White middle-class cheater, moi?!

Here, a private-school mother accuses middle-class parents who use state schools of taking the high moral ground while making damned sure that Their kids won’t end up as “cleaners or lorry-drivers” – which is all, after all, that private school parents (henceforth PSPs) like her want to ensure. She should be congratulated, perhaps, on lashing out in public, in The Guardian no less, at what probably bothers most PSPs most, at least the thinking ones, the ones with some kind of social conscience (not the Russian oligarchs of course): that non-PSPs, that is (middle-class) state school parents, will persist in claiming the moral high ground. When really, we are doing f***-all for equality, or social mobility, since Our (middle-class) children will succeed anyway. Whatever school we sent them to. So (she doesn’t say, but I’m extrapolating) the really socially committed thing to do would be to become a PSP, like she is. Pay a private institution. Given that we can. Either that, or encourage our (middle-class) children to opt out of university and be cleaners and lorry drivers instead. I think.

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that most so-called middle-class people couldn’t even afford today’s private school fees, what these PSPs are really doing is assuaging their twinges of guilt. Not all suffer them of course (viz. Russian oligarchs again) but enough do to make this point of view not hard to unearth.

But there’s an angle to this account which I think other commentators have missed. This PSP, Claire Hynes, is black; so is her child, presumably. I know nothing about her cultural background; she may well have been born and raised in this country. But either way, there are many PSPs for whom succumbing to the British or any state school system would be the height of personal indignity. The quality, Ofsted reports, even the actual school intake are all beside the point. Decent families simply do not do it.

Plus, you only have to read a book like I am Malala to understand the essential role that small private schools play in remote parts of remote countries. Without them many more children would not reach school at all.

It may be different here, but I am fairly sure that for many first or even second generation immigrants from around the world the British private/state education divide is easily transferable from back home, partly because of the old colonial inheritance. Of course you pay for your children’s education if you possibly can, just like any British gentleman. The difference in quality is more than worth it.

And black parents have other considerations too. Labour politician Diane Abbott famously defended her decision to send her son to a private London day school with the argument “Hackney schools are letting down black boys.” A statement, incidentally, manifestly disproven by the many Ofsted-outstanding Hackney state schools’ results; no thanks to Abbott, the sitting MP. The argument that black children need to grasp all the privileges coming their way with both hands in order to stand any chance of a decent future is I expect common currency in black middle-class families; perhaps that’s why they continue to re-elect her there. A social conscience, they might well argue, is a luxury only whites can afford.

All of which overlooks one thing, however, highlighted by the initiator of this Mumsnet thread. Education is not just about what you learn and who you network with along the way. It’s also about who you learn to think you are.

Not a subject area, probably, which troubles much the offspring of the thoroughly established PSPs. But finding yourself, from a very early age, one of very few non-whites, in a place which takes wealth and whiteness pretty much for granted, I don’t think would help the rest of our kids with it greatly.

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About marytuda

An accidental first time mum in her fifties reflects on all things maternal from position of perpetual outsider and prolonged state of shock. An urban odessy through parenthood plus from one who thought she'd never go there.
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2 Responses to White middle-class cheater, moi?!

  1. I think that many potential PSPs don’t go down the PS route because they live in expensive areas where the state schools are highly selective and, as a result, are able to produce good results. It is a system that replicates itself – expensive area equals good schools equals good connections equals success in later life.

    • marytuda says:

      Yes, but it depends on where you live! Here in our part of inner London for example the state/private segregation operates almost perfectly along class and ethnic lines, with private schools almost 100% white, and state schools almost 100% non-white and social-housing based. With a few oddball exceptions, like our family, which is mixed both ethnically and socially. The problem is partly to do with the cost of local private housing; any incoming private house-buyers need to be pretty wealthy for a start. Most don’t even bother looking at the (many excellent) local state schools.

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