Embarrassing Improvements
Friday Ephemera

The Greater Good (2)

Arabella Weir, whose leftist credentials have previously been noted, today shares her wisdom on parenting and education

Assuming you have any choice at all, picking their first school is also an alarmingly revealing moment for anyone who considers themselves to be a good, responsible citizen.

Weir’s definition of a “good, responsible citizen” will become apparent in due course.

It is a time when you find yourself assaulted by all sorts of terrors, nerves and unanswerable questions, most of which are so unedifying you cannot believe you are thinking them. Suddenly you forget about everyone else; it is all about your baby and only your baby.

Some might think of that as where ideology collides with actual parenting.

When it was our turn to decide, my husband and I were in the happy financial position of being able to consider private schools. We did not contemplate that option for long. Neither of us was educated privately…

Actually, Ms Weir attended the hardly-rough-and-tumble Camden School for Girls, a voluntary aided school, whose alumnae include Emma Thompson and Eva Germaine Rimington Taylor. Arabella is, lest we forget, the daughter of former British ambassador Sir Michael Weir and not short of a bob.

…and most of the least socially and emotionally capable people I know went to posh schools. 

State schooling is, one might suppose, entirely free of disabling and alienating effects, being as it is so ideologically sound.

For us, then, it was a choice between the two local state primaries equidistant from our house. One is regarded as the Shangri-la of primaries, principally because it has an extraordinarily low number of disadvantaged kids despite being opposite a massive council estate. The other is much more representative of the area’s demographic. We chose the latter because we liked the school and because it felt like the right thing to do.

Here, the “right thing to do” has a sacrificial air and seems to mean trading educational opportunity – say, in terms of motivation, class size and a culture of learning - for an approved and “representative” social mix, i.e. one which involves mingling conspicuously with those deemed “disadvantaged”. Thus one’s leftist credentials can be seen by passers-by. Is this really about doing the right thing? Or is it just a matter of admiring one’s own socialist credibility?

Four years ago, following an unlucky combination of events, including the then headteacher’s departure, some disruptive building works and a fairly poor Ofsted report, the middle-class parents began to leave like rats from a sinking ship. At the very moment the school community was in greatest need of applied, dedicated parents and the enormous benefit their presence would contribute to halting the school’s further decline, they left.

For shame. Parents must make sacrifices, you hear? Not for their own children, of course, or for their peace of mind, but for the Greater Good. 

There is so much that is positive, wonderful even, about state schools.

Yet it needs pointing out defensively? And, it should be said, the reverse is also true, perhaps more so.

At a state school your kids will learn to live alongside and appreciate other kids from many diverse and different cultures.

Ah, here we go. This is where the “good, responsible citizen” thing kicks in.

They will learn that privilege is not a birthright, that it has to be earned, along with understanding that they need to earn their place in society and earn the right to succeed.

And some parents’ terribly bourgeois efforts to give their offspring a better start than perhaps they themselves had are to be undone, in the interests of fairness. Yes, a Year Zero for every child.

They will learn street sense, who to be wary of, who to avoid, how to keep their heads down and how and when to stand up for themselves.

Conceivably, they may even learn to avoid precisely the kind of people they now find themselves mingling with. Exactly how they learn this lesson and how long they must “keep their heads down” doesn’t appear to matter.

They will learn to make room for people of different abilities.

And, presumably, the children in question must cheerily throw themselves on the mercy of a state comprehensive education, peppered as it is with “people of different abilities,” in order to learn this vital sociological lesson. Thus, they will grow up to become “good, responsible citizens” who do the same with their own children and feel good about doing so, or at least being seen to do so. And if those children voice reservations and are unwilling to jump as expected, no doubt parents will have to give them a little push. For the Greater Good.

My 10-year-old daughter now walks home from school alone with a classmate. They walk through several council estates without even thinking about it - why wouldn’t they? Most of the kids from those estates are at school with them. They are comfortable in their area. My children know that they have much more than a lot of their peers, but, crucially, they do not see that as making them better than them. Compare that with the boys at a nearby private school who are told to take their jackets and ties off before going home so that they are not “targeted” by local roughs.

Local roughs who go to schools like those of which Ms Weir is so fond, and whose attentions are avoided wherever possible for fear of being “targeted” as bright, slightly bourgeois or just interested in stuff. Here we see crystallised one of socialism’s moral inversions. By Weir’s thinking, even if you had a grim and frustrating experience at a state comprehensive you should still want to inflict that same experience on your children. Ideally, by sending them to a really disreputable school with plenty of rough council estate kids and people for whom English is, at best, a second language. Reading Ms Weir’s article, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that she regards children, even her own, not as ends in themselves, but as instruments for the advancement of an egalitarian worldview. That, or as playthings of her own vanity. Which may well add up to much the same thing.

Related: On bright children as collective property.

Yes, by all means, fund my indignation.