How much were our parents to blame?

Discussion of the children's schools in the UK.
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How much were our parents to blame?

Postby Daffy » Wed Feb 09, 2005 11:11 am

In all the accounts of abuse at St James and St Vedast, one topic has been glaringly absent from the discussion: how much our parents were to blame. Why is this?

I was at St James for my whole primary and secondary education. I hated it from start to finish. I frequently told my parents what I hated about it and why. I told them on many occasions about acts of physical and emotional violence by teachers. I repeatedly explained how much I rejected the cultish aspects of our education and the many hours wasted on philosophy, meditation, etc. They knew that I loved school holidays, and saw the black cloud that descended on me as each new term approached. They were fully aware of the school's policy on corporal punishment. We had many, many discussions of the rights and wrongs of all these things over the years I was there. I begged many times to go to another school. I implored them to speak to the school and get me out of compulsory meditation.

It was all to no avail. My parents were and still are members of the SES, and nothing could convince them that McLaren and Debenham were anything other than educational geniuses who would protect their son from the nastiness of the world and make me a 'leader of men'. On the tiny handful of occasions they ever had cause to discuss any aspect of my education with Debenham, they came away convinced by his wisdom.

All this said, my parents and the parents of my school friends seemed fairly normal to me at the time. They appeared to be loving, kind and thoughtful people. The idea that they were brainwashed members of a cult seemed quite alien next to established cults such as Scientology and Hare Krishna. So what was it that made apparently normal people send their child to these schools in spite of full knowledge of what was going on? I still cannot understand it.

Many of us who went to St James and St Vedast during the worst excesses on the 70s and 80s are now at an age where we ourselves have children (or nephews, nieces etc). I have a daughter myself, and I can't imagine how much brainwashing would be required for me to turn her over to the custody of vicious monsters like Debenham and Lacey. I just can't fathom how our parents were willing to do so.

Has anyone discussed their experiences at school with their parents? Have any of your parents expressed any regret? Looking back all these years later, would they have done anything differently?

My own parents still can't admit even to themselves that they made mistakes. Perhaps the thought that they may have been guilty of such a serious and prolonged lapse of judgement is too difficult to contemplate. It has been the cause of considerable family angst over the years, and we are not close. What do other people think has been the effect of being sent to St James or St Vedast, in terms of your family relationships?

I have to say I was a little reluctant to raise this issue on a public forum, even if my identity is hidden. I didn't want to do anything that would potentially move the spotlight away from those who I considered first and foremost to blame for the shortcomings of my education: McLaren, Debenham and their underlings. But that just begged the question: were they primarily to blame at all? Shouldn't parents always be primarily responsible for what goes on with their full knowledge and consent?

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How I ended up at St Vedast and other thoughts!

Postby chrisdevere » Wed Feb 09, 2005 4:19 pm

In reply to Daffys comments. i thought it worth telling my story of how I ended up at St Vedast and a few of my rambling thoughts along the way! I was there from 1979 in Queensgate till its closure in 1985.

I think we have to take a look at our parents motivation and the state of the education system at the time. However I personally do not think I can blame my parents in any way. They have only ever wanted what was best for me. However often what you are sold is not what you get!

My parents came from a priveliged background however they ended up without any money. Therefore the educational system they knew was unavailable. Upon nearing the commencement of my primary schooling, my mother started to tell me what fun school would be. The reality of a state run primary school in the 1970?s was quite different.

At the time all state schools were run by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) this was headed by Shirley Williams (Someone my mother ended up having direct dealings with). By the age of seven I could still barely read or write. I was considered the most backward child in my class and was overlooked. This made me quite disruptive. My parents both working very hard, had presumed schools were good and teachers could teach. It was not till a summer holiday that an elderly cousin sat down with me and found out I could not read or write. Luckily she was a school teacher (Long retired) in three months I could read write add subtract etc. I went back to school and was suddenly the brightest child in the class. They then decided to asses me got in a specialist gave me an IQ test and found out that I just fell in to the bottom end of Genius, but suffered from Dyslexia.

Classes were generally unruly with ?Liberal? teachers who did not care particularly and could not teach very well. The method of teaching reading at the time was the learn by wrote method using Peter and Jane books. State education at this time was not good. Discipline in these schools was no better. My father (who had an aircraft business) had taken me and some friends to the Biggin Hill Air Show. A friend of his who was displaying a WWII Spitfire fighter; at the end of the day let me sit on his lap whilst he taxied it back to my fathers hanger. On the Monday we had to write an essay about what we had done at the weekend. Obviously this story was recounted. The result was praise from the teacher for a good essay, but being made to stand all day in a corner in front of the class for telling tall stories. After several opportunities to admit I was lying, the teacher finally lost all control and started slapping me around the face. I eventually lashed out and punched the teacher. I was dragged kicking and screaming to the heads office and expelled. When my father collected me I was totally vindicated as he backed me to the hilt and was not surprised I had lashed out having been slapped about for telling the truth.

The ILEA system then basically refused to take me as I had been expelled (though the school later apologised and admitted their wrong). Their other excuse was that I needed special teaching due to the fact that I was a) very bright and b) had dyslexia. However they could not offer this special school. The head of the ILEA when tackled over this had a sneering attitude of superiority, with a typical The state knows best absolute belief! I am convinced it was a sneering attitude and that she privately relished in seeing someone from an upper class background going through the dregs of the state system. The second any member of the state system heard an educated or good accent back then the shutters came down and help was very scarce to the point where they were pulling against you. Dame Shirley?s attitude being very similar to some members of the SES (perhaps she was a member?)

In summary the state education system was a complete failure back then, poor education and inappropriate behavior from teachers.

My parents eventually scraped together some money to pay for a few hours private tuition each week. This was by a very good lady Jan who was from New Zealand, she was keen to impart her knowledge and made teaching and learning fun. She eventually decided to marry though and go back to New Zealand. However she recommended a school called St James. She was interested in Philosophy and meditation and had been to a few SES lectures.

My parents followed this up knowing that the school had been founded by the SES. And I was accepted in to St James, however on my first day I found I was going to St Vedast as Mr Debenham had changed his mind and obviously did not want me polluting St James boys ( At this time he would only take people if they started V young in St James. I understand this was the original reason for hiving off St Vedast , which had been the Secondary school to St James). I think they considered the SES harmless with a few odd beliefs! I can remember my mother always made an effort to wear the longest skirt she could find to any meetings with a teacher for fear of offending them!

Their reasoning for sending me there:

Desperation!!!!! I had been out of mainstream education for 2 years! (A woeful failing on the states part). They wanted a school with good discipline (I had on occasion been unruly). They wanted me to get a proper education which they could relate to! English, History, Literature, Maths, H Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Latin, Scripture etc. combined with good old fashioned values.

They were made aware that a small amount of Sanskrit was taught and whilst they thought it a waste, accepted the argument that it was a basis of all languages. This being their enthusiasm for Latin (apart from the Law, Medicine etc.) That you can use it (As have many friends of mine) to better learn and understand other languages.

The school seemed to offer all this and the principles it claimed to hold dear Truthfulness, academia, striving for excellence etc. Are all good. I think to my parents it represented a good old fashioned public school but at an affordable price. They obviously knew of the SES it being in the building next to the school. I was a nine year old in a class off 11-12 year olds!

My enthusiasm for a strict but fair school where I could get on and learn was soon quashed. I discovered Truthfullness was their version of the truth. The philosophy they offered was listening to the SES take on the world. I will not go in to the punishments etc as I have put on other posts about these. Beatings were for what ever took a teachers fancy that day.

Some teachers were very kind others nutters. The atmosphere was generally oppressive, however it appeared to me that should you decide to take up meditation and other SES activities that you were not treated so harshly, got a bit more leeway and teachers put in a bit more effort with you. However I would never bend to this.

In my first year at Queens Gate, my father died quite suddenly. The school also moved to Hampstead. My mother was left with a mountain of debt, as well as ongoing legal wrangles. My younger brother was also by now at St James.

The state social worker who had been appointed by the ILEA some years before, wanted to put me and my brother in to care as they thought my mother would not be able to cope as a single parent. These Nanny State ?Liberals? were malicious in the extreme at every opportunity, with their aggressive we know best approach. My mother was flat out trying to hang on to us, earn a living, clear debts and settle legal cases. She simply did not have the time to see what was going on or listen to my complaints. On the other hand I was looking after my brother a good deal and also terrified that we might be taken by the state! This made St Vedast look like not too bad an option.

Under Julian Cappa it gradually got better though all subjects I enjoyed or was good at. Geography, Chemistry, Law etc were dropped. However the highly valuable Sanskrit and SES Philosophy remained! It would have been interesting to see if ultimately these would have been dropped under J capper as he seemed a great deal fairer and more liberal in his approach. I remember the only lesson he ever took us for was Scripture and he always made it fun and interesting. In my opinion and limited experience of him I think he was probably a good teacher.

However just as I was approaching O levels the Evening Standard expose came out. At the time I tried calling and sticking up for the school. Though the paper was obviously not interested and out for sensationalism. Even at the expense of children?s education. Some pupils who at the time came forward complaining about being beaten, (without naming names) were beaten because they were disruptive troublemakers who constantly caused trouble or broke rules that any school would consider unacceptable to break. The Standard had got some of it but had also picked up on some malcontents who were on a vigilante mission and out for a moment of fame in the papers. My mother also called and pointed out that the school they should have really aimed their critique at was St James as the level of physical and mental cruelty was much higher.

St Vedast was a good idea badly executed. We were Guinea pigs. Had it ultimately dropped links with the SES indoctrination (which I think it might have eventually) it probably would have gone on to become a strict but good academic school. As it happened the expose helped to deflect a lot of criticism from St James, which in some ways was probably more deserving of criticism.

My mother still will not acknowledge how bizarre some of the teachings or punishments were, though will happily believe they happened to my Brother at St James. Probably mainly due to a kind SES parent tipping my mother off to how persecuted my brother was by David Lacey and how miserable he was.

St Vedast probably gave me a better education than the state could. (If left to the state I would probably still be struggling with literacy!) But then again the state education is free! However it also gave a lot of bizarre brutal punishment for no reason, it gave me weekends at Waterperry being used as Slave Labour by the SES to clear rubbish dumps etc.(Grimep might remember our first visit there, I was terrified having heard the stories from Various elder boys about almost drowning in the flooded fields etc.) It gave me a lot of mental and emotional cruelty inflicted by teachers who wanted to suppress all individualism in their students. It wasted a great deal of my life by trying to teach me a language no body has spoken in thousands of years, and trying to indoctrinate me with their view of the world in Philosophy. This time I am sure would have been better spent learning something useful. Rather than them trying to mould us all in to their vision of a superior being! Would I have got a better education elsewhere? Yes but it would have involved either going to a country with a good education system e.g. Australia or going to a private school that cost more money. I think the fees at St Vedast were probably the cheapest in the country, as such I think this attacked a lot of desperate parents who knew the state system was rubbish. But wanted the best for their children.

This current inquiry rather than being about beatings (they were legal back then) should be about the SES and their Ethos. As others have said on this site their beliefs were bound to lead to those empowered with our well being to commit acts of mental cruelty and physical abuse. If they had been trained teachers without links to the SES it probably would have been a good school.

I found this web site and thought it a good place to air opinions and share memories with other alumni. The current Headmaster of St James offered an inquiry on here, how can anyone reasonably expect an organisation to launch an inquiry with terms of reference that will in effect destroy them. (You only have to look at our current Govt. and the Terms of the inquiry in to the death of Dr. Kelly). Any enquiry that takes in to account the SES involvement will no doubt find that this was the route cause of the problems.

If people want some kind of independent investigation then an independent body should be approached with a group complaint. Whether this be the police, a civil action etc. I do not know. However I can not see an organisation launch an enquiry that would, I think potentially leave them open to considerable damages and compensation claims. I had originally been keen to take part had it been an open enquiry, as I felt there was good as well as bad with the school and that a balanced view would be of benefit. However the current framework does seem very one sided and has made me pretty angry.

However by banding about loose threats about what should be done we are in danger of becoming a group of vindictive Vigilantes. It was the school who offered the inquiry, they did not have to. If people do not like the terms of this but want to take things further they should band together decide what they want and act on it. However making threats of ?If they do not do this? ?we will do that? smacks of Blackmail, which I do not think will ultimately do anybody with a complaint any good. The fact this site is so popular shows that there are many people with a grievance and a right to air their views and be heard. Sharing thoughts grievances and memories is good, taking action well there seem to be lots of agendas. What do people think a school enquiry in to themselves will ultimately give them? Nothing! If people want to seek recourse for wrongs done seek recourse through the appropriate channels. I think there would be plenty with a grievance, against the SES and their warped cult like views.

I am sorry if this is badly punctuated or a bit rambling but lots of thoughts probably rather ineloquently put flooding out and as usual it has been banged out during my lunch break at work!

Regards to all.

Christopher de Vere

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Postby Daffy » Thu Feb 10, 2005 8:46 am

Chris, your comments provide much food for thought. I want to address a couple of points you make. Please note I am not having a go at anyone's parents in particular - I am trying to discuss parental responsibility generally.

You say your parents only wanted what was best for you. My parents frequently told me the same thing, and parents all around the world say this to their kids every day. I'm sure my parents genuinely believed they were doing what was best, from their SES-indoctrinated view of the world. My point is that it is not enough just to want what is best for your children. Parents must be judged according to whether what they do is actually best for their children. I don't suggest for a moment that it is always going to be easy to determine what is best, or that there is one right answer all the time. What I am saying is that there comes a point where parents' judgement is so poor that even the best intentions are simply not good enough. I believe that the decision to send us to St James was an inexcusably poor judgement.

Regarding the poor quality of state education in the 70s and 80s, this was a commonly accepted view by many parents, in and out of the SES. I was fed that line repeatedly by my parents too, and from my own observations, I agree - I would not have wanted to go to the local comprehensive either. However, as a justification for sending us to St James it is totally bogus. The choice for our parents was not St. James vs. the local comprehensive, but St. James vs. a large number of excellent private schools in London, with high academic standards, low tolerance of drugs and good discipline. In exercising this judgement our parents also failed miserably.

I believe that parents - even SES-brainwashed parents - need to examine their consciences and ask themselves whether they made appropriate judgements.

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Postby chrisdevere » Thu Feb 10, 2005 9:33 am

Yes i agree. I think it was probably much worse if your parents were in the SES. My mother looked on them as well meaning people with a few odd ideas and a love of vegetarian food.

My mother found it hard to belive much of what I told her despite my refusal to attend etc etc. Having said that she was in a pretty desperate situation. Her response now is "What other option did I have" which I accept, but sometimes wish that she would be a bit more sympathetic about my views when I tell her stuff.

However i disagree about there being othe good schools in London at the time for the same price. I am pretty sure that at the time St V was the cheapest public school in town. The next nearest being Emanuelle and Latymer, both cost more and at the time had varying discipline and accademic records. The other was Westminster, which back then was known foir having quite a drug problem.

Back then there really was not much choice at that end of the market. I was quite suprised to see how much fees are at St James now! For that money you could send a child to somewhere far superior!


Christopher de Vere

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Postby gadflysdreams » Thu Feb 10, 2005 10:27 pm

Glad someone is finally talking school fees; and I'm sure Chris's mother would have been hard pressed to find a school with cheaper fees than St. Vedast in those days. Teacher salaries at the schools had a reputation for being poor and some of the better off members of staff were said to have worked without a salary at all. Women staff were paid less than men.
Does the fact that the fees are now comparable to other private schools indicate that some SES appointed bursar is no longer deciding what the teachers "need" to earn, or is it because facilities have improved? What about the teachers now - those who are not members of the SES - do they tolerate lower than average incomes. Are the women teachers still paid less than the men teachers?

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Postby adrasteia » Thu Feb 10, 2005 10:57 pm

gadflysdreams wrote:Does the fact that the fees are now comparable to other private schools indicate that some SES appointed bursar is no longer deciding what the teachers "need" to earn, or is it because facilities have improved? What about the teachers now - those who are not members of the SES - do they tolerate lower than average incomes. Are the women teachers still paid less than the men teachers?

You ask some pretty worrying questions- I am assuming this is based on hear say? Otherwise, if these questions have a positive answer, there is direct evidence of Ses policy actively spilling over into school life, not to mention sex discrimination and exploitation.

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Postby Alban » Fri Feb 11, 2005 12:46 am

Temporarily dragging the thread back from it's (very interesting) detour...

I think all parents do their best for their children, it is entirely natural to do so. The fact that some of them continued with the mistake either shows:

1) That they were not in touch with their own kids,
2) That they had some pretty strange ideas about bringing up children, or
3) That they were oblivious due to the hold that SES had over them.

Of course, it is not quite as black and white as that as it is not always obvious what is going on, but it is still pretty serious sending your kid to a school for as much as twelve years without asking some pretty basic questions about it's effect on them. This is why I am convinced that 3) actually plays by far the biggest part in the equasion. What drove them to join and subsequently stay in the SES is surely the $64,000 question.

So yes, they were partly to blame, but the point is...are they willing to accept their mistakes, or are they still deluding themselves they gave you the best childhood possible....and I guess that largely depends if they are still in the SES.

None of us are perfect parents, but we become better by learning from our mistakes. Failing to recognise our mistakes shows a delinquency that is bluntly unforgivable.

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Re: How I ended up at St Vedast and other thoughts!

Postby grimep » Fri Feb 11, 2005 4:29 pm

chrisdevere wrote:In reply to Daffys comments. i thought it worth telling my story of how I ended up at St Vedast and a few of my rambling thoughts along the way! I was there from 1979 in Queensgate till its closure in 1985.

interesting stuff Chris, funny how you go to school with someone and only know 1% about them at the time... hardly sounds like your mum's fault. Even though my mum was in the SES I don't really blame her...

Knowing you from day 1 at Queens Gate, I can't think of a single occassion where you did anything that warranted a punishment, let alone the constant physical pain one particular teacher subjected you to. You were a cooperative good natured kid, hardly one of the rebellious ones... you say you were a bit of a bastard (and therefore deserving your fate somehow) in your previous school, but knowing you then I find that very hard to believe. An interesting read... though it leaves me curious as to why you've pulled your punches, given the level of suffering you endured. I can still remember feeling a pain at the top of my head sitting there hearing the sharp slap of the slipper as you got yet another thrashing.

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Postby a different guest » Sun Feb 13, 2005 10:28 pm

I think Alban has really hit the nail on the head here - and her comments are certainly germane to Daffy's experience where even now his parents are unable to acknowledge what went on on at the schools or its affects on their child. I feel for Daffy as it is hard to be estranged from your parents, particularly after you have children yourself - but my guessing is that his folks will never change their spots now. But while this is a loss for Daffy, it is also a loss for his parents.

On a further note I would be interested to hear about attitudes to corporal punishment in the UK back in the 70s and 80s. Accepting that what went on in the SES schools was far beyond any normal definition of corporal punishment - still was at least the notion of corporal punishment widely accepted? Just I was chatting to someone here the other night and I was surprised by their attitude that it WAS acceptable ('normal' cp that is) under certain circumstances.

My own feeling are that it is NEVER warranted. Do we look to countries like Saudi or Malaysia where criminals may be locked up and also subjected to beatings as part of their punishment and think this is a good idea??? If it is not acceptable to beat an adult, why would it EVER be acceptable to beat a child? I once smacked my son when he was young - and he hit me back. I realised two things 1) I was only teaching him to solve his problems by violence adn 2) smacking was more to do with releiving my OWN anger and frustration than providing discipline.

Certainly here in the 70s there was a push to ban CP - and it has long been banned in state schools. However I was horrified to read the other day that CP is not TOTALLY banned in the state of Victoria (unlike other states in Au) and is still practiced in a small number of independant schools.

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Postby shonarose » Sun Feb 13, 2005 11:16 pm

ADG, not that it changes anything, but ... FYI Alban is male!

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Postby TB » Mon Feb 14, 2005 12:01 am

Surely in order to understand how parents will send children to a school you need to separate the behaviour that is specific to the parenting role and that which falls into the member of community pattern?

As parents usually strive to do what is best for their children (despite some exceptions) and they imagine that enrolling them at St James will do this.

If something like this does not turn out for the best, it appears that it is very difficult for parents to admit an error, either to themsleves or others. This applies to parents who did not offer correct medical attention, were pregnant smokers, did or did not do a myriad of things that society regards as right and wrong. The mechanism for this appears to be a defense for social as well as personal reasons. Socially it is difficult to concede that perhaps you were not as vigilant as required to protect your offspring. Personally, our biology invests hugely in the parent/child relationship, accepting this within a parent, that this was not well spent is hard.

As normal citizens they are moulded the same as anyone else. Their pursuit of an SES to give meaning to and control over their lives, or a religion, or overwork, or overeating, or many things. How much can you blame a person because they were brought up in a society that regards something as the correct thing to do? Smoking, breastfeeding are good examples where knowledge and culture has changed attitudes within a generation, and once done it is difficult to wind back the clock and repair any damage. Can you blame a parent for not breastfeeding when people were being told how good milk supplements were, and how much breast would sag, and most important what everyone arounb was doings?

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Postby Goblinboy » Mon Feb 14, 2005 12:36 am

a different guest wrote:However I was horrified to read the other day that CP is not TOTALLY banned in the state of Victoria (unlike other states in Au) and is still practiced in a small number of independant schools.

Apparently there are moves by the State Government to change the Victorian situation in the near future, ADG. I will find out whether Erasmus whacks their students.

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Postby a different guest » Mon Feb 14, 2005 1:15 am

firstly apologies to Alban for getting his sex wrong.

And GB - would be interested to hear what you can ferret out about discipline at Erasmus. Vic is VERY tardy in not universally banning CP like the other states. I am revolted that my taxes help fund schools that practice it.

TB wrote
If something like this does not turn out for the best, it appears that it is very difficult for parents to admit an error

I beg to differ. Most parents I know would concede to various mistakes - even little ones and wish for the benefit of hindsight.

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Postby Goblinboy » Mon Feb 14, 2005 1:35 am

a different guest wrote:firstly apologies to Alban for getting his sex wrong.

...and his gender ;-). Although as he's managed to reproduce, he must have got some of it right (all right, I'll shut up now).

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Postby a different guest » Mon Feb 14, 2005 6:20 am

why do so many blokes think it is somehow clever to father a child? Image

oh - and happy valentines day. Flowers for all Image

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