Day 2 with FedUpMom

(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. Today is her second post. If you’d like that opportunity, too, please email me.)

Guest Post #2
by FedUp Mom

“I suppose there is no place in the world where snobbery is quite so ever-present or where it is cultivated in such refined and subtle forms as in an English public school. Here at least one cannot say that English ‘education’ fails to do its job. You forget your Latin and Greek within a few months of leaving school — I studied Greek for eight or ten years, and now, at thirty-three, I cannot even repeat the Greek alphabet — but your snobbishness, unless you persistently root it out like the bindweed it is, sticks by you till your grave.”

— George Orwell, “The Road to Wigan Pier”

I was in a meeting early this school year to discuss the search for a new Head of School at my kids’ Quaker school. There was one moment that will stay with me for a long time. For some mysterious reason, everyone around the table took turns stating their connections to public schools. “I went to the public schools!” “My mother taught in the public schools!” Finally, one of the PTA-type Moms summed up the discussion by saying: “See, we’re not elitist!” Everyone except me nodded solemnly in agreement.

A friend suggested that I should have said “Twenty thousand bucks a year and we’re not elitist? I’ve been robbed!” and stalked out in a huff. My husband suggested that when everyone was giving their public-school testimony, I should have offered, “I blew up a public school!” As usual, I didn’t think to say either of these at the time, but I have a hunch the whole ritual will be repeated, and maybe I’ll use the suggestions then.

One of the basic hazards of private school is the snobbery that comes with belonging to an expensive club. The Quakers are not immune: their stated commitment to equality and simplicity just makes their snobbery more convoluted and mind-boggling. (For more, here’s an interesting blog, which, alas, cannot live up to its title: F***Thee: I Was A Teenage Quaker.)

Recently, I asked my daughter how her school day had been and she said, “It’s really annoying how the kids brag about being lifers. They’re going to have a special interview with a lifer for the school paper.” A “lifer” is a child who has been to no other school than this one, usually starting in pre-kindergarten. My daughter is well aware of her second-class status as a newcomer to the school.

Of course, the private schools don’t have a monopoly on snobbery. The public schools have their constant ranking and open discussion of “good” vs. “bad” districts. Within a district, there’s the sorting and grouping of kids into “honors” and “accelerated” and “gifted” programs. Indeed, my daughter’s placement into one of these groups was presumed to be enough to keep me happy (“What are you complaining about? We put her in the winners’ track!”)

School snobbery and its cousins, competition and anxiety, are corrosive to our children’s learning and development. What is the remedy? I welcome your thoughts.

8 thoughts on “Day 2 with FedUpMom

  1. I started a wonderful post about an hour ago and then the computer system shut down…so I’ll try again. There was a radio program here in Canada about the scandals in the Britich government recently and how the people who run things in Britain are by and large from the aristocracy. Because of the scandals (spending public money on personal items, like summer homes..etc), it’s become unfashionable to let it be known that one attended one of the upper crust schools, like Eton…apparently it’s possible for a Brit to tell if someone else went to a private school in Britain by just listening to how they talk. So these people in places of power, leave off their resumes where they went to school, except if they went to public school (then it’s a good feature) and they try to hide their “accent”. It’s not good to be elite.

    As I read yesterday’s Orwell piece I was struck by how much school hasn’t changed. All the finer points that FedUpMom pointed out were glaring examples of that..and though we don’t beat children in school anymore, we still believe in wearing them down, all for the sake of supposedly building them up into solid citizens. “Doing Homework will prevent you from becoming a fast food worker for the rest of your life” sound an awful like ” Either I won my scholarship, or I must leave school at fourteen and become ‘a little office by at 40 pounds a year’ ”



  2. Yes, I think Orwell would actually be surprised at how little has changed in England. It is still the case that a huge percentage of the rich and powerful went to Eton (or Harrow, or Winchester) and then to Oxford or Cambridge.

    Years ago, I was watching a TV show in England that had a panel of celebrities. Somebody asked the panel where they had gone to university. All but one had gone to Oxford or Cambridge. The lone holdout announced that he “attended the School of Hard Knocks, and they kicked me out of it!”

    People with money and power are eager to keep it, and eager to maintain the structures that prop them up. No surprise there.


  3. A fine post,FedUpMom! Of course what you described in the schools is reflective of society in general . We adults are shoving the children towards the same hoops we ourselves leap though. We of course get upset when they sensibly baulk, calling the whole set up into question. They become the problem…not the hoops of course .


  4. The Quak­ers are not immune: their stated com­mit­ment to equal­ity and sim­plic­ity just makes their snob­bery more con­vo­luted and mind-boggling


    Very witty…what is witty must be both true and funny.


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