Friday 25 January 2008

Alan Bennett: Chippy little fascist

I read that the writer Alan Bennett has called on the government to ban independent schools. Speaking to Radio 4's Today programme, he explained that his opposition to such institutions began in 1951, when, at the age of seventeen, he attended an entrance exam at Cambridge:
It was the first time I ever came across boys from public school. They were so confident. We were timid grammar school boys but they were very much at ease.

They hogged the bread and slurped the soup - things were very much still rationed in those days.

They were just louts, but I also realised that they had been better taught than I had. I thought that was unfair when I was 17, and that view has never changed.
So, to sum up, Oiky Bennett had a chip on his shoulder as an unpolished teenager, and the passage of more than half a century has failed to remove it. I suppose that this might be mildly interesting to a psychologist, but it's not exactly a very sound or rational basis for policymaking.

The prime motivating force behind Bennett's opposition to public schools, and, I suspect, behind the opposition of a great many people to public schools, or grammar schools, or faith schools, or private healthcare for that matter, is envy, plain and simple. It is pure tall poppy syndrome, the desire to cut down anyone who is any way "privileged", not because their "privilege" actually does any tangible harm to anyone else, but simply because they are "privileged".
It is true that many state schools offer an education that is markedly poorer than that available at most public schools (although there are also many good comprehensives, and many appallingly bad minor public schools). But the weakness of many state schools is not caused by the existence of public schools, and closing down public schools will not actually improve the education of one state-educated child.

Rather, Alan Bennett, and other antiquated class warriors, would, if allowed to put their ridiculous ideas into practice, do considerable harm to the education of millions of children. Indeed, it appears that harming the education of the 615,000 children who are currently privately-educated is the primary, if not the sole, purpose behind attacks on fee-paying schools. After all, Alan Bennett wants to force those 615,000 children to move from public schools, which he believes offer a superior education, to state schools, which he says offer an inferior one. If this is not indicative of a desire to harm their education, then I don't know what is!
But if public schools really were abolished, then that would also harm the education of children who are already being educated in state schools. The cost and logistics of transferring an extra 615,000 children into the state sector would be enormous, and would strain the resources of many state schools, which are often already overstretched, beyond breaking point. How would this improve the education of any child?

The way to improve overall standards of education is not to attack those schools which are actually functioning well. That may perhaps be the path to ensuring that everyone has an equal education, but it would only be an equally bad one. If we want to ensure that as many children as possible have a good education - even if the exact quality varies from school to school - then the answer is to improve the state education system. Reintroducing grammar schools (which, lest we forget, were sufficiently effective that they allowed a working class boy like Alan Bennett to get into Cambridge, possibly in place of the bread-hogging toffs who left such a lasting impression upon him) would be a good start.

Of course, the other point that stands to be made is that, as the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council pointed out, it would be a gross infringement of parents' rights for the government to begin dictating precisely how and where they should educate their children. That Bennett seems prepared to totally disregard this is simply another indicator of the almost fascistic authoritarianism of many socialists, who, it seems, regard children as the property of the state, to be dealt with solely as the state wishes. I suppose that we should at least be grateful to him for demonstrating this, and also the extent to which socialism is so often little more than rationalised resentment.


bernard said...

Talking of which, FR, read the following article from a very practical lady; my sister:;jsessionid=KKT3R3RB4UBN5QFIQMGCFFWAVCBQUIV0?xml=/opinion/2008/01/03/do0303.xml

Homophobic Horse said...

As a former unruly pupil with a conviction for GBH I can tell you that the best solution for the unruly is to rescind compulsory education. It's easier on everyone.