Therapists have identified a “boarding school syndrome”by Ian Irvine / May 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
Stiff Upper Lip: Secrets, Crimes and the Schooling of a Ruling Class by Alex Renton (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99)
This is a fascinating book, though at times one which is hard to read. Few other societies share our ruling class’s tradition of sending their children away to school at the age of eight (or earlier), but the prestige of the British Empire, whose leaders it created, brought it wide admiration. At the end of his life William Gladstone, an Old Etonian, observed that “the public school system is the greatest thing in England, not excepting the House of Lords.” He would have agreed that the creation of character, not education, was its primary function, in pursuit of which young children were severed from their families, raised in Spartan conditions and broken in to a new group identity, through severe discipline, respect for hierarchy and the worship of competitive sport.
Alex Renton is a product of this system and documents its success in creating a resourceful elite. But he also draws on his own experience and the accounts of others to reveal the appalling suffering caused by their institutional incarceration and its bullying, brutal punishments and horrific sexual abuse. Therapists have identified a “boarding school syndrome”: anger, depression, anxiety, a failure to sustain relationships, fear of abandonment, alcoholism and drug abuse.
As more victims have spoken out, sometimes to prosecute their abusers, boarding schools have undoubtedly made efforts to improve. But Renton does not believe the damage is all in the past. The fact that for generations victims grew up and sent their own children away to school (and still do) reveals the malign power of class conformism.