We may now have to start a new campaign – against “balance”. It was clear to me from correspondence with those in The Guardian who elicited last Friday’s mini article from me, It will take more than smartphones to stop boarding school children being damaged, that an objective was to be pursued.
But when the Letters section got hold of the responses over the weekend, the usual need for “balance” prevailed. Two excellent letters decrying boarding were balanced by one saying “kindness and ethics are an undertone of the Quaker schools,” ( I have heard plenty of stories about Quaker shcools, I am afraid) and an absolute masterpiece from Leo Winkley, Vice chairman of the Boarding Schools Association. He propses: “To describe boarding as “institutionalised abandonment” is alarmist hyperbole … we need balance in such discussions.”
Actually, it is time that calls for “balance” concerning the welfare of children from the wealthy Boarding Schools Association, and others, get subject to critical examination. What does “balance” actually mean? In our media, “balance” regularly means a shallow and polarised debate. You have to have a dogfight or the readers/ viewers don’t get any entertainment, runs this logic. Even the only non-right-wing serious newspaper we have feels they have to do this.
So, to get a story/ programme, first assemble different voices, representing different views; find someone who likes to put the boot in and have a “balanced fight. Never mind that one side has evidence of something rather important and complex and the other has vested interests running into billions.
The profound implications of my (and my colleagues’) 25 years of clinical work on the repercussions of boarding demand attention beyond vested elitist interests and beyond the notion of “balance”. Besides, we have regularly called for more boarding for more children over 16, regardless of parental income, as in the Danish ‘Efterskol’ model. Does anyone ever report this? A really balanced debate would include this part of the argument. In fact it is constructive not destructive: establishing this would take care of all the staff and wonderful facilities left vacant by renouncing early boarding and could make a huge difference to thousands of ordinary children.
But as soon as you start to think you have to have “balance” all reality goes out of the window. The new Boarding Schools Association heavyweight Winkley finished his letter with a surreal suggestion that then gets presented as if it could be a fact. “These days, far from the parents “abandoning” their young, it is the children themselves who choose to board,” he claims.
Excuse me, children choose boarding? On what planet does that happen?
Perhaps child-loving Winkley means that parents who want to sub out their parenting tasks persuade their children that it is all going to be fun – like at Hogwarts. Remember the mother of a 9 year-old in Colin Luke’s film The Making of Them saying, “Isn’t it a lovely house?” when they first catch sight of the country mansion that houses his prep school and to be a substitute for hos home for the next four years? Does a child prefer a mansion to a home, do we imagine?
(Excuse me, I think I am getting a bit unbalanced)
How can an 9 year-old child choose what it knows nothing of, like what will happen in the next ten years of boarding? How should it discriminate what is psychologically good or harmful? Parents are supposed to do the work informing themselves and make those choices on the child’s behalf.
Do we let children vote? Perhaps we should. Let the first vote be whether we ban “balance.”