BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
These days, when people are not having a go at middle-aged white men in suits, it’s the “public-school educated” who are the targets of social media ire.
As a public school educated white man I seem, by default, to be in line for rather a lot of flak. For no good reason, of course. Just to sate the anger of tap-tappers who work themselves up into such a state of indignation in their wonky echo-chambers that they need someone to pin the blame on for life’s variety and imperfections.
I’m not complaining. I suppose people like me have broader shoulders (and perhaps more suits) than most. It’s not as if I’d like, say, middle-aged black men in chinos or eighty-year-old Asians in kilts to be taking the flak instead of me. Hey ho… us public-school educated white men are a bullet-proof minority. We’ve been through the rigours of a public school education, after all.
But, before the rotten tomatoes are pelted by those perfect judges – the privilege-checkers – let’s get a few facts straight, shall we?
First of all, none of us public-school pupils had a say in the matter. It was not as if our parents sat us down when we were seven and gave us a choice between the primary school down the road or the scary place miles away where we’d be summarily cut off from home comforts. I read the other day – it was a headline on the BBC website in fact – about a man for whom we should all feel pity who, when he arrived at a care home aged 11, cried himself to sleep every night for a year. The story immediately reminded me of my first year at boarding school, where, at one point – hundreds of miles from home and suffering from acute homesickness – I approached a random woman at York station and asked her if she would mind occasionally doubling as my mother while I spent the next years in the middle of the Yorkshire moors being educated by Benedictine monks who looked like black ghosts in their habits.
Second, public school was not some kind of nirvana where maids ran around after us, offering us interminable supplies of port, grapes and stilton. I remember feeling jealous of my friends back in the home counties who would eat well on their return from day school. Meanwhile, I’d literally fight for food in my first couple of years at boarding school, when older boys would get the best slices of beef and the finest cuts of chicken, which we juniors would (in my case, begrudgingly) serve them as we learnt to respect hierarchy and earn our place. I remember running as fast as I could up from rugby practice to tea just to be sure I’d be in time for a slice of toast and marmalade before another three hours of lessons – just to make up for a poor lunch – at round about the same time as my day school friends returned home to tuck into Shepherd’s Pie for tea followed by jammy dodgers and Tunnock’s tea cakes. If only there had been a local food bank, it would have been cleared out by the hundreds of starving boys sharing the privilege of my public school experience.
Other home comforts I really missed were sofas and warm bedrooms. While we slept in dormitories with windows open and occasionally awoke the next morning with limbs or faces stuck with ice to our wrought iron bedsteads, those day-schoolers would awake in the luxury of their own, individual bedrooms under warm duvets as their home heating systems kicked in. I remember getting into cold showers and feeling as if they were warm, as I was so frozen. While day-schoolers would be getting into warm buses and heated cars to get to school we’d be trudging through wind-swept stone passages to get to the refectory in time for a bowl of rice krispies. As for sofas, I do not recall seeing one in my first term of 14 weeks. When I returned home, sitting on one was a real luxury – dare I say, a veritable privilege.
Am I whining about being called one of the privileged few?
No, not really, as my education was top quartile of the top quartile of one percent. From what I know of the education of others, who attended comprehensives and lesser educational establishments, I can understand that, despite any hardships I experienced at boarding school, there were some who had school far worse than I did.
So, my school friends and I are arrogant?
I do not believe so. Perhaps confidence is mistaken by those lacking confidence for arrogance? In fact I rarely recall arrogance from any of my friends at school, save on one occasion during CCF when a corporal came down from Catterick to teach us drill on the school square and he really enjoyed having a pop at us. He’d slap us around our heads with the metal-badged fronts of our berets to make us bleed and mock us for our parents’ soft careers and wealth. “I bet your father’s a stockbroker,” he would mock and the victim of his bullying would invariably nod or reply, “no, actually he’s a merchant banker”, to which more mocking would follow. It was when he approached one boy and mocked him, declaring, “I bet your dad’s an accountant” to which the boy replied, “no, he’s General Sir XXXX XXXXX GCB LVO OBE and you’d better stop bullying my friends, mate, as he buys and sells your sort”, that I saw useful arrogance in action. And boy, was it worth it.
Public school was tough. I think of the collateral damage – each year there was one boy at least who dropped out because they couldn’t stand the pressures of public school life. They either went mad or self-harmed. Where was their privileged start to life? They were public-school educated. They are tw*ts too?
And what about those victims of gropers and pervert teachers? (Fortunately, I was an ugly child, blessed with a penchant for rugby, so always sporting a black eye and a bendy, boneless nose). I doubt that they would see the social media crowd calling them arrogant, rich tw*ts as much compensation for the horrors they were forced to endure while at public school.
Look at some of the disasters that public schools produced – mine was responsible for the walking horror show that is Sheikh Abdur Raheem Green (as well as producing the gem that is Lawrence Dallaglio). Polly Toynbee went to Badminton, Seaumus Milne to Westminster and Nazi-sympathising fascist John Amery went to Harrow. The state school system produced Jimmy Savile, Peter Sutcliffe and Harold Shipman. Horses for courses – Tony Blair went to Fettes. Blaming public schools or state schools seems something of a cop-out, no?
Are all public school educated people rich, arrogant tw*ts? Many I know attended public school because they were offered bursaries.
Are all public school educated people privileged? I’d say many are less privileged in their experiences than those who attended state schools. Certainly, those who were dragooned into smaller private schools often seemed to have a rougher time of it and worse education than most, from teachers who just didn’t make the grade elsewhere or were sacked from state schools.
So, try and avoid short-cut, sweeping generalisations, people.
There are good and bad from all walks of life. You cannot blame a dog for its kennel just as you cannot blame a parent for wanting the very best for their children – it’s how we humans are built. Equality is a myth that millions have died attempting to fashion – have the grey matter to get over it. If you are that desperate for a target for your privilege-checking, seek out those Guardianistas and socialists who condemn public schools but send their kids to them.
Alleged privilege is one thing – hypocrisy, my friends, is quite another.