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Recently I have been talking to several teens in England about the school system there. I have also talked to teens from England in person over the years as I have been traveling, and I have been keeping in touch with several English teens over the past few years who have given me much insight into the school system there.
I feel very troubled by what they have been telling me. This week I have had four teens tell me that girls as young as 13 year old are being taught to shoot guns as part of something called the CCF, or Combined Cadet Force, which seems to be a government funded program. I was also told that military officers came to a private, non-military school and the school required the students to stand outside for 45 minutes like soldiers and take commands from the military officer, being ordered to stand attention, turn, at ease, etc. While at attention they were told to look straight ahead at one point on a building and not move. Two students fainted during this. I was told this was done so the school could get money from the government.
I have also long been troubled by the system of expensive private schools in England, with their "prefect" system, or what I call student police. And I am troubled by the amount of violence between schools that I have heard about as well as the intentional hurtful behavior among students within the same school, even among the girls. I am also concerned about the levels of self-harm, the drinking, the drug use, and the parties where sex among drunk teens seems to be the norm. I have heard many times, for example, that teens in England have lost their virginity with near strangers while drunk at parties. At first I found this hard to believe. I thought surely it must be the exception and not the norm. Yet each time when I have asked someone from England about this, they have confirmed it is very common and probably even the "normal" way a teen in England loses his or her virginity.
More specifically, I am concerned about the way England is failing to develop the innate emotional intelligence among its young people, and in fact, most probably corrupting it and turning many teens into examples of what I call the "Dark Side" of emotional intelligence.
In England, but of course not only there, there seems to be what I would call emotionally unhealthy levels of emphasis on things such as grades, exam score, sports and appearances. And two intelligent, sensitive teenagers recently told me they felt "terrified" about the prospects of going back to school after a recent school break.
So I am starting this special section on education in England.
Here is what I have so far. Please write me with your own stories and experiences, and write also if you would like to help bring about some positive changes, or if you know of some especially good examples of schooling there.
|You'll never amount to anything in
A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend of mine from England. She is here in Peru teaching English. I showed her the story I call "You're just being stupid." She said, "Yep, that's how a lot of parents are in England." Then she told me she had gone to a boarding school there. She told me they are "horrible places." She said they are all about looks and sport and money. She said everyone is competitive and back-stabbing. She said she hated it there. She said it nearly destroyed her self-esteem.
Yet on the last day there she was trying to be polite and said to the headmaster, "Thank you for my education here".
He replied, "I don't know what you're thanking me for -- you'll never amount to anything in your life."
|Could you stop looking in the door?
When I was traveling in Peru I met a former headteacher named Isabe from a school in England. She then later got a job as a headmistress in an international school in another country. She invited me into her house. As we walked towards it several children started following us to see who I was. Kids often get excited to see a "gringo." I always smile at them and talk to them a little. Most of them can count to ten at least and they are usually very proud to do it for me. That day I didn't stop to talk to them though since I was following Isabel. The kids followed us right to the front door of her house. We went in and she left the door open. They stood there looking in, with excited, curious looks on their little faces. Then she snapped at them "Could you stop looking in the door?" I immediately thought, "This is a person who had authority over the lives and feelings of hundreds, if not thousands of kids?"
If I would have had my way, I would have invited the kids in. And I would have talked to them and cheered them up a little. Their lives are sad enough as it is here. It is pretty much a sure thing that they have each been hit at home. That's still the norm here.
But Isabel was more interested in talking business. She is building a very expensive hotel and is preoccupied with costs, contracts, schedules etc. To me it is very sad that someone who was in the education system for so long has so little interest in children or their feelings.
After she frightened them away, I said, "Kids here seem to love talking to us gringos." She replied, "That's because you show them attention." She said this almost as if she thought this was a bad thing. I wondered how she could spend so much time with young people and not realize that they all need more personal attention than they get. And I thought how sad it was that she obviously didn't even enjoy children. Now it occurs to me that she probably kept teaching because she was going to get a pension, which she did, and she is now using to construct the hotel. Not a school for poor children, by the way, or an orphanage, but an expensive hotel for rich travellers who would prefer to spend their money on their own comfort instead of on helping the poor children of Peru.
Something else I remember... during our conversation she told me that the laws in England about school attendance had gotten much stricter and this was a "big improvement." She said when she first started teaching the laws weren't strict and weren't enforced. But now they are fining parents much more harshly if their son or daughter doesn't show up. This is the same thing that is happening in the USA, by the way. Here is one example of students being threatened with jail for not attending school. http://eqi.org/wbhs.htm
But this is not what I would call an improvement. I would say an improvement would be if there were more young people voluntarily choosing to go to places to learn and did not have to be threatened, or have their parents threatened, to get them there and keep them virtually locked up inside till some arbitrary hour not related to the individual student's feelings.
I would say an improvement would be schools which were more like libraries, where young people could come and go and learn about what they were interested in.
I would say an improvement would be young people having more of a love of learning and less of a fear of either A) being punished for not showing up in school buildings and following the rules, or B) not getting a job and being a failure in life if they don't stay in school like the masses do.
I would also say an improvement would be if more young people were encouraged to travel, to spend a year in another culture, and if this were part of the mandatory education process, if education is going to be mandatory at all.
|The "prefect" system
As I understand it, prefects are students who are chosen to be something like student leaders. But more than just leading, they also have power to punish other students, or at least report them to a higher authority who can do so. They also had this system in Australia. I was in a primary school once, South Bathhurst Primary, in Bathhurst, New South Wales, when I saw the next year's prefects being announced. The room was tense with anticipation. There were tears of joy and sadness when the prefect "winners" were announced. This was obviously a much desired symbol of status, power and prestige in the school. My friend, who was a parent there, told me that the students can vote on the "finalists" of who will be prefect, but the school authorities have the final say. She told me that once the student with the most votes was a bit rebellious so the school chose someone else.
My friend's daughter ended up being selected as one of the prefects. She was 10 or 11 at the time. She is the one I wrote the story about called "The Washing Up." At that time she was still very defiant. But just a year and a half later when she read what I had written, she told me "I didn't say that." She had been so brainwashed to believe that her mother was a good mother, that she literally had blocked the experience out of her mind. There were other signs that her inner nature was being destroyed by her mother and the private school that she went to two years later. I remember one morning she ran back to the house for something. She was nearly frantic. She was afraid she would miss her ride to school. I asked what she was so upset about and she said if "I don't have such and such I will lose points for organization." So as there is a grade in "conduct" in the Peruvian school system there are grades or points for "organization" in at least this one private school in Bathhurst. And I assume this is not the only school in the world with something like this.
Here is something I wrote about a former "prefect" from Australia. I assume her story would be very similar to that of a prefect in England.
And here is a picture of a very young boy in Peru wearing something which I forget the name of, but it is obviously something which comes from the military. He is called a "brigadier" a military term. I believe "brigadiers" are very similar to "prefects" in England.
|Two more school experiences
A friend in England said she told one of the
authorities at her school that she hated school. The
authority said, "Why?" (which is unusual)
A hurtful teacher - 3/14/2004
|Recovery from Boarding Schools
A book which may be of interest to anyone interested in "the nature and culture of English, their education system, their attitude to children, and the psychological and social effects of sending their privileged sons and daughters away to boarding school." From my look at the site the book exposes and explains the damage done to children and teens in the British boarding school system. I would say it probably also says a lot about the public schools, too, which often compete with the boarding schools to produce the "highest achievers".
-- Petruska Clarkson BMJ, Vol. 322, 31/3/01, reviewing Duffell, N. (2000) The Making of Them: The British Attitude to Children and the Boarding School System
Later I will add these:
Notes from my chats with Jen
Duke of Edinburg?