You've put your finger on an interesting evolutionary pattern there, David. Perhaps we could engage in some plucky demystification of stereotypes and prejudices past and present along the lines of 'Surviving is not thriving'. Discuss in less than 200 words....
I don't claim to have an eagle's eye view – more of a weevil's eye view actually. Age 11, my own choice of school, roundly ignored by my parents, was for Dulwich College, a short bus-ride away from us in South London. At the very least, I suspect my rugby would've been better.
As a kid, I was clueless about what to expect from boarding school in reality. A bit like Withnail in the film, despondently disclaiming 'I've come on holiday – by mistake', before you could say 'surely this is against the law', I found myself being whisked off to and intimidated by the frowning arches of the Quadrangle, the musty grandeur of what seemed like a vast and asthmatically wheezing cobweb castle in the countryside. London and Horsham were two very different planets.
Particularly uninspiring, conformity to the mould was still a priority at that time and enforced with a pretty heavy hand ( see the thread 'Beyond Good and Evil?' ), actually more consistent with the doughty culture of knowing self-sacrifice and 'character building' associated with previous generations than the languid cool dudes of the '70s. After all, you don't build character by diminishing it – but it is a very good way of alienating people. In my experience, a slap-happy method to teach non-aggression will always end up rather defeating the aim, n'est ce pas?
Is that why I found the CH landscape unsympathetic, eerie even? Not exclusively, nor due to the living conditions - probably in line with other boarding schools of the day - more the general sense of feeling roped in as ballast, manacled to this huge creaking galleon kept afloat by a scarecrow crew of arcane, rough practicioners, just about all male.
There were times I could have been a pork pie at a Jewish wedding.
And I didn't get to go home at teatime.
You could shrug and conclude that school is just a means to an end anyway so no big deal. That's partly true - I don't have any naïve argument with the reality that we all need some kind of intro to the not-so-subtle blackmail of patronage on which our communities are still regrettably based. But schooldays also tend to leave an indelible mark which is presumably why we still find ourselves occasionally mulling it over many years after the fact. Not least, because CH, with a hatful of history and a carefully selected clientele, regards itself as a wee bit special.
I experienced a pretty masonic heirarchy though I sort of appreciate that a public school Headmaster's lot can doubtless be a poisoned chalice:
Wanted – apprentice flatulent bigwig, main duty to flank governors carrying spiced orange ( supplied ) in outstretched palm thus keeping the stench of the vulgar concourse at bay.
Vacancy - vile totem of denial, responsible for terrorising large groups of fanciful youth.
Applications welcome - icon of worshipful stoogery, to follow in our footsteps ( you know what we mean ).
Headmasters also have the power to make or break a school. On the whole Newsome, despite displaying certain archetypally fungal, dyspeptic qualities, came across as an unwordly Christian theologian contentedly lost in his ivory tower and arguably driven more by his rather retro take on vocation than seduced by the soft drug of office.
He could have been a lot more proactive.
How many on Newsome's staff embodied a genuine sense of equanimity, of a sporting chance being offered to a wide diversity of view? Why did this unsinkable classic of a school, capsized by the weight of its own overbarnacled hull, feel like it was at any moment heading for the ocean floor,? Why were we always being beaten at rugby by Dulwich College ( who else...)?
CH become an evolutionary cul-de-sac, at odds with my own premonitions of a glittering future - on the Deps I ended up crossing that Rubycon by myself which in any event turned out to be an illuminating experience. Education never really stops, regardless.
So when you mention 'support' Dave, I guess you mean that current pupils now enjoy less violation from the smouldering savagery of certain staff members – a long and dishonourable public schol tradition. A more articulate and initiative-rich, family-style hothousing maybe? Which sounds like a good idea. After all when you're young you can never have too many toys. And at any age, too much well-being is, let's be honest, never enough.
Trouble is, in our adolescence, part of that well-being also involves unearthing intimidating influences to bounce off of and I imagine a whole new generation is quietly doing just that even as we speak.
Because the enemy is only ever one – and that is narrow-mindedness.
Oops, it appears my own small pirate craft has cheerfully breezed past the self-imposed word limit in search of buried treasure again. Openseawards.
In the words of the butterfly, there is nothing more stable than change.