former st. james pupil (1982-1985)

Discussion of the children's schools in the UK.
rebel

former st. james pupil (1982-1985)

Postby rebel » Wed Dec 08, 2004 1:03 am

Dear All,

I was a St. James Boys school pupil in the early 1980's when the school was based at Chepstow Villas. Although this was a long time ago, memories came flooding back as I read through these posts.

Over the last few days I have been thinking about whether it is really my place to post my own views here or not (I was only there for three years and have not been through as much as some of the pupils who had been there since they were very small). But I think I can add something in my own way (apologies for the length of this post).

The first thing to say is that we need to take this beyond catharsis (a lot of us are very angry and resentful towards Debenham and the school, and rightly so). Some of us have tried to be objective (difficult though this is) and we have tried to relate our experience with some measure of clarity. I hope I can do that here.

My own experience of St. James is that it was a mix of some good things and some bloody awful things that made my life there a living hell. These were undoubtedly the worst days of my life. My parents often struggled to meet the fees at St. James, and sent me there in the expectation that I would benefit from an excellent education that included Sanskrit, meditation etc. (I come from a Hindu background so all this sounded great at the time). [OK - now some of you will have figured out who I am. I would appreciate it if you would preserve my anonymity]. From that perspective, it was potentially outstanding. The problem was that there was a more secretive side to the operation. Had they known about even half of it, I am pretty sure that they would never have sent me there.

The first is that the teachers were often unqualified to teach (this is something I actually discovered on this forum, and it astonished me that schools can be allowed to function in this way).

The second (and arguably more serious) is that the school was associated with the SES - a fact that was never revealed to my parents when I joined up. My parents had never even heard of the SES. I learned about this from the other boys in the school. From my perspective, there was certainly a very strange SES sub-culture that pupils found very tiresome, to which I had no access (for some reason I was never pushed down that route). I think there is a very serious problem with accepting children into the school and not telling his parents about its roots in an organisation with specific and unconventional religious ideologies.

Third, the fact that the school was wholly unprepared to receive pupils at thirteen. The whole curriculum had been designed for people who had been there from the age of 2. There was no plan for older pupils who joined later on. How was I supposed to start learning latin, greek and sanskrit to relatively advanced levels? I had no prior experience of these languages and absolutely no hope of catching up to everyone else?s standards. One has to ask whether there was a premature attempt to boost pupil numbers / school income with little thought given to how such problems would be resolved. I distinctly remember the rather poor quality of History teaching in the sixth form. This was all about how great the British Empire was and the wonderful ?civilising? effects it brought to its grateful heathen subjects. I felt deeply offended for obvious reasons. I tried raising the issue of the Suez crisis and the injustices of Empire etc., but these issues were skilfully dodged. I think most half-decent schools would have a problem teaching history in this way. Pupils cant develop the capacity to think critically and independently if they are taught this drivel.

Fourth, the insane practise of seating children in the rank of their academic performance. I hope very much that this practise has been done away with in the school since it simply sends a message to those pupils who could do better that they are not valued, and that not much is really expected of them (perhaps existing staff/pupils can confirm?). This was probably a crude attempt to introduce a bit of competition into the system to encourage pupils to climb the social ladder in the class (although that is not the way I saw it at the time). Although this strategy worked for some, there was no 'safety net' for those of us who did not do so well out of this system.

My level of academic performance was a disaster at St. James. I am sure that some staff at the school would argue that I was not very bright anyway. In response, I would simply point to my academic achievements since leaving the school (good O and A-levels, three university degrees including a PhD, an excellent training as a research scientist in London and Oxford Uni?s. I now have a faculty position in a University of London department where I am teaching undergraduates and setting up a research laboratory).

Why was I doing so badly? First, the very 'weird', high-pressure environment. I found that I was required to go through the motions of ?meditation? and ?pausing? (remarkably, nobody ever bothered to explain the techniques to me so I just had to ?pretend? to do these ? all rather comical in hindsight). Second, the daily, persistent, vicious racism in the class that went on right under the noses of all the staff (some of it from people who, rather hypocritically, have posted their own anti-St. James views on this forum). I can only conclude that this form of bullying was not taken seriously in the school. Third, the 'academic' neglect. No attempt was made to explain or halt my slide to the back of the back row. If any of my former teachers are out there reading this - I would be very interested to know why you let all this go?

Many of you have talked about the culture of fear and the regular 'beatings'. I remember all this very clearly. I escaped much of this because I just kept out of the firing line. However, I was seriously assaulted by one member of staff in the changing rooms at Chepstow Villas. I remember it very vividly. Just before I was hit hard in the face with a clenched fist, I heard the words, "you little runt!", and then briefly passed out. This was for accidentally bumping into the teacher in the crowded changing room where conditions were very cramped even at the best of times. Some of you will remember the incident and also the identity of the member of staff (I believe he is no longer at St. James). He was apparently reprimanded by Debenham after my parents intervened. My parents and I received no apology. Instead, I was treated to two hours of sarcastic comments about my report to Debenham in the next lesson from the very same teacher.

Having said all this, I want to emphasise that the school appears to be changing. Current members of the school seem happy there. If this is genuinely the case, then I don?t think it would be right or rational to be seek ?revenge? (although I can well understand these feelings). Some of you have proposed ?affirmative action? that would damage the school. I doubt that this will achieve anything. If the current school is a very different place, then this will be undeserved. I take the view that it would be more constructive to wait for the outcome of the inquiry. I have spoken with David Boddy, and he seems genuinely keen to reform the school. I also want to commend former members of staff who have had the courage to face up to the past and issue apologies. I particularly I remember Will Rasmussen as a humane and intelligent man who commanded much respect from the majority of his form (although I accept that a few others evidently remember him differently ? I cannot explain this). There is a conspicuous absence of comment from others, including Nicholas Debenham.

With reference to the inquiry proposed by David Boddy, I think this is a laudable and courageous move. We should take this as a sign of the changing times and give it our complete support. However, I would also emphasise that the exercise will be virtually worthless unless it was transparently independent.

I would be very interested in hearing your views on these points.

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Postby a different guest » Wed Dec 08, 2004 6:30 am

Code: Select all

there was certainly a very strange SES sub-culture that pupils found very tiresome, to which I had no access (for some reason I was never pushed down that route). [quote]

Could ethnicity be a factor?  [/quote]

rebel

Postby rebel » Wed Dec 08, 2004 9:48 am

Code: Select all

there was certainly a very strange SES sub-culture that pupils found very tiresome, to which I had no access (for some reason I was never pushed down that route).


Could ethnicity be a factor?


Perhaps cultural rather than ethnic identity. The SES adopted a 'philosphy' from hinduism and adapted it for form its own brand. It is possible that my background was too close for comfort for them since there would be significant differences in the ways that my family understood and interpreted the same teachings. Or, perhaps they thought it was simply too late to 'recruit' me since I joined the school relatively late (in my teens).

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Postby a different guest » Wed Dec 08, 2004 10:10 am

well keep in mind how poorly the SES thought of Australian members back in those days. Goblinboy has posted quotes from "The Secret Cult" somewhere on these boards what the party line was about Australia. If they thought white aussies were bad cos of the convict past and colonialism then what would the SES think (I am assuming your roots here) of a native of the subcontintent?

rebel

Postby rebel » Wed Dec 08, 2004 10:39 am

well keep in mind how poorly the SES thought of Australian members back in those days. Goblinboy has posted quotes from "The Secret Cult" somewhere on these boards what the party line was about Australia. If they thought white aussies were bad cos of the convict past and colonialism then what would the SES think (I am assuming your roots here) of a native of the subcontintent?


This is paradoxical. They choose to adopt and adapt an ancient system of thought, but look down on the people who have developed it? Then again, inconsistent thinking is sometimes a feature of dogmatic, inflexible and rigidly heirarchical organisations. I want to be careful about accusing anyone of racism here - I am not in full possession of the facts so I am not making any judgements (just exploring the possible explanatations).

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Postby a different guest » Wed Dec 08, 2004 11:03 am

They choose to adopt and adapt an ancient system of thought, but look down on the people who have developed it?


Given how deeply rooted the SES is in Edwardian ideals are you surprised?

The cult is both sexist and racist (imho).

Consider the Australian schools - the NSW school states on its website that the history curriculum studies the (white) ancients (which all SES schools do with some reverence) but also (no doubt cos it is part of the NSW schools currciculum and their state funding depends on it) they also study "australian history". However this "Australian history" is from white settlement only. I know from experience that state schools teach much about koori (Aboriginal) history but does it get a mention at the SES school? Apparently not.

The site also proudly proclaims that it teaches about the "best" men and women from history - and then is hard pressed to come up with a female name. In fact they can't find one at all, just falling back on the SES standbys of Shakespeare and Mozart.

Alban
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Re: former st. james pupil (1982-1985)

Postby Alban » Wed Dec 08, 2004 12:20 pm

Hi Rebel,

You make some very valid points, and despite recognising a lot of your experiences as being similar to my own, I agree that you have added your own valuable perspective on the regime.

I do have a serious problem with this:

rebel wrote:However, I was seriously assaulted by one member of staff in the changing rooms at Chepstow Villas. I remember it very vividly. Just before I was hit hard in the face with a clenched fist, I heard the words, "you little runt!", and then briefly passed out. This was for accidentally bumping into the teacher in the crowded changing room where conditions were very cramped even at the best of times. Some of you will remember the incident and also the identity of the member of staff (I believe he is no longer at St. James). He was apparently reprimanded by Debenham after my parents intervened. My parents and I received no apology. Instead, I was treated to two hours of sarcastic comments about my report to Debenham in the next lesson from the very same teacher.


How is it possible that a member of staff can punch a child in the head, knock him out, and get away with only a reprimand? This raises at least two questions.

Firstly, that was undoubtedly a criminal act, even in those days. It is the duty of the school to report all criminal acts to the relevant authorities. As has been stated before, it is NOT the responsibility of the schools to decide on the appropriate action in this case, it is the job of the law.

Secondly, we have been told that those in-charge of the schools were unaware of the abuse. There have now been a number of examples given where it is patently obvious that they WERE aware of it, and accepted it as normal, and just another thing to be brushed under the carpet.

Regardless of the act (which is horrific in itself), the main charge to be answered here is of criminal negligence. This negligence is unacceptable, and those responsible at the time, primarily Nicholas Debenham, but also the govenors, need to provide a sufficient explanation for the actions of the schools.

rebel

School records for inquiry

Postby rebel » Sat Dec 11, 2004 9:02 am

Alban,

How is it possible that a member of staff can punch a child in the head, knock him out, and get away with only a reprimand?


You are quite right. This should have been followed up at the time. Perhaps the school has retained its records since then and can forward them to the inquiry.

If David Boddy is following these posts, he might want to check whether or not

(i) the school logged such serious incidents?
(ii) the school still retains these records?
(iii) they will be made available to the inquiry?

If no log was kept, this is evidence of very poor practise. If it was kept and is now no longer available, this should be made clear along with reasons for why it is missing. David, I respect the fact that you are not able to contribute to this forum at the moment fior obvious reasons. However, I would greatly appreciate a 'phone call (you have my contact numbers) in which we can talk about this specific issue.

Kind Regards,

'rebel'

leonm

Postby leonm » Sat Dec 11, 2004 1:14 pm

I think by law (i may be wrong) all corporal punishment must be recorded in a 'punishment book".


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