When I was about sixteen I had a boyfriend who could play the William Tell Overture on his teeth. And then he went to prison.
Well boyfriend is perhaps a bit strong. I think the terminology at the time was ‘going with’ , which meant we used to loiter about together and snogged about twice. I seem to remember he circulated a rumour that I was a bad kisser, which has left me a bit paranoid in that department for life. (So dear reader, if you are lucky enough to have ever kissed me, this is your cue to leave gushing comments/take to social media/text me with your praise or condemnation of my snogging prowess or lack there-of).
This boyfriend/part-time-loiterer-with was something of a professional loiterer and indeed criminal, and I was very geeky, and, amusingly, the posh kid at school. Yes that’s right, me, who makes it my business to write scathing things about posh kids, was in fact the posh kid at school. We lived in the big house, my parents were doctors, I played the piano and we had the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Criminal boyfriend said a lot of other criminals nearby believed we had a very expensive motorbike in our garage too, but I was able to tell him that wasn’t the case, and he was able to tell his criminal mates, thus saving my family a burglary and making me feel pretty damn cool.
Alas, where is this going sally? I hear you cry. Well, one evening when loitering snog-rumour boy was round at my house we got chatting. Always tricky as we didn’t have much in common. I didn’t like hanging around with other kids my age at the park because I liked to say in drinking wine with my mum and watching programmes about people decorating their living rooms. But on this occasion he told me how there had been a fire in his flat, and they had all got out ok but he had gone back in to save his dog. I found this bravery absolutely staggering, but he was casual about it. Just like he was casual about joy-riding, and heroin, and playing the William Tell Overture on his teeth and lots of other things that blew my mind. And then he explained that his mum was sad because she had just done the shopping and it had all been burned so she borrowed the money from a friend and did the shopping again.
She borrowed the money from a friend and did the shopping again. And with that, something inside my little (relatively) posh, rich, encyclopaedia Britannica-reading, piano-playing head changed forever, because I honestly hadn’t understood that not everyone could just buy their shopping again if it got burned, some people had to borrow the money. And I can honestly say that conversation was the most important lesson of my entire education.
So this is my point. Because its been an awfully bad week for bullshit. First we had Ray McGovern telling us that sending children to boarding school at age seven makes them develop ‘true grit’ ( and might I add he declined to chat to yours truly on the radio and defend his hideous comments) and today we have Richard Walden suggesting that only private schools provide a moral education. I could have attacked these horrid, horrid arguments at length and in detail but instead I have chosen to give you a long-winded account of a teen romance in a bid to show that what is so inherently wrong and more than a little vile about them is this: there is no real morality and no opportunity for genuine social good where rich children are educated separately from poor ones.If children cannot make friends with those who have much less than them they will not crave justice, they will have neither passion nor empathy no matter how many extra curricular activities they do. If girls who read the Encyclopaedia Britannica don’t snog boys who steal cars, and moreover if men who went to public school don’t marry girls who snogged boys who steal cars, then I would argue no-one is getting a broad education, and we are not going to be a people who can look out for each other, which is surely what a ‘moral education’ should be about.