School was, for the expatriate, a glorious thing in his motherland, England. The school’s stately building overlooked evergreen fields in which the gentle calls of cricket matches endlessly echoed; and within the building itself, everything was happy and well.
Democratic student bodies worked tirelessly for the benefit of all, and teachers, even when angered, would sit a child down and tell him the better ways of doing things in this world. Lessons were always pleasurable, and the dormitories (where dormitories existed at all, for boarding schools are rare in Britain) were organised, well-furnished, and stocked with all manner of audio-visuals and books.
These dorms were staffed by teachers concerned enough to care for the young expatriate’s welfare.
School was, then, a place of nurture, and of intellectual and social growth. Indeed, when three or more expatriates gather in a group, there is the school, deep in the centre of the conversation, where it is remembered fondly. Hurrah! And other such boyhood exclamations.
Schools in Kenya, particularly single-sex boys’ schools, are slightly different. Perhaps I should have called them ‘single-gender’ schools, as the word ‘sex’ always reminds us of the activities that might or might not be going on within those one-gender schools. We might be especially concerned in these days of Alliance Boys’ revelations.
Now, we all know the history of Alliance. In days of yore, it was structured by colonialists according to the traditions of the lesser-respected of Britain’s public (read, ‘private’, because private schools in Britain are confusingly called ‘public schools’) schools, and indeed it and other such ‘respected’ old schools, which have since become ‘National Schools’, still have the faintly ridiculous whiff of 1930s Britain.
Firstly, there’s the attempt to play such sports as rugby. Apparently, rugby is a gentleman’s sport, although the rumours of certain types of bullying in many of our ‘big name’ schools rather suggest that we have no gentlemen in them.
Or else, there’s the grotesquely repulsive and stupid habit of what in Britain is called ‘fagging’, but what in other cultures might be known as ‘hazing’ or ‘ragging’.
This is the manner in which older boys bully downwards and even employ younger boys as their servants, obliging them to perform all manner of ‘tasks’; one can only guess what sort of abusive ‘tasks’ we’re talking about behind the closed doors of total institutions such as our national boarding schools, and parents are right to be scared to death.
Whereas in non-dysfunctional, properly admirable and non-ridiculous schools, an ‘Induction Week’ might involve Form Ones being shown how to borrow books from the library, in these ‘Big Name’ schools, it seems that teachers (either through cowardly deference to tradition, simple professional misconduct or amoral laziness) allow prefects to get Form Ones to sleep on the founders’ graves, presumably those same graves in which the founders are, no doubt, turning.
It appears that national schools are really a national disgrace, and probably a profound danger to our children. It’s time these colonial institutions were reformed.