Please indulge me this week as I go somewhat off-topic. And be assured that I will be back talking about dramatic writing in two weeks time! BUT the question of private education and the sort of leaders it’s producing is painfully relevant at the moment as we’re shamefully represented by the self-serving, mendacious cretin that is Boris Johnson.
Harking back to what I wrote about Boris Johnson and Richard Curtis in my newsletter of July 25th, I got a fascinating response from Kat Roberts –
‘With regards to your thoughts on Boris Johnson I was wondering if you have come across any of the more recent research into boarding school education and the neglectful aspects of being sent away from home at a young age?
(PS: Yes I have! See below)
The theory is that children are given this extraordinary privilege by being sent to public school but that their most basic need for love from their primary carer is entirely removed. The children, essentially traumatised by the loss, are continuously reminded that they are privileged and so learn to behave as if they are not traumatised to avoid being shamed and bullied. They learn not to have needs and not to feel emotion in order to survive the experience and, therefore, never develop the empathy that a normal child would.
This ‘survival personality’ stays with them all the way into adulthood. They are damaged, high functioning, often very successful individuals who are hiding in plain sight and need help.
There is an interesting book on this called ‘Wounded Leaders’ by Nick Duffell. Also, a couple of interesting documentaries, ‘Leaving Home at 8’ and ‘The Making of Them’ explain this very well.
(PS: Both available on youtube and very much worth watching if this is a subject close to your heart)
The narrative of the ‘entitled’ is not going anywhere anytime soon (and Boris certainly falls into this category) but I wonder, if we really want to transform education and the state of the nation, whether we need to look in more detail as to how these people end up the way they do? Are vulnerability, empathy, compassion perhaps dangerous emotions for these people to feel?
The example of Richard Curtis and Boris Johnson is really interesting. I wonder if maybe one has just managed to figure this out for themselves, which allows them to be a vulnerable and decent human being. A quote from an article I read recently:
Allsopp said her neighbour, the film director Richard Curtis, vetoed boarding despite having been a head boy at Harrow. “I asked him, ‘Why are you not sending your kids to board?’ ” She said Curtis replied that, even if he saw his children for only 10 minutes a day, it might turn out to be “the most important 10 minutes of their day”.
(PS: And I would add – ‘of his / my day’!)
The alternative is that parents are so alarmed by the fact of their child’s needs/ innocence that they ship them off to the same fate trying to sustain the narrative they have been trained to comply with. To admit that their child should be at home means to admit that they were denied their own needs by their parents. This would be a betrayal of the institution.
Sorry to go on – I am very interested in this topic and hope to write something about it so wanted to share my thoughts.’
Thank you so much Kat for that really excellent piece of writing. This is something that is of great interest to me – and I hope to some of you too, dear subscribers!
I think what Kat has written here is spot-on. And is particularly pertinent at a time when the UK and its people are in a hazardous and very uncertain position because of the actions of a very few, very privileged men – nearly all of whom went through what Kat describes above – and seem to lack proper, rounded personalities and normal empathy.
I myself (and I have actually become more and more ashamed to admit this) went to boarding school from the age of 7 to 17 and, while I have some positive memories of those times, ever since I’ve had my own (4) children (my eldest daughter is 30), the idea of packing them off to boarding school for 8 months of the year is horrendous and unthinkable. My family are by some distance the most important thing in my life. The idea of voluntarily sending them away from such a young age seems insane. I don’t think my own relationship with both my parents (both now dead) ever completely recovered from the distance this absence created at such a young age.
One of my strongest childhood memories is of the first car journey from home to boarding school – a half hour journey that I wished would never end – and looking at everything out of the window with a new perspective – my last minutes of freedom! To quote Evelyn Waugh from the wonderful DECLINE AND FALL –
‘…anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums, Paul learned, who find prison so soul destroying.’
Like Kat, I’ve read a few excellent books on the subject recently – in particular ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ by Alex Renton and ‘Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain’ by Robert Verkaik which I found quite stressful to read because it made me so angry. And the play POSH by Laura Wade is a brilliant examination of the territory.
And only yesterday this fascinating article was in the Guardian –
IMO the public school system in this country perpetuates so much that is wrong with our society. A tiny strata of the UK population are brainwashed from a very young, impressionable age into thinking that they are superior; and this self-belief is then accentuated by Oxbridge, the military and so many professions (law, medicine, politics, television – that’s a whole other newsletter – etc etc). The public school system widens the economic, social and racial divisions in a way that is deeply entrenched in UK society and will be incredibly hard to change – the education of entitlement.
I was actually at Harrow school at the same time as Richard Curtis. He is a little older than me and I didn’t know him – but I still remember the school production of ‘Erpingham Camp’ by Joe Orton that he directed, which was brilliant and hilarious – an eye-opener after the usual turgid Shakespeare school drama. I was also at school with the infamous Crispin Odey – of Odey Asset Management – one of the leeches who made vast profits betting on Brexit; and someone who sums up everything that is wrong with the class system in this country.
Thank you for indulging my rant and apologies for the lack of screenwriting content this week. I’d be very interested to hear back from anyone who feels strongly about this – whether in agreement or disagreement.
CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2020
Finally a reminder that entries for the 2020 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRIITNG COURSE close this coming Friday Sept 27th at 5pm. PLEASE TRY TO SUBMIT YOUR SCRIPT BEFORE FRIDAY. In the last two years the website has crashed under the sheer weight of traffic and caused a lot of unnecessary stress. Please try to avoid this by submitting your entry as early as possible. And if you have entered or are going to, THANK YOU! I am very excited (along with my crack team of 7 readers) to get started on reading your scripts.
The next newsletter will be on Friday October 4th,
All the best
Sept 20th 2019