To be happy and free

After my experience, I never thought I’d ponder a private education for our kids. Of course, that’s just me, for I squandered mine. At least that’s the narrative I told myself for twenty years, but it turns out I probably just needed more support.

In any case, perhaps that slightly better education substituted for the absence of targeted interventions; or maybe it didn’t at all. Who knows? What is known is that my siblings all went on to achieve great things, and my two older brothers have sent all of their own children to private school.

Me? Well, I can’t afford it. At least, I couldn’t afford it when our children were younger. Now? To my surprise, theoretically, we could just about afford it, assuming that we continued to live frugally in what remains of our lives, subsisting on the bare minimum.

This train of thought was, of course, set in motion while stuck in a traffic jam of parents arriving for their children’s Prize Day on Saturday. On my return home, I couldn’t help satiating my curiosity, looking up the fees for that independent school, a ten-minute drive from home. It wouldn’t be impossible, but it would mean making sacrifices. And since parents with a household income of £100K+ tell us they have to make sacrifices, I guess that would mean living on the edge.

Anyway, my beloved is having none of it. She’s always been a fan of straight-talk and she’ll just say it as it is; she’ll never be a diplomat. “Oh well,” she says, “no big deal. Not only did I go to a standard state school, but I went to a village school. It didn’t do me any harm though. I obtained two degrees at the end. And look, here I am!”

“True,” I murmur.

“And just think about it,” she tells me, “The imam’s son. He went to the same school as our kids, before it even had a good reputation. Now he’s a barrister. He earns more than your brother. And what about the imam’s daughter? She went there when it was considered a failing school! Where is she now? She’s a GP, but not just any GP. She does a load of work with the BBC, always in the media. She’s really busy these days. So, as far as I’m concerned, as long as they work hard and aim high, our children can achieve whatever they put their minds to.”

“That’s true, but…”

“And what about that judge friend of yours? She went to the worst school in Hull, but look what she has achieved.”

“I must confess, she wasn’t exactly my friend…”

“What was she then?” she asks, glancing at me perplexed, recalling the evening she called her number and talked for hours.

“Erm, well, er, there was a bit of, let’s say, tension between me and her friends. But, um, part of growing up is making peace. Anyway, you’re right. Her father owned an Indian restaurant. She was raised in humble circumstances. Hull was a very white town back then. Life wouldn’t have been easy…”

“Which is my point,” she says. “Did her not going to private school prevent her from reaching the top of her profession? Did it prevent me from achieving what I achieved? Was it a handicap to your solicitor friend?”

Of course, she is absolutely right. I had already reached that conclusion myself. It’s just that sometimes I wonder if I’m doing enough. It can be difficult when you’ve been raised in an environment characterised by very high expectations to ever feel satisfied with what you achieved. For me, those were standards impossible to ever attain. But here again my frank-speaking wife is on hand to put everything in context: “Stop measuring yourself against other people’s standards of success. I’m completely content. You should be too.”

And I am. But I’m also a natural worrier. Private school was very successful at hammering into me a sense of zero self-worth. I left with no self-esteem at all and a total lack of confidence — two character traits I have carried with me all my adult life. So, naturally, I have a tendency to consider myself totally worthless as an individual. Which, I suppose, reminds me why I never seriously countenanced private school for our children. Let them grow up happy and free.

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