Magazine article The Spectator

Hey, Teacher, Leave Them Kids Alone

Magazine article The Spectator

Hey, Teacher, Leave Them Kids Alone

Article excerpt

The sight of London teeming with pacifist children last week sent right-wing parents into a spin. The school-run phone-lines hissed with rumours of nice, young, public-school teenagers being brainwashed by embittered, left-wing teachers. `The headmistress is stockpiling drinking water at my daughter's school,' said one mother, `and when the children ask why, she blames America.' The Mail on Sunday provoked further panic with a story about the Etonian son of an SAS officer, who led 50 schoolfriends in the march last Wednesday. Throughout the Home Counties, fathers muttered about Tony Little, the headmaster who had given permission for the boys to protest.

Sitting on the grass, just inside the gates of my old school, Wycombe Abbey, I wondered how best to investigate these rumours. Across the green sweep of the lacrosse pitches I could see the tiny figures of the headmistress and her chaplain, scanning the grounds for intruders. Still too craven to confront teachers, I eventually found four fifth-form girls and sneaked out with them into High Wycombe.

Lucy was bursting with complaints about the chaplain. `In his sermon last Sunday Father Tim ranted against George Bush,' she said over a Diet Coke. `He criticised Bush for portraying this as a holy war and then he said that all war is blasphemous.'

`He upset a lot of people,' added her friend Laura, flushing. `One senior mistress walked out and many of the girls who have fathers involved in the fighting found it very difficult to deal with. Some were crying.'

`It's OK to pray for peace,' said Lucy, `but not OK to suggest that all those in favour of war are bad people. Father Tim doesn't seem to acknowledge that thinking the war might help people in the long run is a valid point of view.' Other teachers are anti-war but less evangelically so. `My politics teacher just thinks you should let other countries alone,' said Laura, `but we can answer back and have good debates about it.'

If my spirits slightly sank at this confirmation of the mummys' fears, they were raised by the realisation that no amount of rabble-rousing was going to affect Lucy and her chums. Around our table there was a division of opinion. Lucy was in favour of war with Iraq, Laura hadn't made her mind up, and the other two were vaguely against it. Lucy would consider changing her position `if the war turned out to be very horrible and bloody', and three of them agreed that France is `ridiculous' - hair flick - `because they want to appease, whatever happens'. What united them was a hostility towards being told what to think. 'I used to be anti-war and against American intervention,' said Lucy, `but I've been put off by people like Father Tim being so close-minded and, like, ineffectual.'

I asked my 18-year-old friend Matt to help with inquiries at Eton. Somewhere in the drifts of aloof-looking boys with Lady Di hair, he found a small, friendly 18-yearold scholar called Tom. `Dr Cullen's probably the most outspoken beak [teacher],' said Tom, and described a speech to School Hall in which Dr Cullen had forcefully condemned the hypocrisy of US foreign policy. …

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