Ever since the mid-nineteenth century, chiefly owing to the example of the most famous of English head masters,
Dr. Arnold of Rugby School, the public schools have concentrated on producing a young man whose strength shall be
less in his intellectual attainments than in his assured possession of certain definite qualities of character.
Despite the classics, it is due to this emphasis on character in the public schools that it is extremely difficult
to use the words "intellectual" and "academic" in England without prefixing them with derogatory terms such
as "merely" or "only" or "exclusively or "narrowly". Thus even a schoolmaster's reputation is
endangered if it is discovered that his qualifications are "exclusively" academic, and the English are
proud of the fact that they are never in the least impressed by what they call "mere intellectual brilliance".
The public school spirit is founded on the development simultaneously of both team spirit and leadership. There
is a famous and much criticised saying that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.
Inasmuch as this implies that in the British Army, at least, training is founded firmly on the two public school
ideals of team spirit and leadership, the saying is true.
It is said that the Russians went into battle against the Germans shouting "Death to the bloody Fascist invader".
The British went into battle as a team engaged in a job of work, each individual feeling first and foremost not
that he was fighting for democracy or against Fascism but that he must never on any account let his team or his
leaders down. And that feeling certainly derives from the public school spirit.
The watchword of this creed is the motto "Play the Game". And it is through games that these qualities of
character are first developed. Boys are grouped not only into classes (or "forms") according to age and
intellectual capacity. They are also grouped (and in residential schools live) in "Houses" under a House Master.
In the form or class, the boy studies. As a member of his House his prime duty is to play games - for the House.
In some schools, games are compulsory. It is far more important for a boy's standing among other boys and his
masters that he shall play football or cricket, or swim or run in a House team than that he should be very good
at his studies. To be very good at games but bad at studies calls forth a certain amount of displeasure since a
dull pupil is a strain on a schoolmaster's energies. But much is forgiven a good footballer or cricketer,
and a schoolmaster who showed strong disapproval of a member of the House or School first team solely because
he was bad at Latin or Mathematics would himself be greatly disapproved of. The leading athletes of School
and House are persons of recognised importance in their world and are treated by their elders no less than
by their juniors with a proper respect. After all, the annual cricket match between Eton and Harrow is
played at Lord's, the most famous cricket ground not merely in London but in the entire English speaking
world, and is a major social event attended by Bishops, Cabinet Ministers and the peerage.
Source: Eckersley & Seaman, Pattern of England, Book Two, London 1955
1. What is the meaning of the phrase 'the old school tie" ?
2. What part have the products of the public schools played in British life and politics?
3. Why are the British public schools widely attacked today?
4. What are the defects of the public school education?
5. What are comprehensive schools?