Living and Working in a Class Bound Society

When I graduated from secondary school in the U.S., I was awarded what was then called a British American Schoolboy Scholarship by the English Speaking Union:

I gather that the ESU’s activities have since widened broadly in doing good works.

I happened to be assigned to the Uppingham School in Rutland County in the Midlands — probably because it was known for its music and I had been president of my American school glee club — my singing ability was and is terrible.

My year in Britain exposed me to all levels of its class system. So-called ‘public’ schools were really privates and to my knowledge offered no scholarships apart from that I had won. During breaks in the school year I also did a variety of things such as working in a community center in Bethnal Green, East London, its poorest section. I also hiked down the Rhine with a mixed group of British public school students and German technical school ones — with excellent training, incidentally. So I met up with the lower classes in Germany as well as those in Britain.

The fact of class divisions was accepted in both countries and one tended to remain in the one into which one was born. There were a few so-called ‘grammar’ schools in Britain where extremely able poor kids might get an education sufficient to make it into one of Britain’s relatively few universities at that time.

As an American, I had not infrequently worked summers in blue collar jobs during my college years — construction, timber clearing, scrap metal sorting, blasting, etc. But my fellow public school Brits and a few from elsewhere in the then British Empire would no way think of doing such ‘low class’ work.

Incidentally, there was no such thing as co-ed education and my fellow students were fascinated by the fact that I had a girl friend who later became my beloved wife. Possibly the wide gap between the sexes encouraged gay relationships. When my wife and I later attended Oxford we were a rare student married couple — the only one at my college.

One notices these days developing prejudices in most of the European nations against lower class immigrants. Some are expelling or restricting same in cruel ways.

When I read Bob Herbert’s Op-Ed today, “Winning the Class War,” I was reminded of the taken for granted class distinctions that I experienced in Europe as a teen. I fear that we are slipping backwards — not just one but two centuries — the late 19th and early 20th when such distinctions were the American way of life.

Perhaps it is time for another revolution, if we are to keep democracy alive here?

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent [blind copies]

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