The Public School Stigma

If there’s one thing that shapes our lives, it’s our education. It’s how we learn to communicate, how we learn what is acceptable in society, how we learn skills to make something of ourselves in the future, how we learn, well, stuff that makes our lives more interesting. It’s a pretty important thing if you think about it. Actually, you don’t have to think about it at all.

 

In fact education is a pretty vital component of the fabric that makes up our identity. A lot of that education is unconsciously soaked up through socialisation. However the subsection that is formal education is undeniably also incredibly important. It forms the structure and routine of our lives for up to 14 of our most impressionable years. A good quality schooling can be the difference between a well meaning and an articulate person; an inefficient and efficient worker; an ignorant and enlightened thinker. Anyone can learn manners, but not many can learn to criticise Rousseau’s Theory of Natural Human or prove Cantor’s Theorem without acquiring the skills and knowledge that school gives you access to.

 

Moreover a good education has always been a vehicle for gaining power and wealth in society. Look at Wolsey; an inspiration for any butcher’s son dreaming of more than boning pork shoulders. It is no wonder then that education is pretty high on a parent’s list of priorities. Furthermore with our current system it’s fair enough that many parents store away much of their savings for their child’s education. Of course there are many state schools in the UK which provide an equally, and in many cases better, education than some private schools. However without living in the catchment area or being the right religion you have little choice but to fork out serious cash for quality. Moreover the crème de la crème are, ultimately and indisputably, private schools. I’m not saying that’s ok; I’m just saying it’s how it is. At the end of the day each and every one of us British children must spend most of our formative years in the education system, so it makes sense to invest well in our choice of school.

 

But that doesn’t make those who went to private school aliens, out of touch with real life. It doesn’t make them less worthy of your time or friendship. (And please, if you have been skim reading so far please concentrate on this paragraph.) Just because someone went to private school it doesn’t mean they’re rich. Just because someone went to private school doesn’t mean they think their superior. Just because they went to private school doesn’t mean they didn’t have to work hard to be where they are. Just because their parents decided to invest their money in education doesn’t make them bate for your bad jokes.

 

Agreed, it’s not fair that some people get to experience education at a standard that the majority of the student population don’t have access to. I can understand people’s issue with that, and indeed I have an issue with it too. I agree that it’s a problem, which our society should be addressing more rigorously. But the biggest antipathy doesn’t seem to be academically related. Not among people my age. It’s not the unique, gold standard opportunity for learning and acquiring knowledge that people are riling against. In my experience, acquaintances from state schools aren’t so bothered by the fact my teacher could teach me whatever they found interesting, that I got one on one mentoring in my last year, and that my classes were made up of 10 students not 30. They care about the general lifestyle that the stereotypical private school student lives, and the stereotypical view of a state school contemporary. In other words it’s inverse snobbery.

 

This is totally irrelevant to the issue of education; it is ludicrous to assume that because someone’s family spent money on their education that they are ‘in the money’. And when these assumptions are put into practise they are not only irritating, but also devisive. I blame a lot of it on the media, of course.

 

The media deludes people into thinking private school children are a homogenous set of privileged dumbos who do well because of Daddy’s connections. Last week I watched an episode of Cuffs on BBC iPlayer, which focused its plot on a private boys boarding school. Not only were the students portrayed as weeping willows, with one of them crying he wanted his mum whilst attempting suicide; one of the inspectors outright said that it was “cruel” to send a child to boarding school aged 7. Biased? Never. Then, there are documentaries on schools such as Harrow, revealing the names of schools where Made In Chelsea stars went to…the list never ends. It is obvious to any intelligent human being that not all private schools are like Harrow, and that not everyone who went to schools like Harrow live like Made in Chelsea stars. Not even most of the MIC crew live like the MIC crew. Conflating this microcosmic group within the public school sphere doesn’t serve the majority of the public; it propels unnecessary social tension.

 

It is possible that the media is trying to create a counter proportional depiction of private school lives to readdress the balance in working opportunities. That’s how they portray their motives anyway. But it does no more than cause friction between the two parties and further drive the deepening inequalities it pretends to oppose. However, of course, anger makes money in the media. It’s an easy story; makes for a tantalising read. Why would a money making body change its ways for the sake of morality? It’s understandable from a capitalist point of view, but the consequence of their indifference is that the entrenchment of social separations and hostility begins from an earlier and earlier age. Encouraging these differences only makes for greater inequality of opportunity. No wonder our governing body all went to Eton together, the prime minister would probably be told where to shove it if they asked anyone else to be in the cabinet, being accused of patronising them or something (only joking…chill).

 

I have wasted countless hours of my life explaining how it is possible that I went to boarding school without owning a pony, dining with the queen, living on an estate, having a trust fund. Most of the time I go on to have fascinating discussions about politics, social philosophy and morality with the exact same person who at first pitted me against themselves with these irritating set of petty assumptions. All of the time I end up finding something – often a lot – in common with the exact same individual. How funny it is that: having gone through the same national curriculum, been brought up in the same culture, be of a similar age, have access to the same media, we have cultivated shared views, interests and abilities? Who knew? I’m shocked. Sense sarcasm? Well done.

 

It got boring being teased for my education the first time it happened, probably about 10 years ago. I don’t see what there is to gain for making me feel guilty for having a good education. All you’re doing is vocalising the perception that there is a gaping hole between us, illustrating a version of reality where our differences are exponentially larger than they in fact are. This actually puts private school alumni at a greater advantage. No wonder my friend got angry when people stopped teasing him for going to Eton after they found out he was there on a full scholarship; the falsified detachment is almost a head start in itself. It would be much better for everyone else if we shut up and got on with it.

 

To those that have mock me: I worked hard just like you; to end up at a good university, to write coherently, to get my previous jobs, to get work experience. Funnily enough I am at university to better my future prospects, just like you. I am in a position where being a working adult is necessary, just like you. Not all private school students have the option of sitting on their parents’ money for just long enough before they marry their suitor. In fact, I’m probably equally in the shit as you, seeing as my parents spent most of their dollar on getting me through school.

 

Maybe let’s skip the seemingly compulsory private school, them and us, ‘banter’ and get straight to being friends?

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The Public School Stigma