Friday 3 December 2004

No dark sarcasm in the classroom....

I had a private education. I started at boarding school when I was 7 years old in 1981. This meant that from sunday night through to saturday afternoon I spent all day every day at school. I slept in a dormitory with a number of other boys of a similar age, and spent my days either in the classroom or playing sport.

According to my hazy memory, one sunny afternoon in September I was playing in the garden at home. The next thing I know, I was in the car with a big trunk and was being deposited at a rather large manor house in the Northamptonshire countryside.

At the time, I didn't think that this was too much of a big deal. Plenty of my colleagues got terribly homesick, and sometimes cried themselves to sleep, but I never did.

In 1987 I was awarded a scholarship to attend a well known English public school. Now I only went home at half-term, for school holidays and for two other weekends each term.

When I was there, girls attended the school, but only in the sixth form (ages 17-18). For about 800 boys, there were perhaps 100 girls. This meant that for the first 3 years I was there, I had no girls in any of my classes. As I began to study for A-levels, there was a big change in my life. Not only were girls now appearing in my classroom, but they also began to appear at mealtimes. Perhaps I should explain. My school was organised into a number of houses. Every pupil was assigned to a house (think Harry Potter). Each house was single sex and was the place where you ate and slept - you left your house to go to classes and to play sport, but that was about it. Girls had their own houses, but they were assigned a boys house when they arrived at the school, and this was where they ate their lunch and their dinner.

God, this sounds ridiculous just talking about it.

Anyway. At 17, I entered the sixth form, and at lunch on that first day, I arrived in the dining room to meet the four girls who had been assigned to my house for their mealtimes. Sarah, Catherine, Zoe and Liz. At this point my year in my house consisted of 14 boys. We had met at 13 and had spent the last 3 years living in each other's pockets. We knew each other pretty well (and don't believe everything you read about public schools, by the way). The arrival of the girls into our lives had an immediate effect, and our year split in half. Some acted in a way I would consider typical of public schoolboys - they treated the girls as objects. They only spoke to the girls they considered to be good looking, and they were basically only interested in getting into their pants. The other half, the half including me, tried to treat the girls as human beings. Zoe and Sarah were accepted by one side, and Catherine and Liz were accepted by the other. This pattern was repeated in all of the houses at the school.

This fucks you up.

I was taken away from my mother at the age of 7. Until I was 17, I had very little direct contact with girls. Then, suddenly they appeared in my life, and frankly I didn't know what to do. I had no idea how to talk to a girl (I have two brothers and no sisters). I hated the way that the typical schoolboy treated women --- 13 year olds in their first year would walk behind a group of girls walking to chapel, and would make wretching noises, and loudly mark them out of 10. They were treated like shit. Some girls thrived. The girls that were considered beautiful were generally okay - they dated the guys from the 1st XV rugby team. The girls that were considered ugly, or non-conformist, were just treated as non-people.... at best they were ignored, and at worst they were roundly abused and insulted. I hated all of this, and yet I had no idea how to deal with these girls. For a couple of weeks I thought I had a mad crush on a girl called Petra. I didn't know what a crush was. I thought it meant staring into space a bit, and having my friends laugh at me. I was 17 years old for God's sake!

My school is now fully co-educational. This probably makes an enormous difference, but I tell you this - if I ever have a daughter, there is no way in this world that I would ever take the chance and send them to this school.

This environment cannot be good for you. Lots of the "cool" guys that I knew, the guys who I actively go out of my way to avoid, spend their lives treating women like shit, as objects. Worse. A lot of the guys I went to school with, the people who I was close to, the people who I am far closer to than any of the friends that I made at university - these guys seem unable to form a stable relationship. I was 21 before I had my first proper relationship. I am now 30, and a fair number of my friends are still resolutely single. I don't think this is a coincidence. My friend Mik got married on Saturday. At the wedding, there is that bit where the bride and groom kiss. A lovely moment. When this happened on Saturday, one of my friends leaned over to me and whispered "That's the first time I have seen Mik kiss a girl". I have never seen some of my friends kiss a woman. Never. At times I despaired that I ever would.

I don't think any of this is a coincidence.

I don't want anybody's pity - I have been in a stable relationship now for nearly 6 years - I just find it a little sad that such an expensive education (and we are talking over £10,000 a year) can leave you so deficient in such an important aspect of your life.


  1. I go to a single sex private school, and behave perfectly normally around boys. However, I do think this has more to do with the fact that I have three older brothers, and a attended a co-educational private school for four years. I think single sex schools can be very useful for making the pupils focus- it's much easier to be distracted by the opposite sex than your own. I agree with ols, and think my ability to talk to the opposite sex comes from my parents- we frequently go out to dinner with our friends (whose children are nearly all male), and I have no problem talking to them!

  2. Ki - Cheltenham Ladies College by any chance? Welcome, but what kind of a search term is that for a young lady to use to end up on an ancient post here from 2004? Why is is a school for posh twats? Don't ask me!