Saturday, March 29, 2014

British Schools

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) -  The philosopher Adam Smith seemed implacably opposed to boarding school. In his largely ignored work 'The Theory of Moral sentiments.'' Smith strongly condemned attempts by parents to send their children to boarding schools. He declares 'The education of boys at distant great schools, of young ladies in distant nurseries and boarding-schools, seems, in the higher ranks of life, to have hurt most essentially the domestic morals, and consequently the domestic happiness, both of France and England. Do you wish to educate your children to be dutiful to their parents, to be kind, and affectionate to their brothers and sisters? Put them under the necessity of being dutiful children, of being kind and affectionate brothers and sisters: educate them in your own house. From the parent's house they may, with propriety and advantage, go out every day to attend public schools: but let their dwelling always be at home.' 

He argued that no education, whether state, private or overseas, could substitute the domestic education of parents who, by nature, were seen as being better qualified to bring up children. The implication is that sending children to Boarding schools weakens warm and strong family ties that need nourished not weakened. The children may feel rejected and abandoned by their parents who 'want rid of them' or really want a rest from them! Those arguments don't seem to alter the ambitions of some pushy Russian parents. In many way, they are determined to send their children to British boarding schools come what may.

            Over the past few years, I and other English teachers have been asked to teach Russian children who are set to be sent to Boarding schools in Britain. When we spoke to them, they didn't seem very happy.

            'I am Russian, speak Russian and from Russia and they want to send me to another country. All my friends are in Russia. I don't want to go to England to a strange school'. Another girl I was teaching was becoming more rebellious about the prospect.

            Why are some Russian parents eager about sending their children to Boarding schools in Britain? Is it just the image, a prestige factor, rumored reputations of the schools or a strain of Anglophilia? Is it the reputed quality of the British Boarding schools? I asked one Russian English teacher, Oksana Chebotareva, 'Why are some Russian parents pushy, persistent and enthusiastic about sending their children to British Boarding schools?'

            'Well, first of all parents want their children to learn English. That is the chief reason. It is also because parents believe that the Russian Education system is in crisis and can't provide them with a good education. The British boarding schools are also seen as providing a high quality education which they believe they can't get in Russia.'

            There is another notion which is widespread throughout the world and Russia is no exception. Some Russians really believe that Britain provides the best education system in the world. When local British people hear this they can respond with being bemused, confused and baffled. Some think the German education system is better and that the British education system is in crisis. The British are right to feel confounded. Although the Russian education system is in crisis (due to underpaid teachers, a chronic shortage of teaching staff, corruption, cheating and the impending introduction of fees in state schools for studying many subjects), the Russian teaching of mathematics and physics is way ahead of the British and American. Russian students who enter British and American schools at 14 or 15 are shocked at how easy the mathematic equations are. For them, it is like being put back in primary school! Russian     students also can receive a good grounding in Russian language, grammar and literature. In most British schools they don't even teach English Grammar and many Russian school students know more English grammar than hapless native teachers sent abroad to teach the language! So the idea that the British education is the best appears absurd if not ridiculous.
             There may well be other not so explicit reasons for sending children to British Boarding schools. Parents are often so busy working that they don't have the time or feel they can devote spare time to bringing them up. In many families, both the mother and father are working. Leaving nannies or grandparents to bring up the children doesn't always work. Following a divorce, a lot of children are being being brought up by single mothers who find the task  daunting. They feel that at least Boarding schools will offer some kind of alternative positive role models for children to aspire to. A lot of English literature extols the values and virtues practised at Boarding schools which are reputed to turn boys into 'ideal gentlemen'.

            It is suffice to mention Thomas Hughe's novel 'Tom Brown's schooldays'(1857).

            For some Russian school children, the results of being sent to Boarding schools are traumatic. In those schools they are forbidden from speaking Russian, others grow homesick and resentful of their parents. The teacher Oksana told me she had heard that one school student had experienced a nervous breakdown. Unfortunately, school children don't always have much choice in the matter. If parents say they must go, they go. In other cases, some children find the Boarding school a wonderful escape. One girl told me her friend, a Russian orphan adored her boarding school 'Dwight'. Dwight has schools in Europe and Canada and she chose Canada! Not all the stories of children being sent to Boarding schools end badly. However, are not some Russian parents being too presumptuous that some Russian schools are incapable of offering just as excellent if not better education? Over the past 20 years I have been invited to a wide range of Russian schools and have found many brilliant schools which would be the envy of Britain! For instance, I could mention the great track record of a Classical gymnasium in Prospect Mir, Moscow ,which teaches Latin, Greek and English! Its pupils often
enter and teach at university!  That is just one of the schools. I could mention many more!

            Adam Smith was on to something when he warned that boarding schools might ruin the health and happiness of your children.

            No amount of knowledge can compensate for weakening what should remain strong family ties. For we are first and foremost members of families and communities not just school students. Our children are not 'advantageous investments' or 'disposable property.' In the final analysis, love and affection from families is much more important than knowledge or money. 

             Even the father of economics acknowledged this simple truth!

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