Debate Against: Private School Children Need Empathy Lessons

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It can be implied from this question, that the person asking this one perceives the typical private school student as arrogant, and out of touch with realities. Unfortunately, this backfires and says more about the questioner than those who attend private schools. The simple answer is, no they don’t! To begin with, the question is based on a sweeping generalisation, which is obvious.

Let me begin by talking about my experience attending a private school. I spent three years in a private school in Bristol, for boys. Apart from it being one of the best experiences of my life, I can say with certainty that fellow students were among the most empathetic students I’d ever met. If you believe leftism defines empathy, then even according to that logic, there were many lefties among students and teachers alike. The community there was nicely close-knit; politeness was more than just a defining culture.

On the other hand, my brother didn’t qualify the entry exams for the school and had to attend a comprehensive school nearby which had much fewer students from wealthy backgrounds. From the stories he told me, I noticed an interesting pattern. Students at private schools always wore simple, unbranded and sometimes shabby clothing during non-uniform days for charity. Whatever they wore, it was a genuine reflection of who they were. There was no showing-off of any kind. But in my brother’s school, the story was different. My brother remembers the day his school held the second non-uniform day of the year. He came back from school telling how he was mocked as “poor” because his clothes apparently weren’t up to the mark. He must’ve not been wearing the top brand, or must’ve just worn the same pair of jeans as if they were really meant to notice it from the previous time. He often talked about how what you’d wear would eventually define you and your image among your class. I was surprised, to say the least. It’s interesting to see how a capitalist society can have differential impacts on children of different class backgrounds, but I can’t give definitive answers right now. Regardless, it does show that seeing people that are different to you in some way (culture, class or religion), from “your” viewpoint, can be misleading.

Apart from that, I still remember how a student in my class was close to tears after our Physics teacher decided to show us pictures of the aftermath of the Japanese Earthquake in 2011, and the disaster it created in the Fukushima nuclear power station. I can come up with many examples, of which their existence alone dispels any assumption that “all” private school students lack empathy. The key thing to remember is that every school has a mix of pupils. That’s true, with class even, in private schools too, as more and more students from financially poor backgrounds were being admitted under scholarship and bursary schemes. I had met a friend, who had unfortunately lost his father from cancer, and his single mother unable to pay the fees: he was among those to benefit from a subsidised place.

My favourite politicians, Tony Benn and Clement Attlee, were both children of wealthy families yet are remembered to among the most socially just politicians. Countless examples show that it’s important to see beyond trivial matters like empathy in students and the like. Questions that ask why parents send children to private schools in the first place, or why even low-income parents send their children to fee-paying schools (through bursaries and scholarships), are more worthy of consideration. This suggests that our state-run education system could be failing to meet the needs of a fast-changing world, making the private option more attractive. Answering these questions could give us invaluable knowledge into addressing real problems in society (and education), rather than addressing some alleged lack of “empathy” among private school students.

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