Friday, October 25, 2019

The public schools' weakness is now the character of its old boys

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Britain’s public schools began as charities set up for the education of the poor. In the 19th century they squirmed their way out of that obligation and set about educating the children of the rich instead.

But this is not just a story of privilege, for the squirming coincided with the rise of the British Empire and the public schools took on the task of producing the caste that would run it.

That caste had to be tough, self-sufficient and independent of any ties of home. Hence the classic public school regime of cold baths, corporal punishment and compulsory team games. It produced just the type of men requited, albeit at great psychological cost.

The quality this regime instilled was venerated as ‘character’. It was something that the caste possessed and the rest of us did not.

This regime persisted long after the Empire had dwindled. As a young teenager in the 1970s I felt vaguely sorry for the boys of my age I saw on the station in winter, off to Saturday morning lessons in short trousers.

I can recall an old Conservative MP saying that by the time you had been through prep school, public school and been shouted at by the Regimental Sergeant Major in the Guards, you had a pretty accurate idea of your importance in the scheme of things.

That is not true of privately educated young Tories today. They think they are entitled to all the good things the world has to offer, and nothing in their education has disabused them of this idea. They have enjoyed the finest of everything and known no hardship.

Take a look at the men this system now produces.

On the surface Jacob Rees-Mogg has the charming manners the products of public schools were once noted for. But if he is crossed to the slightest degree, then the rodent teeth appear.

While Boris Johnson is a walking compendium of character failings, beginning with compulsive lying and sexual infidelity.

Which suggests that the public schools’ greatest weakness is now the character of its former pupils.

2 comments:

knirirr said...

This recalls to mind a parody of Owen in one issue of our school magazine that concluded with the line "the old lie - it's character building".

nigel hunter said...

Whilst Brexit may have started off as 'bring back better public services etc and let us make decisions it got hyjacked by the likes of Mogg Johnson et al ,the posh boys of Bullington club class. Yes Brexit is now class war scenario. The millionaires versus the rest of us who want a low tax state with all the trimmings