Writing in The Telegraph this week, Janet Daley had some interesting thoughts to share about social class in Britain - so interesting that we thought we should share. After all, very few people actually read the Telegraph, do they?
What you have to remember is that Janet Daley is American …
"So the England rugby fans apparently managed to find their way out of Paris without wrecking a single bar, overturning a single car or bottling a single South African supporter - let alone waging a pitched battle on the Champs-Elysees with a squad of armoured police. Even those who arrived without tickets, drank with abandon and were reduced to sleeping rough in the streets - a sure-fire prescription for carnage if this had been a football World Cup - made no trouble for the authorities.
Yes, we know these are French rugby
fans. It was just such a good picture …
There are a few commentators who staunchly insist that this is not about class: that the difference between what Dave Tattoo and his mates would have done to Paris after losing a football World Cup final, and what the sad but non-violent rugby fans did, is nothing to do with the ugly social divide that still pervades Britain.
On the other hand …
Well, delude yourself if you like - but this is about class. What confuses the issue now is that class is not all about money. Many thugs who travel abroad in fervent pursuit of the ultimate football fan's trophy - a charge of grievous bodily harm - are high earners, at least by the standards of their parents' generation (after all, how else could they afford the trip?).
But what is so devastatingly depressing is that the class barrier in Britain is so immutable that even relative affluence cannot touch what lies at the heart of it. Since I arrived in this country, there has been a succession of optimistic prophesies about the end of the class system. When I got here in the 1960s you were in the midst of one: a great wave of creativity had arisen from the proletarian provinces - John Lennon and David Hockney, John Osborne and Kingsley Amis. Surely this was the dawn of a new age of egalitarian meritocracy in which it was positively fashionable to have working-class roots? Look at the photographs of the England football team who won the World Cup in 1966. How respectable and middle class they appear - and how gentlemanly was their behaviour on the pitch by comparison to the rich sociopaths who now dominate the game (Yes, but in comparison with the rich sociopaths, they weren't actually very good, were they? - GOS).
Whatever happened to the decency and civility that was personified by Bobby Moore and the Charlton brothers? What happened to the desire of young working-class men to rise above the violence and borderline criminality that lay in wait for people of their backgrounds whose self-discipline was allowed to slip?
It disappeared under a new wave of garbage culture and what seemed to me - a shocked outsider - like a positive conspiracy to maintain the separateness of working-class life, engineered jointly by sentimental media hokum and patronising middle-class guilt.
Whole genres of television programmes, whole tranches of truly appalling down-market magazines appeared on the scene, all apparently designed to celebrate the most degrading forms of working-class life. And as cynical and manipulative as these cold-blooded marketing exercises were, to criticise them was to invite charges of snobbery: as if no form of "entertainment", however debased, should be regarded as too low to be an insult to this audience.
Schooling, which should have been the real answer to it all, was dominated by an educational establishment steeped in bourgeois guilt. I can remember having heated arguments with teachers and education officials who were adamant that children's ungrammatical regional dialects should not be corrected. "Correct" English, they insisted, was just a middle-class fetish which should not be imposed on children from "other" backgrounds. So generations of working-class children had their feet set in social and cultural concrete by schools that refused to teach them how to speak and write their own language properly.
It happened again and again: in the 1980s there was another burst of meritocratic aspiration which saw a further wave of people break free from the limitations of their backgrounds - only to be ridiculed as "Essex men" whose vulgar tastes and flashy wives still put them beyond the pale no matter how much they earned.
Now we have a new incarnation of the old division with "chavs" (flashy working class youths) and reborn Sloane Rangers. And a poll at the weekend states that 89 per cent of respondents believe that people in Britain are still judged by their class.
The Labour Government, convinced (rightly) that education is the answer to this, is trying to force universities to accept students whose schooling has been so inadequate that they cannot even achieve the low level of qualification needed to be admitted legitimately. Social engineering is too subtle a term for this distortion of university entrance criteria: it is not so much a bending of the system as a bludgeoning that threatens to devalue what makes higher education so worthwhile. If education is the answer, then it must be allowed to do what only education can do: provide the rite of passage to an examined life.
That life requires an attitude which takes self-respect and the value of personal achievement for granted. Implant and nurture those things and the rest - aspiration, motivation and social mobility - will follow.
In Danny Danziger's book "Museum", a collection of essays by people who work at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a revelatory chapter by the head of security. The uniformed guards in the galleries at the Met are all graduates. This may be why they exercise far more discipline over the groups of schoolchildren than their British equivalents do: first, they feel more real commitment to the art, and second, they see no reason why everyone - from whatever background - should not be expected to behave in a museum.
Two of them became so involved with the objects they were guarding that they went back to university to get higher degrees and became museum curators. Ask yourself what the chances would be of that happening here, and even what response there would be to the suggestion that all museum guards should have higher education?
Forgive the homily, but it seems to be necessary to say this: self-respect comes to people from the expectations of others. If you, as a society, do not expect correct speech, decent behaviour and a sense of responsibility from some of your fellow citizens - do not, in other words, demand from them what civilised life requires - then you deny them the chance to enter that life more effectively than if you had barred the gates to every centre of learning in the land."
The GOS says: It's hard to forgive the homily, to be honest: an American lecturing the English about class, for God's sake?
That said, Janet Daley makes a few worthwhile points. In fact, she was doing quite well for a foreigner, until she got to the silly bit about the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While it's frightfully impressive that all the attendants there are graduates, to suggest that this is why they can exert better discipline over the visitors is deeply stupid. In England teaching is an all-graduate profession. Need I say more?
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