Lynn Barber, An Education, 2009
When I was ten, my parents took the huge financial gamble of sending me to the junior school of Lady Eleanor Holles, an independent fee-paying school some miles away in Hampton. The idea was that if they paid for me to go to the junior school for a year, I would then win a scholarship to the main school – which is what indeed happened. At Lady Eleanor Holles, for the first time, I was mixing with girls from quite wealthy backgrounds – some of them even had their own ponies. I would listen, ears flapping, to their boastful conversations about Daddy's new Jaguar or Mummy's new refrigerator. The snobbery at LEH was all the more fierce because it was conducted within such a tiny social range: the Oxshott girls despised the Ewell girls who despised the Kingston girls; the Jaguar owners despised the Wolseley owners and we all duly gasped when the parents of a rather quiet girl who nobody took any notice of turned up for prize-giving in a Rolls Royce.
I could see that there was no way I could win in the snobbery stakes – we didn't have a car, let alone a paddock – so I didn't bother lying but just told everyone I was a pauper and the cleverest girl in the school, which I probably was. (Apparently Lady Eleanor Holles is a highly academic school nowadays but it certainly wasn't then.) And actually it paid off. The pony-owners found it quite amusing to know me – I was a novelty in their world. And they were very generous: they would always lend me clothes for parties and hand over any book tokens they were given for Christmas on the grounds that they had no conceivable use for them and I did. Consequently I have always found it difficult to hate the rich, as good leftie journalists are meant to do, because they've always been so nice to me. The LEH girls liked having a pauper in their midst, and I liked having friends for the first time in my life.
Cathy Kelly, Best of Friends, 2004
The teacher was going through essay possibilities for their English exam. She'd spent half the class discussing how to choose the topic and was now using an old exam paper to get the students to come up with five main points for each of the essay subjects. Nobody could think of very much to say on 'What does Democracy mean to you?' and there was a distinct lack of interest in the essay that had to begin with the sentence: "The clock struck twelve and the door to the cellar creaked noisily open."
Everyone, however, was keen on the question about individuality: "Is it a Mistake to Follow the Herd?", which made Jess roll her eyes. How come the whole class were keen on the concept of individuality but not the practice? They didn't like Jimmy, who spoke four languages and was a maths genius; they didn't like Sian, the new girl from Wales, who'd showed absolutely no interest in the school and was haughtily indifferent to feeble attempts to intimidate her; and they all thought that Jess's idea of working in the animal refuge was oddball, therefore a waste of time. They didn't like people who were individual, so why pretend?
Saffron was haltingly telling Mrs Green that she liked the way Britney Spears had maintained her individuality in the world of music. "Her clothes show that she is her own person, when it would be so easy to become like everyone else," Saffron finished proudly. "I admire that and would aspire to be individual in everything I do."
Jess looked at Saffron with narrowed eyes. It was like watching the hundredth sheep in a field bleating that it was different before it trotted off obediently to join its pals.
Jess raised her hand.
Mrs Green smiled at her. Jess Barton was one of her favourite students: genuinely intelligent, thoughtful and aware. "Yes, Jess."
"Students say they want to be individual but they don't," Jess began. "They actually want to be like everyone else, like the same music as everyone else, go to the same concerts as everyone else, wear the same jeans as everyone else. But they want people to think they're individual because they've got a pink streak in their hair or whatever. That's not individuality, that's affectation dressed up to pretend it's individuality. And when they come across anyone who's genuinely individual, they gang up on them."
Mrs Green was thrilled with this point but the rest of the class stared sullenly at Jess.
"Weirdo bitch," hissed a voice.
"Calling me "weirdo bitch" proves my point," Jess went on coolly. "Because some of you don't agree with my point, you react by ridiculing it and me, instead of 35 appreciating the individuality of it. You're threatened by individuality and by anyone who doesn't follow the herd meekly."
"Very good, Jess," said Mrs Green.
Say briefly what you know about Lynn's school and her classmates.
Pick out the stereotypical expressions used by the narrator to define both sides (Lynn and her classmates). One expression for each side.
What is Lynn's strategy to fit in this school?
Explain how Lynn's parents made it possible for her to join the school and why.
Explain the impact this experience at LEH junior school had on Lynn…
- …as a teenager
- …as an adult.
Fill in the grid:
|STUDENT 1||STUDENT 2||STUDENT 3||STUDENT 4|
Draw conclusions about these students' integration into the class.
‘What does Democracy mean to you?': 'Is it a Mistake to Follow the Herd?': with this choice of essay topics, what does Mrs. Green expect her students to do?
‘Very good, Jess'. Comment on Mrs. Green's reaction.
Compare the way Lynn and Jess deal with being different (behaviour and reactions).