Archive for May 28th, 2009

Ice Cold In Alex

Alexandra College, Milltown, Dublin, Ireland – History

Alexandra College was founded in 1866 to give a new sense of purpose to the education of young middle-class ladies in Ireland.

Alexandra College defends ejection of Junior Cert student for unpaid fees – The Irish Times – Thu, May 28, 2009

“Alexandra College regrets that the focus of its history, ethos and child-centred approach to education has been overshadowed by some recent media coverage of a fee issue that we held to be confidential.

Alexandra College student ejected from class in fee row – Times Online

Eibhlin Byrne, Dublin’s Lord Mayor and a Fianna Fail MEP candidate, said her daughter attended the school and that she was appalled at the way the student had been treated.

“My daughter came home one day deeply upset,” she said. “From what she told me, it was horrific, and not what I would have thought was the ethos of Alexandra. I’m waiting for an opportunity to speak with the principal about it.”

My knowledge of schools for ‘middle-class Irish ladies’, and their wider significance in Irish culture, is on a par with my knowledge of uranium mining techniques. Nor for that matter do I understand the persistence of so many single-sex schools in the Irish education system in general. To me a prerequisite for a civilised society would be co-education in all schools at all levels, rather than a pathological system that institutionalised gender roles. Indeed, there hasn’t been much reflection on the fact that at the heart of the system that generated the industrial schools was sexual segregation. But don’t listen to me: I’m insane.

Anyway, this matter does appear to be attracting quite a lot of attention in the press, as is often the case when would-be poshos find themselves in a spot of bother, and I feel the urge to spew forth some commentary.

First, it seems to me that the whole point of having these schools in the first instance is the maintenance of class power. So there is something of a contradiction in charging whopping fees in order to keep poorer people out while simultaneously allowing charity cases. By which I mean, if you’re going to have a school for middle-class ladies, then you should make it expressly clear, when push comes to shove, that being middle-class is about wielding power through possession of money and other forms of private property, rather than how genteel your deportment is.

So what’s the big deal about the girl getting the heave-ho? I think it’s this: as Hyacinth Bucket knows, being middle-class should never mean push coming to shove. Therefore for a girl to get treated shabbily by an avowedly middle-class institution is a matter of letting the side down, since it exposes the grubby reality of class relations.

The Alexandra College mission statement enumerates the following commitment:

  • to learn to think independently
  • to tolerate and value diversity
  • to respect ourselves and each other, and
  • to be responsible for ourselves and to society

Which is all lovely stuff, but, as the controversy indicates, it’s entirely dependent on the ability of the parents to cough up the cash. That, and the fact that the toleration and valuing of diversity does not imply tolerating the children of parents on lower incomes about the place. Also, there is nothing intrinsically good about diversity: 200 different types of serial killer is not necessarily cause for celebration.

So what the school ought to have done, to keep up appearances, was set up some sort of low-interest loan for the parent in order to keep her quiet. As a damage limitation exercise now they could establish some nice liberal credentials by putting out a press release about how their inclusive enrolment policies ensure that students with learning problems and disabilities have a fair chance of attending the school, and that they offer more scholarships to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. That’d keep the likes of privately-educated vocal critics like Ruairi Quinn more than happy, while maintaining the fundamental objective of remaining a sturdy branch of middle-class power.

Although I think these schools are an abomination, I do not think the girl ought to be removed from the school, even if it does enable me and others like me to point out how revolting they are, and how for every girl getting kicked out with disrespect there are tens of thousands who would not be accorded the privilege of getting kicked out in the first place. On the contrary, even though these institutions are all about the maintenance and consolidation of class power, and that each child is valued primarily in terms of their parents’ income and wealth, that does not mean that friendships and sense of community formed in the student body and among teachers are inauthentic and worthless: it just means they’re founded on a series of whopping lies that neither newspapers nor establishment politicians have any interest in disputing.

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May 2009