I’ve given FedUpMom, who has written several guest entries in the past, free rein to speak her mind for the next week here on stophomework. If you’d like that opportunity, too, please email me.
FedUpMom attained her FedUp status through the experiences of her older daughter at the local nominally high-performing public school. Currently, both of FedUpMom’s daughters attend a small Quaker school, in kindergarten and 6th grade.
Guest Post #1
“Such, such were the joys
When we all, girls and boys,
In our youth time were seen
On the Echoing Green.”
(from “the Echoing Green”, by William Blake)
“Such, Such Were the Joys” is an essay by George Orwell, about his experiences at St. Cyprian’s school. It is bloody brilliant, and only becomes more relevant with every passing year.
I know my recommendation isn’t enough to motivate you to read the essay, so I’ve decided to make it compulsory. You can find a book of Orwell’s essays at your local library, or buy it from Amazon. Buy it used; you know your family can’t afford to buy it new.
Or, you can read it online.
Answer the questions below and turn in your answers by the end of the week. All submissions must be signed by a parent or guardian, your local police chief, the superintendent of the school board, and the Pope.
(Or, use those finely honed school skills and answer the questions without reading the essay! I will never know the difference.)
All quotes are from the essay.
1.) “Over a period of two or three years the scholarship boys were crammed with learning as cynically as a goose is crammed for Christmas… At St. Cyprian’s the whole process was frankly a preparation for a sort of confidence trick. Your job was to learn exactly those things that would give an examiner the impression that you knew more than you did know, and as far as possible to avoid burdening your brain with anything else.”
[Vocabulary: “confidence trick” is the British equivalent of the American “con”.]
How does Orwell’s experience relate to today’s standardized-testing-infested public schools? Compare and contrast, if possible.
2.) “Indeed, it was universally taken for granted at St. Cyprian’s that unless you went to a ‘good’ public school (and only about fifteen schools came under this heading) you were ruined for life… Over a period of about two years, I do not think there was ever a day when ‘the exam’, as I called it, was quite out of my waking thoughts… For people like me, the ambitious middle class, the examination passers, only a bleak, laborious kind of success was possible. ”
[Vocabulary: in British usage, “public” schools are so called because they are not open to the public. It’s pronounced “Chumley”.]
How does Orwell’s quest for a ‘good’ public school compare to today’s upper-middle-class quest for an Ivy League school? How is ‘the exam’, which got Orwell to Eton, similar to today’s SAT? Compare, contrast, and weep.
3.) “Looking back, I realize that I then worked harder than I have ever done since, and yet at the time it never seemed possible to make quite the effort that was demanded of one…All through my boyhood I had a profound conviction that I was no good, that I was wasting my time, wrecking my talents, behaving with monstrous folly and wickedness and ingratitude — and all this, it seemed, was inescapable, because I lived among laws which were absolute, like the law of gravity, but which it was not possible for me to keep…The conviction that it was not possible for me to be a success went deep enough to influence my actions till far into adult life.”
Would Orwell have fared better or worse in your local “gifted” program? Explain.
4.) “That was the pattern of school life — a continuous triumph of the strong over the weak. Virtue consisted in winning: it consisted in being bigger, stronger, handsomer, richer, more popular, more elegant, more unscrupulous than other people … Life was hierarchical and whatever happened was right. There were the strong, who deserved to win and always did win, and there were the weak, who deserved to lose and always did lose, everlastingly.”
Has anything changed? Support your answer.
5.) “There never was, I suppose, in the history of the world a time when the sheer vulgar fatness of wealth, without any kind of aristocratic elegance to redeem it, was so obtrusive as in those years before 1914… The extraordinary thing was the way in which everyone took it for granted that this oozing, bulging wealth of the English upper and upper-middle classes would last for ever, and was part of the order of things… How would St. Cyprian’s appear to me now, if I could go back, at my present age, and see it as it was in 1915 [when Orwell left the school]? … I should see them [the Headmaster and his wife] as a couple of silly, shallow, ineffectual people, eagerly clambering up a social ladder which any thinking person could see to be on the point of collapse.”
How does Orwell’s historical moment compare to our own? Is our social ladder on the point of collapse?