Unraveling The English Schoolboy Tradition

This weekend, I witnessed two notable events, both involving English schoolboys.

The first took place in central London and drew widespread media attention. It involved violence and vandalism. It was the protest, and –later-turned-riot, over the 2011 British budget.

Over 400,000 protestors, including university students, marched through London in a demonstration against George Osborne’s budget announcement. I watched from Piccadilly Circus as a dense train of protestors filed through the streets for more than 2 hours. Although security was heightened and shopkeepers seemed on edge, the march was mostly peaceful…. until a group broke free from the route and took over London’s busy shopping centre. On my way to the tube station, I encountered members of the Black Bloc who ripped through Mayfair. When I walked by the HSBC on Regent St, someone had painted anarchy symbols over the bank windows.

From the protest, I journeyed away from central London to the second event – one of the oldest of its kind – the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race.

Not wanting to compete with the media along the River Thames, I watched the race unfold in a pub on the riverbank. Crowds of spectators huddled in front of the TV screens to cheer for their respective teams. Fans were identified by the colors they wore – dark blue for Oxford, light blue for Cambridge. The pub fell quiet in nervous anticipation as the boats made their final turn on the river. I never knew a boat race could be so captivating.

By the time the Oxford crew crossed the finish line with 17 minutes 32 seconds, 12 seconds ahead of Cambridge, the crowd broke out in moans and cheers.

Back in central London, protestors roared in the streets as the march had turned into riot in what some newspapers called “The Battle of Trafalgar Square”.

The juxtaposition of these events in one day left me with a lot to think about on the tube back home, which was longer than usual since many stations were shut down due to the protest. Although there were other people, besides university students, that took part in the protest & riot, and there were female racers competing in the race, I couldn’t help but think about the day’s events in the context of the English schoolboy tradition, for no other reason besides the fact I’m currently taking a literature course on, well, the English schoolboy tradition.

Since traditionally, only boys were allowed to attend school, sport in English schools served as a symbol of physicality, courage, and masculinity. These schools aimed to produce men who were ready to shoulder the burdens of the Empire; therefore, sport became intertwined in the pupil’s development from boy into man, ultimately playing a large part in the student’s identity and the identity of Britain. In fact, the Oxford Cambridge boat race is one of the oldest British school sporting events still alive today.

On the other hand, the protest was the British people’s response to the issues of today. It’s the public rebelling against the traditional system; it’s the rise of the working class, breaking out of their historical bounds.

There were English schoolboys involved in both events that day. Some of them were preserving traditions at an institution, others fighting against rigid institutional rules. I write this post with no political innuendo, but to say that on that day, it felt like I was standing at a distinct point on a timeline – a point that both questioned the institutional framework and Britain’s tight grip on history. If I looked forward, in front of me, there were schoolboys adamant on changing the present to create a better future. It’s no argument that schools and its students must adapt with changes in politics, technology, and society. But if I turned to look behind me, I could still see generations of schoolboys passing down a long line of history and exalted tradition.

From there, I saw the English schoolboy tradition waver.


4 responses to “Unraveling The English Schoolboy Tradition

  1. Two very diffirent events, and interesting to read your take on both. Love the pics! I’m not sure the rioters of schoolboys really riot for anything else except for…well, rioting. I would (maybe wrongly?) assume that they have any sort of political agenda- or much even knowledge of one. (And in this I am referring to school BOYS, not university or college students). I base my comments on the fact that I work in a all boys school in London- and deal with the psyche of boys between 7-17 every day ….lol. Love your blog by the way! One of the best on pop pressed!

  2. Hi Tracy,

    What a weird and interesting juxtaposition! The London protests and the boat race.

    It says on your blog that you have a ‘curious mind’. This is the mind I am writing to! So please don’t take anything written here as personally confrontational … instead I am simply trying to explore and take issue with general perceptions, language and attitudes which we ALL share, not least because they are handed down to us en masse by the establishment media and (rather appropriately given the title of this blog entry) by establishment education.

    ‘The first took place in central London and drew widespread media attention. It involved violence and vandalism. It was the protest, and –later-turned-riot, over the 2011 British budget.’

    It certainly involved violence and vandalism. But presumably the event involved a lot more besides the occasional smashed window or scuffle with the police or the holding of banners and marching through the streets. Yet as a distant onlooker myself I would find it hard to imagine anything else was occurring by watching the mainstream media. However, by delving into youtube one can see a lot more going on which is much harder to describe or quantify.

    The following video (below) contains both swearing AND hugging … not to mention thousands of scary, heavily armed men in fluorescent jackets trimmed with the black and white checkerboard symbol of the Freemasons.

    While watching it again I couldn’t help but notice how the police seemed to be the ones acting like the ‘schoolboys’…. uniformed, homogenized, hierarchical, many members of this secret freemasonic ‘club’ or ‘gang’ with special passwords and codes, obeying orders from authority without questioning them, arriving in their little mini busses, an being marched about the big city by their superiors in orderly ‘crocodiles’…..

    It is easy too automatically assume (when observing from a distance – such as watching TV news) that any violence was on the part of the protestors and/or that they were to blame for it. No doubt some people did turn up with the purpose of being anti social and destructive but this kind of behaviour occurs in London (and every other large city in the UK) every day (smashed bus stops, phone boxes, bins set on fire etc), although it is less frequent in the very centre of London admittedly.

    Thisaccount of the day provides another interesting viewpoint not covered by the mainstream media. It talks of an 80 year old pensioner getting punched in the face by a police officer in Trafalgar Square, the kettling and illegal kidnapping tactics used by the police, a woman being punched in the head three times and Sky news journalists paying activists to throw bricks at a window.

    Many similar incidents have been documented on Youtube including the outing of cops inciting violence while dressed as ‘anarchists’ in black with faces covered. For example at about 6 mins 45 seconds into this video.

    Why would the police be encouraged by the state to provoke violence or even dress up and cause it themselves?

    Well, for a start it justifies extra funding, extra powers and the accelerating erosion of human rights and civil liberties which we see happening all around the world now.

    And now that we do have this completely over the top, completely unjustified, Orwellian, high tech and presumably very expensive militarized police force, it would look rather silly if they all turned up in full riot gear carrying clubs, riot sheilds, tasers, CS spray, helicopters, sound weaponry etc only to be confronted with a bunch of disobedient yet civilized (the two are quite different) working class types, families and cheery students in fancy dress all hugging and laughing and making their voice heard in a generally good humoured way.

    You see, unless there is a decent amount of violence at these protests then it all quickly starts to look like it is the armed police punching grannies in the face who are the thugs and that the protestors are the good guys! And more specifically it starts to look like the police are in fact the paid thugs of the state/ corporations (you know the people who are currently carrying out multiple illegal wars which have already slaughtered and maimed over a million innocent men, women and children, with the war in Iraq being based on the fraudulent claims of WMD’s only to justify the barbaric use of WMD’s such as DU on the Iraqi people which are having devastating and far reaching consequences for generations to come)

    Anyway..where were we? … oh yes, smashed shop windows and spray painted anarchy signs….

    So maybe those who are ‘causing chaos’ in the streets (those who aren’t police in disguise that is) have a right to be a bit annoyed with the ‘system’ to the point of desiring it change?

    This begs the question: if 30 million people, obsessed with sports and shopping and dumbed down entertainments like ‘X-factor’ and ‘Strictly’ instead of thinking about real stuff, allows for such crimes against humanity to proceed unchallenged, what is the more destructive behaviour – taking to the streets with a message or watching TV with a brain full of celebrity crap?

    And which ones are the violent thugs and troublemakers and which ones are the peacekeepers? It all gets a bit blurry when you actually think about it.

    or this

    What we need is for the television machines to help make sense of all of this by telling us what to think!

    My favorite blogging platform


    Are there any other reasons why people aren’t more quick to condemn such unacceptable behaviour by (some of) the police?

    Perhaps the plethora of sexy cop/ detective dramas has something to do with it. Or all those fly on the wall shows following the heroic deeds of motorbike cops, or paramedic teams or community support workers as they save people’s lives, stop some tink driving without car insurance (at which point you can hear the nations saying: Yes!!!), chat amiably with an east end wide boy before rescuing a cat up a tree and returning to base. (I don’t mean to take away from the good and difficult work many of these genuinely fine people do, it is the TV shows themselves I am criticizing).

    But beyond even the above examples, the answer could be that they are being deliberately conditioned to full on militarized police forces as perfectly normal.. or even ‘cool’. Especially young people – schoolboys (and school girls) – the generation who will have to live in this increasingly militarized police state world.

    And so maybe another way to look at all of this is to see it all as a giant schoolyard (AKA playground). Will the minority of bullies (and hangers on) be able to terrorize (and recruit from) the rest of the children and take over, or will the majority of the kids stand up to them and put a stop to such out of control and uncivilized behaviour?

    Perhaps most important of all is the lesson that the police, just like schoolboys, can easily get caught up with the wrong crowd and led astray …. and even without fully realising it.

    And so perhaps to steer society away from this Orwellian nightmare vision of a total ‘insecurity state’ we need to promote a culture where we do not tolerate ANY such violence or high tech weaponry and instead we introduce more genuine and authentic ‘security measures’ such as love, compassion, empathy, critical thought, reason, communication, human interaction, eye contact, hugs…. that would be the grown up and responsible thing to do.

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