Writers remember boarding schools

2008-09-03 00:00

The book may lack interest for the general reader but it is illuminating for its contribution to the debate on boarding school. Men often exaggerate stories about their days at boarding school and you are left thinking that they were more hard done by than Oliver Twist. It would amaze them to learn that girls often went through hardships that were equally testing, if not worse. The value in this collection lies in the fact that the contributions are made independently, they span several decades and they are from a wide range of backgrounds. What emerges is not surprising. Boarding school is a defining, if not profound, experience for many youngsters. The jury is still out on whether this is a positive or a negative experience, so readers had better decide that for themselves. In the light of the appreciation shown by so many contributors for their schools I have some difficulty with Imraan Coovadia banging on about his identity, and Conrad’s alter ego in One of Us. I think he’s very fortunate that he didn’t go to one or two of the other schools mentioned in the collection. By the eighties schools like Hilton College had made massive strides towards recognising individuality in pupils and coping with learners from different cultures. What did he want?

Among the more distinguished contributors, William Plomer describes some of his mentors as “mostly excellent creatures — neither cranks nor fanatics”. Far from being expected to turn his back on his tribal identity, our own Madiba describes how he was galvanised by exposure to the great Xhosa poet and praise singer Krune Mqhayi at an event at Healdtown organised by the headmaster, Dr Wellington. Who would argue the enormous contribution made by Lovedale in the Eastern Cape, and Peter Abrahams describes how easy it was to learn in the peaceful place where he spent many of his formative years. Read this book!

Gordon Crossley

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