Were I a benevolent, wealthy, middle-aged philanthropist – I am in fact, none of the above, and were I well-versed in the social anthropology of my culture, I might think it a fine idea to found a school.
Grocers do well at this – one of my old schools was founded by such a man four hundred and fifty years ago and still bears his name while the public (read ‘fee-paying’) school in the same town, also founded by him, enjoys the reputation now of being one of the finest co-educational private schools in the UK. I went there too, as a penniless foundationer scholar.
The image will be familiar to ‘those who know’.
I sometimes reflect in my later years whether it all did me much good. There were fags – I was one, and I had a ‘fagmaster ‘, which in the colder light of 2010 sounds positively eerie. There were ‘floggings’ or ‘beatings’ for antisocial offences and my housemaster won the DFC during the Second World War. Cricket and Latin were compulsory. In the light of all this, the recent debate at Westminster Central Hall on whether such places are a ‘blight on British society’ caught my attention.
There’s still a groundswell, concealed, but flowing, that people send their kids away to school to ‘mix with the right sort of people, like us’ as well as to get an education. In spite of Blairite rhetoric about education cubed – I bet he regretted that – merit still remains an also-ran to money, influence and power.
Yet, there will be no change, much as we might like to imagine that there ought to be. It’s unthinkable to turn the educational system over to a new breed of sociopolitical engineers who will make an even bigger dog’s breakfast of it than the last lot did. Ultimately, we are selfish little animals, hard-wired to tread on those who get in our way, whether on a cricket pitch or in an interview room. Recent research has revealed that related sperm are biochemically advantaged in polygamous mice. Weaselly collaboration, or sperm like us, in other words…