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Elsewhere (17)

A Great Big Socialist Heart

Time for another Classic Sentence from the Guardian. Or rather the Guardian’s Sunday sister paper, the Observer, where Kevin McKenna attempts to convince readers that a one-size-fits-all comprehensive education is all that any young person could possibly want. Indeed, should Mr McKenna get his way, it’s all they’d be permitted to have:  

The ultimate iniquity, though, is that independent, fee-paying schools are allowed to exist at all.

Savour that for a moment. Ponder the big, generous heart behind those sentiments. It offends Mr McKenna that private education should be allowed to exist. How dare some parents want the best for their children when the best is something not everyone can have, or indeed benefit from? Notice that smell? It’s the funk of socialist arrogance and nasty urges to control. By Mr McKenna’s reckoning, it would be less iniquitous to deny parents the right to use their own money to benefit their own offspring in a private and legal transaction of their own choosing. According to this moral calculus, parents who view the comprehensive system as inadequate – perhaps because of their own first-hand experiences – are by implication wicked. And so they should be stopped. Sadly, the details of how private education would no longer be permitted remain mysterious. Would parents daring to venture outside the state sector be imprisoned or merely fined? Would private education become a black market phenomenon? Nor is it clear whether these totalitarian urges would extend to after-hours tuition, home coaching or the punctual doing of homework.

However, McKenna does convey to us the full horror of the private schooling he “narrowly escaped”:

The school occupies a lofty position in Glasgow education, sitting atop one of the highest of the hills in the heart of the city. It is where affluent and aspirational Catholics send their children and as you wander around the city centre of a lunchtime, little Sebastians and Julias in their lovely green blazers traipse desultorily among Sauchiehall Street’s gaudy emporiums.

Truly the stuff of nightmares, I think you’ll agree.

But let me share with you a flavour of my own, more recent comprehensive education at a school where aspiration was less common than graffiti and no Sebastians dare set foot. The school blazers weren’t green or particularly lovely, but they were a routine target of vandalism and theft, along with any other belongings of small but discernable value. My other half, whose state education was similar to my own, has shared a number of stories in which students who were not called Sebastian or Julia would attack each other’s uniforms with razor blades. It was quite the thing, apparently. While Sebastians were in short supply at my local comprehensive, there were plenty of teachers whose egalitarian leanings were at least as pronounced as those of Kevin McKenna, resulting in a conviction that the teaching of grammar was insufficiently progressive and therefore superfluous. (This ideological omission made the learning of German and French rather challenging, especially when confronted with alien things called subordinate clauses.) I’ve previously mentioned the unusual skills I developed during my secondary education, including some proficiency in throwing chairs in order to deter random lunchtime assaults. And I recently learned that one of the school’s two main buildings had been burned to the ground, possibly by a disaffected student.  

However, Mr McKenna would have us believe that an aversion to learning environments of this kind is the preserve of people we shouldn’t like. 

One of the most popular parlour debates among the middle classes after climate change and disciplining children is the state of our comprehensive schools. There is a collective whine as you walk through Newton Mearns and Morningside at 10 on a Saturday night after a pert Chablis from the Sunday Times wine club has just been served.

It’s just uppity middle class folly, see?

A sympathetic Observer reader echoes McKenna’s sentiments, albeit more directly:

Ban all public schools then see how quick Mummy and Daddy with money want to get involved in raising the standards for all rather than just their little darlings.

Which helpfully makes clear the expectation that parents should sacrifice their own children on the altar of society. Such ideas are not uncommon in the pages of the Guardian. Readers may recall the ostentatious slumming of the socialist actress Arabella Weir, whose definition of a “good, responsible citizen” entails trading educational opportunity for conspicuous mingling with students for whom English is, at best, a second language. And we mustn’t forget the delightful Zoe Williams, who amused herself with ways to humiliate “privateers” who’ve fallen on hard times. Ms Williams was happy to share her motives: “As for vindictive, ha! Good.” Note too the trademark urge to coerce. Those who’d rather not put socialist ideology before the wellbeing of their progeny should be stripped of any choice and made to comply.

Feel the love, people.