on that assertion. As for real self-critique: when has the BBC ever made a programme about the cultural establishment's 'liberal' bias? Or a British university sponsored research about the anti-capitalist agenda prevailing in the humanities?

Take education for example. We hear endlessly about the faults of private schools. The drugs, the dodgy housemasters, the sexual shenanigans, the exorbitant fees, the strange admission policies, the terror of boarding, the artificiality of gender segregation, etc. etc.

Yet the horror of state comprehensives is rarely talked about. When it is — as recently by Andrew O'Hagan in the Telegraph, commenting on the Ruth Kelly incident — it's all mince, mince, I'm so sorry to say something unacceptable. It doesn't help, of course, that the people who feel most entitled to express themselves are those lucky enough to have been educated privately. State school products are often too crushed to even feel resentment at the system which damaged them, let alone express it. When they do feel resentment, they are more likely to rail against those who escaped the system than against the system itself. See e.g. Polly Toynbee, whose entire political philosophy probably stems from having failed the 11-plus and ending up at Holland Park Comprehensive. (Which, mind you, is barely a comprehensive in more than name, being used as a kind of posh 'state' school by well-heeled Kensington socialists.)

As someone who has personal experience of both sides of the private–state school divide, I say that comprehensives are places of horror, particularly for anyone of above-average intelligence. Middle class parents should try at all costs to keep their children out of these hellholes.

If you have never attended a comprehensive for any length of time, don't even begin to think you can make a considered judgement about whether they're tolerable. We ought to have a rule (particularly for Labour politicians) that no one should be able to advocate state education unless they have had personal experience of it.

So what punches does our dear Mr O'Hagan pull, implicitly praising state schools with his faint damnation?

It would be disingenuous for me to pretend that our local state secondary would be perfect for my teenage stepsons. For good or ill, they have been brought up with some sensitivity and with some - perhaps too-great - application of adult attention, and this could very easily make them cannon fodder in a rough school.
Ah, "too great" bourgeois parental attention to kiddies. Perhaps like the "too great" attention to individual liberty which we (used to) have in Britain — compared to, say, former Czechoslovakia. Or the "too great" attention to animal welfare.
It's almost taboo to admit that, but there you have it. Every middle-class parent knows it's true. I'm afraid some parents like to dress it up with talk of learning difficulties and troublesome catchment areas and all the rest. Our local Church of England church is crammed with people every Sunday, a great many of them keen to catch the eye of the minister who will sign forms allowing their children to attend the reputedly very good primary school next to the park. And all the parents I know - Lefties no less than Right-wingers - look with hungry eyes at the property pages, imagining the good schools that might lurk just beyond the boundaries of those small London gardens.
How very amusing. Middle class parents forced to scurry around in desperation, hoping there might be some loophole which will allow their offspring to escape being herded into mass indoctrination/torture centres. That's probably not unrelated to the kind of amusement Gulag prison wardens (I'll resist the Nazi analogy) enjoyed, watching their charges try to derive small amounts of escapism among their daily routine of suffering.

I'm reminded of Peter Mandelson's comments on state education in his book The Blair Revolution:
How can schools cope with unwilling attendees? Teaching can be a gruelling and dangerous experience. Schools require a much tougher set of disciplinary sanctions to deal with unruly pupils – such as weekend detention, and banning of favourite leisure pursuits.
If you try to evade the bullying, you will be persecuted even harder. Something which will no doubt also apply to those who will, in the future, have to stay on at school beyond 16.

Update
For a link between the absurdity of Celebrity Big Brother, and ideological indoctrination in state "schools" — of course there is a link, this is New Britannia — see Tom Paine's Last Ditch.

14 comments:

Tom Paine said...

Toynbee's school was not a comp when she was there. She's too old for that. Like many an hypocritical leftist she refers to it by its present name when she gives details of education - to give the impression that powerful, influential people went to comps.

I went to one of the early comps and it was a disaster. I am something of an autodidact in consequence. It has deteriorated further since then and I doubt anyone now attending my old school is likely to do even as well as I have. It is amazing that the population tolerates Labour's destruction of State Education - but than as on so many issues, our Opposition refuses to oppose.

Paul said...

"I doubt anyone now attending my old school is likely to do even as well as I have."

...but they'll all receive much better grades than you did, to soften the blow...

Why the population tolerates this, or indeed any of the government's abominations, is a bit of a mystery. Certainly some are die-hard idiots, willingly indoctrinated to regard the fiats of Gramscian Marxism as holy writ. But what of the others? Probably most people who went to a comp don't regard their experience as having been bad: they would have had the odd unpleasant episode, no doubt; but they would also have had mates, gone out to parties, got drunk, laid, maybe high, generally had a laugh, and most would have a bit of paper to show for it at the end. They wouldn't give a second thought to the misery suffered daily by those who weren't in their crowd.

Young people who have a deep desire to learn and/or a dislike of teen debauchery frequently endure absolute hell in state schools. In fact, anybody who doesn't fit into the "mainstream" tends to have a miserable time in these places. But I know from experience that these hapless souls generally don't say anything, because doing so means they're accorded the "victim" treatment by the school (which only brings further contempt and derision). And so they usually suffer silently, day in, day out.

...And to top it all, comprehensive schools receive the loudest support from lefties who enjoy parading their social conscience by going on incessantly about "raising awareness" of "victims"! The innumerable casualties of comprehensive "education" never come into their reckoning, and probably never will, since so many in this socialist caucus are products of comprehensives themselves: indeed, most will have enjoyed being part of the "in-crowd" and be able to recall the pleasure of sneering at the school pariahs (especially when these pariahs were more clever/rich/gentle than themselves). Acknowledging the level of suffering caused by this state-approved "socialisation" would mean implicitly acknowledging their own part in it, which would puncture their self-esteem. Hence they continue to champion a system which in essence fails everyone.

james higham said...

I agree about the phoney critique, the private school bashing and as I went down, I just found myself agreeing. Really like your posts.

Paul said...

"...of course there is a link, this is New Britannia"

...And this chappie has obligingly provided a nice link between CBB and the "politically correct Church that only adapts itself to the interests of the State" mentioned in "My Kind of People". When everyone from the BBC, the newspapers and government ministers are vociferously embarking on a McCarthyite racists-under-the-bed witch-hunt, one might expect a black archbishop to use his position to sound a note of caution. ...Er, nope.

The Church of England may pride itself on its "diversity", but the fact remains that you haven't got a cat in Hell's chance of bagging the top jobs unless you're an authentic PC nincompoop.

Matt M said...

Speaking as someone who went to a comprehensive with a (slightly unfair) bad reputation and who certainly wasn't part of the in-crowd, I really didn't have a bad time of it.

Some have a terrible time at school, but it seems to be a minority, and you find that in the private system as well. This image of the comprehensive system as completely hellish just doesn't fit in with my experience, nor with that of most of the people I know.

Paul said...

"Speaking as someone who went to a comprehensive with a (slightly unfair) bad reputation and who certainly wasn't part of the in-crowd, I really didn't have a bad time of it.

You prove my point precisely: this attitude is exactly what I'm on about! Schools nowadays don't appear to have the sort of extended "in crowd" that was prevalent in my day: the teenagers I speak to describe a series of cliques (the puffa-jacket crew, the neo-goths, the hip-hop brigade, the skateboarding set, the Glastonburyites, etc.). If you have tastes that enable you to fit in with one of these groups, school is unlikely to be daily misery. However, anybody who has untrendy tastes, or who never goes to teen parties, for example, is derided --- frequently by individuals who are otherwise intelligent bastions of wristband-wearing, Amnesty-International-supporting, Thom-Yorke-quoting Leftist political correctness. And being thus shunned and on their own means they also end up as easy pickings for the school's traditional "hands-on" bullies.

"Some have a terrible time at school, but it seems to be a minority"

This is an attitude which I truly abhor. Besides attending two comprehensives myself (where daily, mindnumbing cruelty was commonplace), I used to teach: I heard lots of absolutely horrendous accounts --- one of my pupils had attempted taking her own life, because of the bullying and ostracism she'd received. I'm afraid the "only a minority" attitude (which I have heard so often) doesn't wash with me. No-one should have to endure what these kids do.

And of course private schools have problems with bullying, but they also have a great deal more freedom to tackle disruptive pupils: they can turn away and kick out whomever they wish, without worrying about reprisals from the state, parents or pupils themselves --- private education is not a "right". With such potent weapons at their disposal, and the will to use them, discipline typically ceases to be such a problem. ...And I don't have some desire to promote private schools: I'd dearly love to see an overhaul of the state system, but the necessary restructuring would need to be so drastic that none of the main parties would have the political courage to do it. Still, I live in hope.

Finally, state schools are a microcosm of wider society: post-War Britain's rocketing levels of antisocial behaviour and violence are inevitably reflected in children's outlook and conduct. Until that is itself dealt with, the likelihood of re-civilising schools is negligible.

Fabian Tassano said...

Matt, as you've probably gathered, I'm not averse to a bit of hyperbole in my posts.

My own experience of comprehensives was not so much being bullied - although there was a constant background fear of it, every breaktime. The "swots" (i.e. the top grade) were considered fair game for pushing around. Sort of a teenage version of the class war.

More seriously, I found the atmosphere somehow very demoralising. The underlying message seemed to be: "you are insignificant". By comparison, people who went to private school tend to be imbued with more of a sense that they have a right to feel good about themselves.

Of course, that is precisely what gets up a lot of ex-state people's noses. But I think it tends to make the people who benefited relatively functional, and that (in my opinion) to a large extent - rather than the "old boy network" - is what causes the high correlation between success and educational background. To be a successful leader or manager you have to not feel screwed up about being top dog, and to feel secure enough to be able to boost other people egos, which is difficult if you didn't yourself get a level of ego support completely absent in most state schools.

I think "ego support" is actually an important part of education, but one which will not be provided unless commercial pressures overcome the natural disinclination of people to reinforce self-esteem in children not their own. I.e. not by a state school in which teachers have no obvious incentive to do so.

The contrast between Blair and Brown is a good example of the effect of school on personality and functionality, for people of roughly equal intelligence. Which may not matter for being an accountant but does when dealing with people. Not that I approve of Blair, but I cannot see Brown as PM - and I don't think his premiership would survive an election. The British electorate may be blind in a lot of other ways, but I think they can smell PM material, and its absence.

Neil Welton said...

Who in their right mind would send their own son to be "educated" at the local dump? Oh yes, I'm forgetting. Those who have been "educated" at the local dump.

Paul said...

Chips, anyone?

Fabian Tassano said...

Ah, Bullygate.

Resentment of the upper class and their quaint ways strikes me as seriously misplaced. It’s reminiscent of the fantasy that the world is run by a cabal of billionaires. The real elite running contemporary Britain isn’t people like Cameron, the Duke of Westminster or Prince Charles, it’s people like Nick Serota, Mark Thompson and Kieran Poynter. Now resentment of those people I could understand. Some of them are public school, some aren’t. They all seem to be united by a contempt (genuine or affected) of aristocratic and/or bourgeois values. But really it’s just new elite hatred of old elite. (George Walden’s The New Elites is worth reading on this.)

Paul said...

"Resentment of the upper class and their quaint ways strikes me as seriously misplaced. It’s reminiscent of the fantasy that the world is run by a cabal of billionaires."

Yes, the blogger outed himself superbly: it was very funny to see that sort of splenetic humour-failure come from out of nowhere --- and the comments were a good laugh, too. ...Which probably makes me a turncoat, being the product of a duff comprehensive. But then I never quite understood the appeal of identity politics...

"The real elite running contemporary Britain isn’t people like Cameron, the Duke of Westminster or Prince Charles, it’s people like Nick Serota, Mark Thompson and Kieran Poynter."

Two of the usual suspects (both pretty dire), but I'd never heard of number three. I see he's the chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers. You worked there for a while, didn't you, Fabian? Did you have dealings with this eminence grise? Do tell!

"They all seem to be united by a contempt (genuine or affected) of aristocratic and/or bourgeois values. But really it’s just new elite hatred of old elite."

Exactly. Their po-faced denunciations are fun to watch, though. :)

Fabian Tassano said...

I never bumped into Poynter. But take a look at his contribution to the free speech debate during BBC Question Time a couple of years ago, esp. p.13.

As he's speaking from the playing-it-safe perspective of accountancy, it's not exactly radical authoritarian ideology. But in some ways an accountant sounding tolerant of oppressive legislation is worse (in terms of its effects) than a leftist academic proposing it.

By the way, I wouldn’t myself describe the typical reaction of a state school product to a private school product as being "chippy", which I’ve always considered a term of abuse little better than “coon” or “poof”. I'd call it being in denial. That is to say, refusing to accept the harsh fact that another person received an important psychological benefit which you didn’t.

Paul said...

"I never bumped into Poynter. But take a look at his contribution to the free speech debate during BBC Question Time a couple of years ago, esp. p.13."

Thanks, Fabian: I gave up on Question Time years ago --- it always had that feeling of being propaganda masquerading as genuine debate. And yes, he does indeed sound "tolerant of oppressive legislation". The odd TV appearance excepted, though, would he have that much clout?

"I wouldn’t myself describe the typical reaction of a state school product to a private school product as being "chippy", which I’ve always considered a term of abuse little better than “coon” or “poof”."

Wow! I've never thought "chippy" was that bad! I'm not sure I see those things as being on a par, myself: one can do nothing about one's skin colour or sexual persuasion --- one's tribal hostility towards some group or other is something which one can change, if willing to do so.

However, I suppose it could be argued that calling someone "chippy" is akin to calling them a bigot, which is a pretty unpleasant term, and is frequently employed abusively (generally by the PC Left).

Fabian Tassano said...

Poynter may not have much clout individually, but he’s interesting because he probably typifies a lot of other members of the New Elite who aren’t in the public eye. I suspect there are people with his attitudes all over British boardrooms. Collectively, they probably have far more clout than the Guardian and Indy put together.