My son and I are currently reading together ‘The Midnight gang’ by David Walliams. I found the book in Tesco the other day for £5 only and since at the moment he is loving ‘The World’s worst children’ by the same author and I can see how this encourages him to read on his own if he wants to continue the story when I leave his bedroom at night, I had no hesitation to add it in my shopping basket even if at first I had had no intention to buy him a new book that day. The strawberries and bread I had purchased that day would make him stronger and taller but there is nothing like a good book to feed a soul!
On Chapter two the main character of the story Tom sadly explains how “His parents were never here; they were always there. For some years now, they had packed their only child off to a posh boarding school deep in the English countryside […]. Tom would only see them on school holidays, but even though he had travelled alone for hours to see them, his father would often still have to work all day and his mother would leave him with a nanny while she went shopping. The boy would be lavished with presents upon arrival. […] But with nobody to play with, Tom would get bored quickly. All he really wanted was to spend time with Mum and Dad, but time was the one thing they never ever gave him”
In the previous book we were reading Walliams talked about another boarding school called Modesty Place (precisely in Petula Perpetual-Motion short story), where the headmistress of said school was described as ‘curt to anyone she considered below her (an old cleaner)’ or as someone ‘who only liked the sound of her voice’. At some point we read coming out of her month those shameless words: “I know most of your mamas and papas are filthy rich since they send you to Modesty Place, which I am proud to say is the most expensive school in the country!”
I am so glad I bumped into an author for children who has such little esteem for this type of schools, sadly still considered nowadays by some in the higher circles as the highest level of education of all. When we were reading it I tried to explain to my son how sometimes having too much money can be a big problem too, when you are so preoccupied to maintain your status quo rather than enjoying moments with one another.
As Walliams says through the words of his character Tom, all a child wants is to spend time with their parents. Their deepest self esteem actually blooms directly from how many moments the closest adults in their lives have to spend with them. If a parent is not so preoccupied by work, by his mobile phone, by other compulsive behaviors or addictions, the child learns that (s)he is worth the time of his/her parents as this is the only gift you can give to someone that is out of your own ‘pocket’ and cannot return, hence priceless.
If the police were to discover a child that was well fed, washed, dressed, in a comfortable house full of toys, books and telly, a cleaner, a private teacher and a cooker but there was no one for hours during the day to actually look after them emotionally, speak to them, play with them, would this situation not fall under child abuse as serious neglect?
Nothing different is happening when you send a tiny, precious fragile 5 years young little soul to spend weeks on their own with other kids (who can turn really nasty and ganging together if left so long under the same roof – I can see the struggle just between my 2 kids leaving in the same household!) and adults they don’t relate to from an affection point of you.
The emotional damages of such an environment in which the child is left for weeks of many years of their childhood (and teenage years) are devastating. In fact soon after Brexit, there was a very interesting article appearing on The guardian which explained how years of posh boarding schools gave Britain a political class unable to have emotional intelligence and connection and how Boris Johnson and David Cameron simply used the referendum to play their own fight over power as if they were bullies of 2 gangs on the playground. And this happened after years of isolation from their parents as they learned to defend themselves from older kids in the school and pretending they were not hurt or they had no feelings (read more here).
For those who are in favor of this type of education, if you google ‘boarding schools’ you find sentences like:
“Boarding schools in UK boast a long tradition of excellence in education.” or
“A major advantage of the boarding school experience is the fact that the learning never stops. Your child is immersed in an educational environment, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and even when they’re outside the classroom, they’re still learning important life skills that they wouldn’t learn through sitting at home in the evenings and at weekends. Most boarding schools are very strict about homework, so you can be confident that your child is getting it done in a distraction-free environment – often in designated time slots, so your child has no choice but to do it.”
I could not disagree more. A child learns most by imitation from his parents (the people he loves most – despite they may meet great teachers in their school life) and the background he is living in. Life is not all about notions and high grades, if we have no emotional intelligence to relate to one another, to connect with our feelings and help ourselves healing from hurt, if we have no ability to live together in peace with people from all over the world. That is why the only boarding school that will keep my sympathy through the years is Hogwarts, as long as it is limited to the fantastic world of a book.