(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.