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Public schools are not the Wild West, but “Britain’s toughest principal” – not Clint Eastwood | Zoe Williams

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TThe documentary “Britain’s Strictest Director” came out on the small screen on Sunday. She continues to do the diligent work of Catherine Birbalsing, who so fiercely mythologizes herself that if you had no memory or nothing better, you would think she came up with the phrases “please” and “thank you”.

Birbalsing is a good figure for the era of asymmetric polarization we are experiencing. She can come up with any idea she likes – girls don’t like math or liberals do not like Shakespeare – but express any hint of disagreement, ask even the softest question about the evidence base, and its defenders may call you a hysterical crowd. It’s usually safer to just leave her alone, and that’s okay because more interesting than her didactic method is the answer to it from the right comments.

In this camp, it is believed that Birbalsing did something incredibly unusual, even magical, by creating a safe learning environment. And yet it would not have flown without an audience that had never set foot in any other public school.

I myself studied in a private school, so I can accurately track the logic. They start with the fact that private education should be the best, because how else can you explain excellent results, places at the university and work? They correlated this with their own private school experience, which was probably mixed – some good teachers, some bad and quite a lot of bullying – and concluded that public schools should be much worse: “fat” children, worse behavior and complete absence. aspiration. Sprinkle a little half of the memorable Grange Hill, and ah – ordinary public schools – it’s the Wild West, and Catherine Birballsing – it’s Clint Eastwood.

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