Letter to a British Schoolboy (2 of 3)
(three-part father-to-son explanation on the perils of being young in contemporary Britain)
(Part II: The School Years)
In Italy a millennium ago, until the age of 11 your Dad had to wear at nursery and school the grembiule, a neck-to-knee vest, mostly to avoid getting soiled clothes. In English schools instead, uniforms are more and more strictly imposed as age progresses: and so, just as personalities mature, they are subtly pushed towards a physical and metaphorical conformism.
In fact, school uniforms where required are rigidly so, and the more so in private tuition. Behind them there is a huge business, and parents throw their money at jackets, shirts, fake ties etc etc, that might have been fashionable in the 1950’s.
Hundreds of identically-dressed children are then marshaled every morning to salute the Headteacher, the School Organization and the Respect for Authority. Who knows, perhaps if we hadn’t had the excesses of Benito M. it would have been the same in Italy too (What? Oh, sure. I’ll tell you about Benito M. in a decade.)
How about learning? Huger and huger crowds of children are happily certified knowledgeable and smart with every passing year: a sign of a decay in examination standards, or perhaps, says The Economist, of the mysterious coincidence between academic excellence and the commentator’s learning years.
Not that it matters a lot to Government more interested in appeasing the tabloids, incredibly popular low-brow newspapers; with a control-freakery that sees the yearly publishing of School League Tables according to children’s results.
Low-performance schools risk closure, or being sold to sponsors with large liquidity and dubious ideologies such as Creationism. Headteachers will do their utmost then to nurture an environment of learning, or alternatively, they will figure out ways to climb the Tables with tricks and a cunning usually expected in far less law-abiding places.
Families will work hard then to find schools not managed by propaganda or cunning plans. And so every year millions wait in increasing anguish to know if they have been given their dream place of learning.
A place at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge will provide more chances of a bright career, perhaps as a banker with a history degree (the topic doesn’t count much). Attending a prestigious high school will give larger chances to be selected at Oxford and Cambridge. And the child that enters the best elementary school will be more likely rewarded with a place at a prominent high school.
Your enterprising parents had then to trot inside four primary schools, a few months ago, following enthusiastic Headteachers. Then, considered also local gossip and reputation, they decided for a school for your future (not so simple: three have been chosen in order of preference; but you have been allowed into the one we preferred).
Go on then, there is no reason to worry, it’s a good institute with lots of facilities. Enjoy it while you can, because the Stories of the post-Elementary School Years tell of the War between British Society and its Youth.