Monday, 31 December 2007

History Boy.

Watched Alan Bennett's 'The History Boys' the other night. Set in the '80s around a bunch of grammar school kids studying for their Oxbridge entrance exams - it was too close to home for me to miss.

There was a basic error though. These were supposed to be 'outsiders' - boys who would not normally have expected to go to Oxbridge - but somehow they were afforded the luxury of a special post-A level preparatory course for the exam.

In the 80's, unlike today, there was an entrance exam rather than an offer based on A levels - but for those lesser mortals from state schools (like myself from a comprehensive) this exam was taken before A Levels. Our general disadvantages against pupils from the private sector were further reinforced by being a year younger and having no specific tuition. Which explains the outrageous domination of students from the private sector (about 60% at the time I think).

But in one respect Bennett got the Oxbridge ethos absolutely spot on - particularly in history. Here, the fetish of being 'smart' so outweighed the historian's basic duty to get it 'right' that revisionism - the quirks and exceptions horseshoe-nail school of history - was the only one that was acceptable. The irony of this was that if I had gone to another university less wrapped up its own cleverness I might well have been tempted to stick with academia.

Perhaps though the most important and lasting lesson that Oxbridge teaches those from ordinary backgrounds who manage to sneak in under the radar is how to not really fit in anywhere - and also not to be too bothered by it. Or was that just me?

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