The hypocrisy of rich liberals over private schools
Published in: Daily Mail
Sometimes, a spotlight shone harshly into one private life can starkly illuminate a calamity for an entire society.
It was reported yesterday that Sir Jonathan Miller, the theatre and opera director, playwright, neurologist, polymath and icon of the Leftist intelligentsia, is helping pay for at least some of his grandchildren to attend independent schools.
This is all the more notable since Sir Jonathan’s profound aversion to private education is well known. In accordance with his principles, in the Seventies he sent his own children to Pimlico comprehensive school in Central London.
Some years ago, however, his son William revealed his fury at having been forced to endure an education that he said had blighted the lives of himself and his siblings, all to conform to their parents’ political beliefs.
In a newspaper interview he revealed the bullying and poor education that he had endured at Pimlico school, calling the experience a ‘wholly avoidable disaster’ arising from a ‘mistaken ideology’.
Eventually, Sir Jonathan and his wife relented and sent William to the fee-paying Bedales school in Hampshire.
Now William says that he and his wife have decided to educate their primary school-age children privately to ensure that they, too, do not become — as he has characterised himself and his siblings — the ‘victims of the most cavalier of social experiments’. And his father is helping foot the bill.
Of course, it is not just the Millers but hundreds of thousands of other children who, for several decades now, have been forced to pay a devastating price for this ‘cavalier’ experiment.
They were the victims of their parents’ ideological fixation with abolishing privilege — a fixation expressed by refusing to give their children the educational advantages that all too often they themselves had enjoyed.
Sir Jonathan, for example, was educated at St Paul’s, one of Britain’s top public schools. Like a number of other ex-public school pupils, however, he turned venomously against the education system that had provided such advantages.
Whether as the result of personal guilt or socialist ideology, such people decided that selective schools discriminated against both poor and less academically-able children.
So through an utterly misplaced idealism, they resolved that if everyone could not benefit from such schools, then no one should.
Accordingly, the principle of equality of opportunity that lay behind selective education — including that provided in the state system by the grammar schools — was replaced by the doctrine of equality of outcomes.
The result was a disastrous confluence of comprehensive schooling with child-centred educational theories, which in the interests of eradicating both ‘illegitimate’ adult authority over children and equally ‘illegitimate’ differences in achievement, simply undid the very concept of education altogether.
The result was countless numbers of children abandoned to ignorance and under-achievement, with middle-class ones such as William Miller bullied at their comprehensives — and with those at the very bottom of the social heap, who depended most of all upon school, left locked into disadvantage.
This was because the aim of this experiment had nothing to do with education and instead everything to do with social engineering — to create a society without privilege. But this aim was always unattainable.
The result was that education was now geared to the lowest common denominator, producing a catastrophic decline in standards from top to bottom of the system.
The damage done by this experiment has been incalculable. The further irony is that it actually increased the numbers going to independent schools.
To avoid the poor standards of education and discipline at so many comprehensives, more and more desperate parents proceeded to impoverish themselves to educate their children privately — just to give them the kind of education they once would have received at the grammar schools.
Yet even now, Sir Jonathan Miller appears to have not an iota of insight into the disaster to which he subscribed. Indeed, his hatred of independent schools remains as strong as ever — even while he pays towards his grandchildren’s education.
Obviously, he is reported to have said, he wanted to secure his grandchildren’s safety and future. Nevertheless, he felt ashamed of doing so, and of belonging to a society which created a ‘profound and malignant separation of the prosperous from the poor’.
And he went on to rail at the ‘protective educational devices’ of independent schooling provided by ‘prosperity and big money’ which guaranteed that such pupils would ‘become like their parents’.
It is obvious to Sir Jonathan that he should look after his grandchildren’s interests by helping fund their private education. How extraordinary that he thinks this is, nevertheless, ‘malign’ and ‘invidious’.
This seems to be because he thinks that parents’ motivation for educating their children privately is to turn them into clones of themselves.
But this is not what drives such parents at all. They merely want their children to have a good education so that they can make the best of themselves in life. Isn’t that what the vast majority of parents want?
So why does Sir Jonathan assume independent school parents have less noble objectives? It must be because he believes that the better-off are wholly driven by self-interest, whereas the poor are not.
This is as absurd as it is offensive. It’s also more than a bit rich coming from Sir Jonathan who is himself . . . well, rich.
So does he think, therefore, that he himself is motivated only by self-interest? Plainly not, when he was prepared to sacrifice the interests of his own children supposedly to further those of the poor. So why does he damn independent school parents as an apparently obnoxious breed apart?
One thing he does say, which is correct, is that the gulf in education between rich and poor is even wider now than it was when he chose comprehensive schools for his children.
But what he utterly fails to acknowledge is that the cause of this widening gap is the very doctrine of educational equality that he supported. That doctrine was swung like a wrecking ball at the very foundation of British society.
It is no coincidence that, back in the Sixties, Sir Jonathan Miller was also a founding member of the seminal Beyond The Fringe satirical troupe, whose anti-establishment views started to unravel the skein of Britain’s entire moral framework.
But then, those from the Left can never admit they can be wrong — because they assume that they embody virtue itself.
Accordingly, they demonise and sneer at all who dare disagree. Pinning their faith on utopian fantasies, they tend to regard theoretical ideas as having more substance than what’s going on under their noses.
Sir Jonathan has previously expressed disappointment that his children seemed indifferent to his work. None of them, he complained, identified with or took pleasure from the world in which ideas and the life of the mind took priority.
But the life of the mind surely should not take priority over life in the actual world. To allow it to do so is to lose sight of reality altogether — which is surely the whole problem with the Left-wing intelligentsia.
In the past, Sir Jonathan has also expressed deep regret, and even shame, that he chose the theatre over being a neurologist, which he said he felt he was ‘meant to do’.
Sometimes, parents unwittingly force their children to pay a price for the parents’ own resentments. How sad if Sir Jonathan’s difficulties played a part in creating such bitterness and disappointment in his family.
But how sad also for Britain that such a brilliant mind became so twisted by socially destructive dogma, when it could have been used to contribute immeasurably to helping the most vulnerable instead of knocking the ground from under their feet.