After 25 years of hammering away on this subject it looks like finally the truth about boarding is coming out. Boarding children have to do without parents and healthy touch; unsurprisingly, they end up loosing their ability to feel, to speak out about injustice, and develop a healthy sense of self.
Abuse is so common it becomes normalised. Lord David Steel pointed to this recently in a throwaway remark about the late rampant PD Cyril Smith MP – to the effect that what Smith was accused of was ‘no different’ from what went on in public schools all over the country. Sending children away is normalised neglect and long term neglect counts as abuse.
Yesterday, a brilliantly written piece in the Observer describes some of the complexities about abuse in boarding schools – don’t miss Alex Renton’s article. Renton tells about how he dealt with his own sexual abuse at Ashdown but also knows that this form of easily recognisable abuse is not the only problem.
He is able also to put his finger on the Wounded Leaders problem: clutch of male ruling politicians embodies the grand Victorian public school virtues – or failings – more than most: suppression of emotion, devotion to the team, distrust of women and minimal empathy for the weak and ordinary. And so it is interesting that so many senior politicians in government went to boarding schools, places that, by definition, practise on young children the techniques of “attachment fracture” – a psychiatrist’s phrase – that are key to removing early emotional ties and building esprit de corps.
What we who having been banging away about all tis for 25 years are faced with is trying to shift just a bit more than a paradigm – the attitudes among the comfortable British elite. But things are changing, and in some bizarre way Jimmy Saville has helped, by forcing the public open it eyes about sexual abuse. We now have a very specific target: to get people to understand that neglect is often as bad as abuse, and that neglect of the children of the elite harms them too and then they harm us because the Entitlement Illusion is a compensation for lack of safe belong. As the Jungian analyst Grotstein said: “When innocence has been deprived of its entitlement, it becomes a diabolical spirit.”
There are some people who also know the truth about neglect, and these are people who understand children. The Kids Company’s Camila Batmanghelidjh says: “Because abuse however awful has a beginning, a middle, and an end; for a child, neglect goes on forever”.