One of the things I love about Canada is the relative freedom from snobbery and classism. In the UK your accent gives away so much about your class, your education, and your region of origin, and people do judge you based on this information. I know, because I used to do it too.
In my case, inverse snobbery was deeply ingrained into me by classmates at my state (=public, in North American terms) comprehensive school*, and it took a few years to start to erase those impulses. “Posh” was used as an insult, and we mercilessly took the piss out of the kids from the city’s public (=private – yes, posh schools that you have to pay for are called public schools in the UK, don’t ask me why) schools whenever we met them on the streets or on the hockey field. As a frequent piss-taking victim myself, for my good grades and perceived “posh”, non-local (at first) accent, I had to work a bit harder than normal to prove my inverse snobbery credentials to my peers, and consciously changed the way I pronounced certain words in order to try and fit in with everyone else.
I didn’t really encounter classical (i.e. top-down) snobbery and classism until I went to University. Former public school kids who heard my accent and learned I was from a state school in Yorkshire assumed I was “thick” (direct quote), and were “amazed” (another direct quote) to hear that I was one of the top three students on my undergraduate degree course. Others saw my grades before they really knew me, and assumed I was from a public school “because you’re intelligent” (yet another direct quote). My sister, who moved South instead of North, had an even harder time; some of her peers had never heard a real-life Yorkshire accent before, and actually laughed out loud when she spoke. She also blames her accent for her failure to get into Cambridge, despite getting straight As and being on multiple city and county sports teams and two musical ensembles.
Oh, and I’m sure I unfairly disparaged plenty of people with posh accents. Sorry.
But really, despite this divide persisting well into my undergraduate years, I’d barely thought about state vs. public school education since moving on to grad school 11 years ago. I was under the naive impression that the further you get from your school years, the less they matter. Surely, once you have a degree or two and a few years of real-life work experience, no-one cares where you went to school.
But this report on the BBC website yesterday gave me a wake-up call. How depressing that this state of affairs still persists:
Granted, I have no idea how the corresponding Canadian or US figures would look. Maybe they’d be quite similar. But somehow I suspect that the depressing graph above is an indicator of a very British problem. Both top-down and inverse snobbery, along with that pervasive British anti-intellectualism streak, contribute to this sad state of affairs, and to the waste of far too much potential.
Ugh. Now I feel icky.
ETA: this new article is an interesting take on social mobility. Canada is in the top five countries for social mobility, alongside the Scandinavian nations (yay socialism!) The US and UK are at the bottom. There are some very interesting points about how state education is funded, and the relative influences of parents vs. the state. Highly recommended if you’re interested in this issue!
*charitably described as “mixed ability intake”. Two thirds of kids in my year left at age 16, and only about half of those who continued went on to University at 18. Three girls in my form of ~25 kids were pregnant by 14; one of them was divorced with two kids by the age of 19. But, thanks to some wonderful teachers, those of us who did well, did very well. The opportunities were certainly there for people who had the ability and the desire to take them.