Letter following Advice to Clever Children


I don’t usually react very well to people expressing hope that my life will get better, or their good wishes for my endeavours. The chance of my life getting better is infinitesimal; the trends of modern society are totally against it, as they have been all my life. If anyone wants my position to improve, they could send money or petition someone else to give me money, or start a public campaign to put pressure on the university to do the decent thing and reinstate me at an exceptionally good salary level with supporting grants for several research assistants to enable me to make up for lost time.


The idea that my father was sorry for what he did suggests that it was an accidental mistake. Actually he was never sorry in any ordinary sense of the word; both my parents had taken their position in advance and were committed to believing that social advice could never be wrong, while any statements or affective states of mine could be disregarded. Talking to one of my associates the other day, she said that everyone in my education sounded round the bend. My parents had decided in advance, and perhaps this decision was determined even before I was born, that they would attempt to deprive me of every advantage that my ability might have enabled me to have.


Whether or not this rose from their own jealousy and wish to see me deprived, in whatever combination with their awareness that society would wish to see me deprived, the resulting syndrome was impenetrable and they maintained it unchanged until their deaths.


When my father stopped me from taking the School Certificate, he took advice from some local headmistress, who said that not taking exams young would not matter to a girl, and it would not do any harm to her future prospects- if she was really exceptional. It occurred to me quite soon that this was Delphic. So long as I obtained a minimum of respectability at the end, and entered an academic career, I would not be able to claim that my prospects had been damaged. But if they were, it would be proof that I was not exceptional anyway and did not need an academic career.


It also occurred to me quite soon that there should be a law against the giving of advice so potentially damaging except by those who were in a position to deposit half a million pounds which the victim could claim if his career was actually ruined, to provide an income in lieu of academic salary.  Half a million was what I thought at the time: now inflation would have significantly increased the necessary amount.


My father, in fact both my parents, were absolutely committed to believing this, which made them impervious to my sufferings, however great these rapidly became.





At the time I found it extraordinary that reasonably enlightened parents should have no scruple about overriding their offspring’s wishes, however strong and however clearly expressed. I still do, and still think that violating what is clearly the right thing for an individual should be recognised as tremendously dangerous; however, I know now that such a recognition is explicitly rejected by modern ideology, which does not accept determinants arising from the psychology of an individual. There is no such thing as a permanent individuality; the individual is a variable entity resulting from social interactions. (This is known as 'social constructionism’.)


Until this turning point my fathers willingness to ride roughshod over my inclinations had been concealed by the fact that I had not known enough about the exam system to ask explicitly for what I would have wanted if I had known. Now it was out in the open it was clear that he was willing to override me as violently as was necessary to conform to social expectations and beliefs, and from now on, every arrangement imposed on me, from the decision that I should not take the School Certificate onwards, was against my will.


Looking back, I still find the cruelty with which I was treated incomprehensible, although it was in line with the modern devaluation of the concept of an individual.


My unhappiness at the state school was clearly visible; surely it would have been only natural for parents to remove their offspring from an environment that was affecting her so badly? In fact I expected them to take my word for it at the end of the first day that this was no solution to the problem of filling my time while debarred by law from taking exams. This school was no use at all; the first thing to do was to leave it, then one could think about correspondence courses and other expedients.


Of course my sufferings on being kept there were continually increasing. My statements that it was too bad a place to remain in, and even the implicit statements to the same effect that were made by my depressed appearance, aroused anger and insults from my parents, and the interminable quarrels about my refusal to give up on an academic career. These quarrels, I reflected, served to stifle my demands to be removed and suggestions for what I might do instead, as we had to argue bitterly and injuriously about my unsuitability for an academic career before, jaded and weary, I was able to bring the discussion round to what I considered the real point, which was my need to get out of this hell-hole.


But lest we lose sight of the fact that we are talking about oppression by the collective, not of oppression by the hapless parents who are enrolled as its agents, let me just repeat the conclusion: state education, which includes the university system in its present form, should be abolished.  If it could ruin my education and my life, it could ruin anyone’s.