Posted from Wimbledon,England.
“Smoked Salmon with Herbed Goat Cheese and Toast. That is for many American tennis fans who watch morning Wimbledon matches. Across the pond, however, tradition dictates strawberries and cream, Pimm’s cup, and other English delights.”
Neither of these were my fare this morning but the scrambled eggs and toast at the Kenny’s of London were just as delightful. Kathy and I flew across the pond yesterday and arrived late last night. I had to crawl out of bed this AM to see my grandsons before their trek to school. And a haul it is as they walk 1.5 miles each way through city streets to get there. This is but one of many differences in their education.
It was raining in London this day and of course I asked how the boys were going to get there? They simply opened their “brollies” and set out with friends. Makes perfect sense. No car. No ride. On your own boys! They were decked out in their white shirts and ties and blazers. It seems in England all students wear uniforms of some sort whether the school is government or public. Oddly enough, the latter refers institutions such as Eton and Harrow.
I always wore a uniform to school and wondered why the fuss about it in the US? Many parents take offense at the thought, for fear their child may not be able to express themselves properly. The boys attend Wimbledon College which is a state school and they are strict as to attire and appearance. The thought behind this I discovered is twofold: First with a uniform they take pride in their appearance and at the same time no one is any better than anyone else. Secondly they are taught to distinguish themselves not by what they wear or have but by their demeanor and talents as an educated person. Hmm…now there is an interesting concept
I decided to peruse the “Guide For New Parents” at WC. To be fair this is a Catholic school for boys that is run by the Jesuits. Yes, you heard me right, it is a religious school under the auspices of United Kingdom Department of Education. Seems history plays large part in this. Some of you might find that offensive or in the vision statement that includes,”Caring for the individual, showing love in deeds, building a christian community, engaging with the wider world, encouraging excellence and finding God in all things.” I just hope you cannot argue with the sentiment if not the verbiage.
The school goes back to 1897 and has around 1300 students in 6 grades. They divide into “Houses.” It is not a boarding school but the feeling of family is evident. Simply put,the older kids take care of the younger ones not only at orientation but throughout their whole time at WC.If things go right or wrong the House is regaled or disciplined as a unit. There is also detention that sometimes is assigned on Saturdays. At Loyola in NYC we used to call it “Jug”.
My grandsons are 11 and soon to be 13. They participate in rugby and other school activities. The rugby practice areas are a distance away and in the first term the young ones are transported.After that they have to find their own way. Throughout, independence and dealing with adversity is put upon the lads. If they forget the assignment or fail to get it done on time they are the ones that have to do the explaining, not the parents.
Mom and dad are encouraged to be involved but not to be an intermediary. If you have a problem you do the negotiating not Mum. In GB, education is stressed from an early age as they have a two track system that stresses further education or training in the trades.The rails don’t meet. This is a bit elitist but upon further investigation the opportunities are equal to everyone to a point. Being state schools and open enrollment, it is up to the parent no matter what the economic class to be a part of the process.
There are no admission tests to get into Wimbeldon College. Kids are assigned to certain classes and groups by their achievement on tests after they arrive. They try to put them in where they can make the most of their abilities. Also each one gets a target grade in each subject to prevent setting goals too high on one hand or
too low on the other.
They go to class for 6 hours a day. As they say being late is unacceptable. There is homework every night which can range from 1 to over 2 hours. Sports are rugby, football, swimming and tennis. There is PT and other activities from music to drama. I can’t stress enough what is an attempt to affect the boy in every aspect of education. From book learning to morality, by seeing wrong from right, to keeping themselves in shape. Keep in mind this whole curriculum is in a state run school.
They are tough but caring. Teachers everywhere would love to have some sort of discipline and a structure that encourages cooperation. Sure we have bad kids, teachers and parents at home but it seems to me that it takes all three to create failure, not just one leg of the stool.The impressive part of my grandkids’ school seems to be the development of the whole child not just expertise in math or science. They are recognized and supported as a whole person not just a statistic in ratings.The kids are stressed at times but they are taught to deal with it.They seem incredibly happy and committed.
Is this foolproof or without failing? Of course not. For instance,cell phones are not allowed in any way shape or fashion at school. Do kids have them? To be sure. However if they are caught they are confiscated for good. Do I dare say this is a little different form of the “fear of God”? I am sure some fall through the cracks but it is not for the want of trying.
We are searching for a new way to make our schools work better in America. Here in Merry Old England they have a system that is centuries old.Is it the right way? Who knows? Is there a chance that in our quest for improvement we may have overlooked what is right before our eyes? Interesting question and one I will ponder over my third cup of coffee while sitting at the kitchen table having Breakfast at Wimbeldon. It’s wonderful.
Ted The Great
At the government schools in England including Wimbledon College the government provides for all. If students can’t afford uniforms, school supplies or lunches it is taken care of for free. This is all done without any fanfare or notoriety.
At age 16 British students take exams for the General Certificate of Secondary Education or other Level 1/2 qualifications. While education is compulsory until 18, schooling is only compulsory to 16, thus post-16 education can take a number of forms, and may be academic or vocational.
The English go to school from September to July. There are three terms and those are each divided in two. There are breaks or “Holidays” between terms.
European homes are by design minimalistic. At my son’s they live in a gracious three story row house. There is a kitchen and sitting room on the first floor. They have no car but use public transportation or walk. It is more than comfortable and charming and somehow it works.