Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Being posh and being educated are two different things

Simon Hoggart reports an exchange between Boris Johnson and Martin Salter:
He [Boris] was at the home affairs committee, and was asked by Martin Salter, a Labour MP, whether the problem was that young persons carried knives these days because they had become fashion accessories. Boris agreed that we needed to de-glamorise knife crime. "It is moronic, wasteful, and you know, it's not the death of Mercutio."

Mr Salter looked startled. But not for long. "Who was that?" he inquired. "Your education cost more than mine."
This is ridiculous. Martin Salter is not some barefoot boy from the gutters of Reading West. He attended Hampton Grammar School in Middlesex, where you can be sure that Shakespeare had an honoured place in the curriculum.

True, there has always been something a bit mockney about Salter: his accent just a little too Ben Elton to be real. (I have a vague memory of reading somewhere that his father was a BBC announcer with a formidably grand accent, but I suspect that is just wishful thinking on my part.)

But why does anyone who was educated in the state sector now feel obliged to affect this sort of inferiority complex? For any intelligent person, the idea that someone from a public school is automatically better educated than you are should not survive your first week at university.

I have heard Diane Abbott say that, as a grammar school girl, she felt superior when she met public school boys for the first time. Their parents had to pay to get them into good schools.

That attitude sounds very foreign now. Why is this? I suspect the abolition of the grammar schools is a part of it. Forty or fifty years ago the best state schools gave a better academic education than any fee-paying school. It would he hard to claim that today, whatever gains comprehensive schools have brought in other directions.

Another culprit is the general anti-intellectualism we see today. Martin Salter displayed this well when he felt obliged to pretend not to know who Mercutio was.

I am with Boris. Hoggart writes:
Now Boris doesn't quote the classics just to show off. He genuinely believes that the great works of the past illuminate our understanding of the present.
If you don't believe that, what is the point of education?

Finally, whatever your view on this, please stop using "posh" as a synonym for "educated". We used to understand that they are two very different things.

9 comments:

Martin Tod said...

It would he hard to claim that today, whatever gains comprehensive schools have brought in other directions.

Peter Symonds, the sixth form college in Winchester, puts more young people through A-level at a higher average grade than every single private school in Hampshire, Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight added together.

Needless to say the results are pretty good at Winchester's own independent schools - Winchester College and St Swithun's - but the independent sector as a whole significantly underperforms this one comprehensive state school across a large part of the south of england.

The Burbler said...

Salter plays the part of a "rude mechanical" very well.

Even if he studied Shakespeare he may not have studied Romeo and Juliet. I did up to A level standard, but didn't, so I didn't have a clue until I just looked it up. But get me on Othello or Julis Caesar and I can quote the hind legs off a donkey.

Tom Barney said...

Are you sure Martin Salter was educated in the state sector? Hampton GS is an ancient foundation which, to be sure, was maintained by Middlesex County Council (who gave it a new building between the wars) and subsequently by Richmond upon Thames. But when Richmond went comprehensive in 1973 it reverted to the private sector (to the consternation I think of the Fabian headmaster). For a few years thereafter it offered a handful of free places to Richmond residents; I went in for one but didn't get it. Now MPs these days have a way of being younger than me: what was its status when Salter was there?

Sam said...

Even if he studied Shakespeare he may not have studied Romeo and Juliet.

But that's rather the point, isn't it? Most people haven't "studied" more than a few Shakespeare plays in the sense of having written essays on them at school, but anyone who claims to be at all educated should have at least a passing familiarity with the more well-known ones - whether from having seen them performed, read them, or because they are so much a part of western culture.

People who haven't "studied" the Merchant of Venice have still heard of Shylock's pound of flesh. They know which band of brothers was doing what on St. Crispin's day, when Birnam Wood came to Dunisane, both of which houses Mercutio casts a plague on, who could put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes, when the winter of our discontent was made glorious summer, and what was rotten in the state of Denmark. They are touchstones of western culture.

dreamingspire said...

So those of us who were streamed into a science based stream are not well educated, then? Now I know what my problem is: the gummnt's run by well educated people who don't know how to manage anything, being superior people they don't heed the majority, and to them both scientifically trained and practical people are beyond the pale. But the prats know their Shakespeare, although unfortunately don't follow Boris in applying it.

Jonathan said...

Tom

On checking, I find that Martin Salter was born in 1954. So you have not refuted the central argument of this posting.

Phew!

Sam said...

Spire:

Education isn't something that is done to you, it's something that you do to yourself. I am completely at a loss to see what "being streamed into a science-based stream" has to do with having a passing familiarity with Shakespeare.

Of course, an educated person should also have a familiarity with the scientific method and understand what it means to say that energy and momentum are conserved.

dreamingspire said...

The educated people here used to have that familiarity, and across the Channel they still work very hard at it, but dumbing down has taken over here: "Don't confuse me with the facts" stuff, particularly if it means that the politicos can't have an instant solution.
Being streamed as I wrote indeed means that other things I had to do for myself, but being streamed into a non-science-based stream apparently means you didn't need to bother about factual things as you would become a policy maker who could order people lower down to get on with it. But we had lost the Empire and its delegated responsibility for implementation by 1970, which some people here don't seem to have grasped: mainland EU countries learned to deliver for their own population.

The Burbler said...

"But that's rather the point, isn't it? Most people haven't "studied" more than a few Shakespeare plays in the sense of having written essays on them at school, but anyone who claims to be at all educated should have at least a passing familiarity with the more well-known ones - whether from having seen them performed, read them, or because they are so much a part of western culture. "

Well I can't claim to be educated then because I had never heard of Mercutio. My parents will no doubt demand a £20,000 + interest refund from the public school I attended.