Flip Side: Boarding School

first_imgLeah Hyslop recounts the evils of boarding school Flicking through an Enid Blyton, one might be forgiven for thinking that boarding school is an enticing prospect. Boarding stories from Malory Towers to Harry Potter have offered children a fantasy of refuge from the family home. Like most fantasies however, this image of boarding schools is intrinsically flawed. The boarding school fails to provide a sense of the realities of everyday life. Sent away at a vulnerable age to a place in which everything – from food, to cleaning arrangements, to after school activities – is largely provided for them, the boarding school is an enclosed environment where students have little independence. Encouraged to follow a set of pre-established rules, the students of Britain’s 700 boarding schools today live in a rigid social environment which the more flexible external world they will one day live in can never provide. Distasteful as the fact is, the majority of boarding school students will be drawn from the same upper middle class sphere, and the average student’s opportunities to meet new people and forge new friendships are sharply neutralized by the fact the boarding school student spends his time socializing with the same people he has been taught with for six years. Conducive to isolation and exclusivity, boarding schools are liable to breed a sense of superiority in their students. That a boarding school can offer the same nurture and guidance to a child as the familial home is a myth. The interaction between child and parent is one of the formative experiences of growing up, and whilst boarding schools can, and these days often do, provide emotional guidance, such relationships never provide the same level of intimacy as the parental bond. Moving as they do between school and home, boarding school’s student’s relationship with his parents is a part-time affair and family stability is difficult to achieve. Though teachers can help with homesick students, the teacher’s role as both distant authoritarian and out-of-school support system is too ambiguously defined for young children to be comfortable with. Happy as they might be to be part of a community, it is this same sense of community which can often smother a student’s sense of individual worth. This can have the unfortunate results that their products feel less a person than part of an institution. Katie Duval goes jolly hockey sticks for leaving home earlyPerhaps for you ‘boarding school’ inspires the image of eccentric young Englishmen with wing collars eating scones for tea, living in an exclusive world of rugby matches and subjected to all that is “good for the soul” – iron bedsteads, wooden floors and cold showers. If we were still living in the 1850s this description might well be accurate. But I’m not here to defend the boarding schools of our  national history. In fact, quite the opposite. As is the case with so many of our historical institutions, the old has become obsolete. It is time to throw out anachronistic sterotypes and embrace the present.Let’s keep it modern then. True to Blairite doctrine, boarding school places emphasis on ‘independence independence independence’. Living away from home forces you to care for yourself, managing your own affairs while learning how to cook, clean and sort your own laundry. This is perhaps not an immediately appealing idea in view of the more lazy comforts of home life and the attractions of motherly pampering, but surely one steeped in valuable lessons for the future. University is much less of a culture shock when you already know how to use the washing machine. Furthermore, thrown together with all ages, students cannot fail to reap the benefits of friendships with older boys/girls. Boarding school eases the transition from childhood into adulthood. Then there are the friendships to be made. It cannot be denied that living alongside your friends, seeing them at both the worst and best of times, makes for closer and stronger relationships. Nothing beats the boarding school in fostering a spirit of comradeship, for where else do you develop a range of ridiculous nicknames for those close to you and paint yourself hair to toe in the colour of your house to support your housemates on the sports pitch?And finally how can one fail to appreciate the idiosyncrasies which accompany boarding school life? Dorm feasts, carol singing by candlelight under the Christmas trees, or ‘muck up’ night…the list is endless. Indeed, if you have ever romanticised about how great it would be to attend Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, think of the boarding school as a ‘muggle’ version. That said, how can you have any doubts?last_img

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