I use that phrase, you know, “I was the girl who wanted to learn” because that’s what I kept being told while I was at school. I kept being told that I would do well anyway, like I didn’t need the institution of school in order to do well because I was naturally swotty. Um, and I never felt this to be entirely true, I think all of my schoolmates were all of equal intelligence and all had equal desire to learn about the world, it’s just that it was expressed in a different way, and it was characterized at school through not wanting to learn. … I think one of the reasons I had such a poor experience at school, and many of my peers did as well, was because we were, well I didn’t personally, I was a very obedient child, you know, not always for the better, I think there were a lot of things that needed to be reacted against, and a lot of my peers really reacted against the institution of school.
Lynsey Hanley, author of Respectable: the experience of class speaking on Start the Week, BBC Radio 4, May 9th, 2016
For every person that the school system endorses, pointing them towards society’s glittering prizes, at least one classmate gets the message that they’re not good enough. And kicking back against the institution only makes it worse.
As winners in this shake-out, it’s not something we question. It’s simply the hierarchy of human value, as natural as gravity.
On the other hand, if we’re the ones who don’t square with school parameters, then we learn eventually that we’ve been screwed over, in a game that was rigged. But we still internalize that message about being people of lower value. Getting screwed over tends to become the keynote experience in life.
Hanley reminds us of what I think must be obvious to us all before schooling (aided and abetted by our own dear families) and other social forces induct us into the artificial hierarchies of an institutionalized world: that we’re all of equal worth.