It started while I was reading a particularly nasty chapter on beatings and bullying in public school and came across this: Think of that little British microcosm, with nothing ahead but violent games and teasing and the howling of the school dog, and no girls save the Chaplain’s daughter. Think of the privations, think of the cabbage, think of what it felt like to have your head kicked in as you lay face down in the mud of some far-flung playing field at four o’clock as darkness fell and the sleet intensified, And what did it feel like, my friends? It felt absolutely marvellous, of course. Totally top-hole. It made me what I am.
I assumed this was going to be have been penned by some birch-mad, spanking obsessed nineteenth-century muscular Christian, and checked the references to find out who exactly had been Made Who He Was by being kicked in the head. And much to my surprise the quote was actually from the year 2000, in this remarkable article.
Remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly, in that from my cosy, sheltered left-wing cocoon I have hitherto been largely unfamiliar with the great un-mined seam of vileness that is The Telegraph, and was hence unaware that Boris Johnson had a column. Moreover, while what he spews is detestable, he does spew it rather beautifully. But this piece in particular is astounding in its ticking all the boxes to an almost cartoon degree. Nastiness about the French? check. Suggestion that it is state education’s own fault that its pupils do not do as well as public school boys? check. Nastiness about people with special needs? check. Mesmerising insensitivity about wealth (galley slaves? really?)check. Saying there is ‘no choice’ but for rich people to privately educate their children? check.
I was hooked. I had to read more of what dear Boris had to say. I was then to be informed that “we should be humbly thankful to the super-rich, not bashing them“. whoops, that’s me told then, I have clearly been barking right up the wrong tree. But there was one idea which stood out for me more than any other in the Johnson oeuvre, and that is this illuminating statement:
Lurking in the childhood of anyone ambitious there is always the memory of some humiliation that sets them on the path of self-improvement. Show me a billionaire, and I will show you someone who was beaten up for his lunch money. (full article here)
In this piece Johnson argues that it is humiliation which helped him learn to read and write, and that nowadays there is too much ‘time wasting’ on worrying about children’s ’emotional well-being’. I could sit here and go through these horrible articles line by line and argue with what they suggest about children, about learning, about wealth and about social justice but I’m not sure if I can bear it. What I will say is this, if you wonder why I have such a bee in my bonnet about public schools, just remember, it is this violence, humiliation and hierarchy that made Boris Johnson Boris Johnson, and that speaks volumes.