ZANE Blog

Toms Walk 2020

Day 5 Buckland – Tom’s Walk 2020

September 12
Buckland

Missing the Missionary

We walked from Buckland to Faringdon and back in good time; we lunched in Faringdon, and it was a sad occasion. First, this is more or less the second anniversary of the death of Doctor and Missionary, Graham Scott Brown, who lived here.

Graham not only sounded like the Prophet Ezekiel, he looked like what I imagine the prophet looked like: white hair, jutting eyebrows, both on end. A saintly and wonderful man and I miss him.

Town and Out

Frankly, if there is such a thing as a Town Doctor doctor, I would try and persuade him to give Farringdon a powder to restore her Mojo. It’s so sad to see so many shops for sale and so few people. All the banks have left, and the alleged 22 pubs have, all bar 3, gone on the wagon.

I hope this town recovers for once people lose the habit of shopping, they may never return. We walked past numerous schools, both prep and public.

I wonder how COVID is affecting that private school’s market?

Top of the Class

“People don’t think what they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say”.

So said David Ogilvy, US advertising genius and founder of Ogilvy and Mather. He had a profound insight into human behaviour, and his dictum makes understanding what makes people tick a lot easier.

The Good Schools Guide

My rich cousin – let’s call him Fred – is the father of two reasonably able children. What does Ogilvy’s dictum mean to him when trying to pick a school costing £40,000 p/a – oh yes, plus extras, please don’t forget the extras – for each of his children (that’s half a million smackeroos for the pair)? For days, he sat amongst a landfill of posh prospectuses, randomly leafing through them and agonising.

Did this or that school have talented teachers in this or that subject? How did the teacher/ children ratios compare and what were the relative merits of the facilities of each? How far were the journeys there and back? Did they do drama? Did they teach Cantonese? And how strong was the religious ethos in each? Fred worried about one school as there were rumours that some children come back “hand-waving” and he didn’t like the sound of that at all. Would his children develop leadership qualities and solid characters? Then, of course – a new one this – some offered a “happiness index”. Oh, lucky Scarlett and Piers to be alive at this hour!

I kept my mouth shut for I have long thought the whole exercise bullshit, but I didn’t want to put my hitherto excellent relationship with Fred to the test! However, I watched Ogilvy’s dictum playing out.

After literally weeks of indecision, Fred of course chose the school that most of his friends were sending their children to. So much for his objective analysis.

For however many excellent and inspirational teachers a particular school may have recruited, what makes a “good school” is often simply having a reputation for being “good”. My cousin was not so much choosing a school on its merits as much as buying an upmarket peer group for his children and, of course, for his family.

All Fred’s brow-beating was virtue signalling, the pretence of rational objectivity. In reality, people choose schools using the same yardsticks by which they choose a pub. It doesn’t matter how good the food and beer is, if you don’t like the other clientele you don’t go. This means that however hard a head may work to improve an unbranded school by buying in great teachers, people won’t send their children if they think that other people consider another school to be “better”.

The so called “top” dozen UK schools and Oxbridge/Harvard have known they are powerful “brands” – like Rolls Royce or Chanel – for centuries. It doesn’t matter how economical and relatively “safe” a particular car, or how good a school really is; what matters is do other people admire it? Apparently collective consensus is more powerful than individual taste, so fashionable brands hold a sort of monopoly power. Seen this way, why do Harrow/Eton and Oxbridge deserve to have charitable status, and not Rolls Royce and Chanel?

Fred’s children did fine, but broadly speaking bright children do well enough whatever private school they go to. But Fred’s half a million bought a “nice group” of contacts and buddies of the same social group, which of course was mainly what the exercise was all about in the first place.

The Colour of Justice

Martin Luther King famously dreamed that “people should not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” We recognise that the realisation of that dream is as yet unfulfilled. But its not just white discrimination towards people of colour that must be condemned: black discrimination against white people also needs to be rooted out and justice restored.

From 1999 to 2010, the Mugabe government brutally expelled some 4,000 farm owners because they were white. The argument that this was justified on grounds of “land redistribution” to indigenous Zimbabweans is greatly weakened when you consider that much of the land ended up in the hands of Mugabe’s close colleagues.

We await an announcement that the government of President Mnangagwa recognises that this land theft on racial grounds greatly damages the international standing of Zimbabwe, and that he will take early steps to right this grievous wrong.

Tom Benyon

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