I spent Sunday with someone I have known all my life; a mother from a very similar background to myself, now living in a prosperous provincial town, not too far from London, but not too near either. Her son is four years older than mine; the boys’ spats can just about, so far, be put down to the age discrepancy; mine too young to be properly socialised, hers not yet old enough to make concessions to a much younger child. To be honest, I can’t see these two ever being best buddies, but never mind, this excuse will do for now.
By coincidence, a boy from my child’s last year’s reception class is now in Y1 at the infants’ her son has just left; the family moved over the summer from my neighbourhood to hers. This, to put it bluntly, halved the number of white-middle-class (WMC) boys in my son’s class, from two, to one (while making no impression at all on the percentage in her son’s school, already at 99.9%). I mentioned this, fairly light-heartedly, just to highlight the difference between the two schools. Her reaction? “Oh, that poor little boy left behind, what will he do for friends now?”
I did a mental double-take. Silly me, I thought, for raising the issue at all, when this is the kind of response I should know better by now than to provoke.
But, since the issue obviously needs sober addressing: the solitary WMC boy left in my son’s class has indeed, on the face of it, just lost his best friend; the child of the only mum his mum regularly socialised with, as far as I noted. The mum has told me they have since been to visit the family in their new home at least once. But in the meantime, he is getting on with making new friends. Contrary to what my friend assumed, he has all the other children in the class to choose from, including, of course, my own son. He’s a bright and confident lad, this “abandoned” white child, so I have no doubts about his general popularity.
But I won’t deny what she was thinking, that in the absence of any other WMC boys, a simple MC boy like mine may seem the next best bet to him – only my boy already has his best friend, whom I would hate to see abandoned in favour of (I admit it) a trendy white kid. I would argue though that as all the class’s children mature they are likely to experiment increasingly beyond superficial differences (skin colour, accent, who my mum is friendly with) to find links to other children, of, dare I suggest it, similar temperament and interests, regardless of other social factors? That my own kid has already done so is to me a tentative source of pride.
Or will the reverse take place, and children increasingly hunker down “with my own kind”? Anecdotal evidence suggests that most children attending socially-mixed schools do end up mostly making close friends within their social class. Mostly, but not exclusively, and to me that’s the telling point. Even non-“best” friends are still pretty good friends once a small classroom has been shared with the same group more or less harmoniously for seven consecutive years. My own son speaks with affection of them all, naming and discussing them regularly from the class photo with pride of place in his bedroom. I love them all too, from having volunteered many hours in the classroom. And that tiny step is a huge improvement on the kind of unbreachable apartheid so many parents like my old friend seem to take for granted.