"people, even when young, can be self-seeking, ornery and perverse, and when you apply an action to a group of them, while what you get is not necessarily an equal and opposite reaction, exactly, it will almost certainly be an effect different to that which you intended."To further explore this, Hilary drew on some personal experiences regarding the introduction of the comprehensive school system.
It was a fascinating post, and one that I felt deserved returning to: partly because I was educated by the comprehensive system in a school without a sixth form.
Hilary's tone comments on the flawed notion that there can be a trickle effect: that disaffected and less able pupils can be transformed into studious and able pupils merely by putting each in proximity to the other. I would add: of course proximity isn't enough. My school, in the twenty years before it closed, was radically changed by its intake of pupils expelled from other schools (generally schools with a worse reputation than ours had at the time - if you got thrown out of those schools, things really were looking bleak for you). These pupils were brought into William Crane as if by being with us they would suddenly acquire skills, abilities AND ANY INTEREST IN DOING SO. Well, duh, the result was not positive. But could it have been different? Probably not in and of itself as an action (as integration). It required instead a broader thinking - one that looked at why they were disaffected, their home experiences, their expectations. If pupils were changed, what would this do for them? To return to an acho of Hilary's anecdote, being told something is good for you doesn't make it believable, nor does it mean that you will benefit from it per se. Single actions are never enough.
To take one example, I was at school with a girl who was constantly reminded at home that she wasn't 'academic'. This applied not only to the most traditional school subjects - sciences, arts, languages, in fact anything above basic functional reading, writing and arithmetic - but even to the way in which applied subjects were included in the CSE curriculum. Her parents were constantly at odds with school (especially her mum) as they considered education a waste of time - a block on children being able to get "into the real world" and into work. Effort on school work was not valued or especially encouraged - though interestingly her brother was at least encouraged to "do his best" even though this did not stretch to any promotion of studying after 16. Kids like myself, who constantly asked lots of 'how' and 'why' questions of the world and adults and the workings of the universe, got pretty short shrift in this household not least for offering any encouragement about the possibilities education could offer her. (She wanted to be a nurse: this required O levels).
Eventually, after much dispute, she went to college to do some O levels to try and get into nursing. Because she was good at it and enjoyed the subject, she opted to make her fifth subject, alongside the sociology and biology-type subjects she was required to take, English Literature. [It was ultimately the only course she passed: grade C]. Against various familial disputes - not least of which were the ongoing tensions arising from me pursuing A levels at a college closer to home than hers - the encouragement for her studies slipped further into antagonism. Most of the girls on the course came from similarly tense backgrounds: environments where it was rare to not being 'eterned', married or a mother by 18 years old. My friend found it harder and harder to keep her focus as the pressures mounted to get into work. And if her eventual results meant that she was going to find it difficult to get into nursing, what she found even more problematic was the idea she might have to leave home and move across the country to finish her training at a university. You left home to get married; not to go and study. For her the combined circumstances and expectations and experiences were too much. Changing her possibilities would have meant doing much more than just having a moderately bright girl with people both more and less bright with her at school. It required a major change of attitude, not just within her immediate family but within her entire social structure.
The point being: the comprehensive system didn't go anywhere near far enough in addressing inequalities. And I know too many people who failed the 11-plus who, rightly or wrongly, felt condemned to a second-class education and set of expectations because they didn't get into a hallowed grammar school. So I'm not entirely convinced that retaining the system as it was before comprehensives was distinctly better.
To other matters arising from Hilary's remarks. Hilary recalled the passion felt for public schools but then goes on to say:
"But I like the idea of boarding schools! I like Dimsie and Molesworth and Red Circle School and 'Fifth Form at St Dominics' ... where they still have proper dormitory feasts and the teachers wear mortar boards and the Head is strict but fair and the school captain wins the match in the last over by hitting a six into the pavilion clock, and the school, in short, is just like a proper school ought to be."Can I say that "boarding schools" are not per se "public schools": I would not argue that children (myself to some extent included) didn't quite like the idea of being in it together in a boarding environment. But I would add that what I liked most about some of these tales was a streak of liberty against authority (matron sucks; teacher is a fool) rather than an inherent delight in the public school mentality and structure. Maybe Hilary's gang were all of the aspiring class that saw something positive in the family-less hierarchical structure of a public boarding school: I was less heartily convinced. For me, Grange Hill was not a horror. And can I say this? Any current love of Hogwarts is more about the battle of the ordinary against the privileged who feel they by rights have sole access to Hogwarts - for who of the readers imagines themselves for the priggish, self-righteous Malfoy's rather than the underdog Harry, the put-upon Weasleys, or the 'half-blood' Hermione?
I feel I have more to say, but as Cloud awaits to whisk me home I will depart forthwith and await the fall-out. More blogging next week folks!