Mark Steel: Why let principles get in the way of an education?

Imagine if poor people said: "We had to get Bruno into a decent school, so we robbed a house"
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The Independent Online

This is the time of year when you realise the middle class are never so irritating as when they're going on about which school to send their poxy kids.

"We've looked at all the prospectuses and plumped for Saint Jemimah's because they're SO focused on maximum achievement they're top in the whole of Surrey for students hanging themselves due to stress. They had five swing in one term last year, which beats the Carshalton Waitrose Academy for In-bred Boys hands down."

And in the end they all send their offspring to fee-paying schools, and they all regret it but they've got no choice because the state schools are just DREADFUL, because "We did WANT to support the state system but we went to the open evening and we were HORRIFIED. One of the mothers works at the checkout in B & Q, another we spoke to had never been to Provence, well poor Jalapeno will never learn a thing in that environment and she'll come home smelling of Wall's chipolatas."

Or they'll tell you: "We've put Oscelot down for special violin masterclass because he's obviously gifted with genius. He's not actually born yet but you can tell from his kicks in Isobel's tummy he's already mastered the string concerto."

Then eventually you'll hear their catchphrase: "Because you can't put your principles before your children."

In other words, you must bring up your children with no principles because the two can't possibly go together. Principles are things you can have when you're young, like a gap year. Whereas people like Nelson Mandela are a disgrace for carrying on with them. If he had any decency, as soon as he had kids he'd have dobbed his comrades into the apartheid police and spent the reward money on a chemistry set or a telescope.

Anyway, imagine if poor people took the same attitude, and said: "We had to get Bruno into a decent school, so we robbed the rich house by the park and flogged all their jewellery.

"We don't normally approve of breaking and entering, but you can't put your principles before your children. And we were very ethical about it because we didn't shit in the wardrobe."

The astonishing thing is once the middle class have ensured their kids are receiving a classy enough education, they then do all the homework for them themselves. I suppose for PE, they hire Steven Gerrard to impersonate their kids for them. Then their daughter can boast she got another A, whereas Devizes got a B, because her parents could only afford Frank Lampard.

None of this results in anyone becoming educated, it simply means posh kids get qualifications in subjects they have no passion for, because enthusiasm is a luxury that can't be accommodated when there's exams to be passed.

And this obsession with results is wrecking the childhood of all kids, not just wealthy ones. Eight-year-olds are now expected to do an hour's homework every night. No wonder that girl in Austria who was kidnapped seems less troubled than expected. She's the only one of her age group to get away with not having to do all that homework each night for years.

Similarly, all parents get caught up in the race to get their kids in the most sought-after schools. So you hear tragic accounts from mothers of how they sold the house and moved to a field over the road, where they now live in a cow pat, but it's worth it because it comes under the catchment area of Puddleduck Academy for Girls, which is ninth in the area for physics.

Or families take up religions they have no interest in to get their kids into a faith school with a "good reputation". And it's so disheartening as they tell you: "We've had good news, because we've finally got Ulrika into the Islamist Centre of Holy Jihad Learning. We've had to spend one night a week over the last year at an al-Qa'ida training camp, but they do have very good facilities for art."

And it's all in vain, because the majority will never keep up with the middle-class capacity for screwing up their kids in return for a place at Oxford. In the quest to make them barristers, fun is an evil that can't be allowed to contaminate childhood. These kids will never be allowed into Legoland. For their birthday treat they're probably taken to Angle-World, a theme park in which you can stimulate your geometrical skills as you slide round a series of shapes by calculating the angles of giant hexagons.

No doubt they'd protest: "Oh, we still see fun as a valuable aspect of our child's development. Indeed we're rigorous in ensuring that a full hour of fun is administered every Sunday morning after extra Spanish grammar tuition, supervised by the Slovakian nanny."

So by the time they're parents, they'll be yelling at their kids: "Come on Aquarium, you should be getting higher grades than this in being screwed up like a mental case. When I was your age I was already getting straight As for being in therapy twice a week and spending every night staring into space on lithium."

And this is the process which will result in the rehabilitation of Saddam Hussein. Because in his trial, when he's asked why he slaughtered countless people and burnt entire villages, he'll say: "My sons needed to take over a strong dictatorship with no opposition. And you know what it's like, you can't put your principles before your children."

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