According to the modern day indicators, I was ‘deprived’ as a child, although I never really felt that way.
I am from a single parent family and I got free school meals. We weren’t dirt poor, but we didn’t get the child support we were meant to and life was a bit of a struggle for my mum. We were your classic ‘latchkey kids’ because my mum had to work and there was no other adult present. I wore second hand uniforms and went to a state comprehensive in White City. This last bit means I have something in common with Michael Gove, in that I also support QPR. Perhaps this is why we both live in a state of permanent optimism. Not much can get you down when your team is as bad as that.
Further signs of my deprivation could be the fact that I left school at sixteen, that I never made it to a Russell Group University, and that I have a deficit of Dead White Dudes in my education. Especially English ones (we don’t hear so much about the Welsh or Scottish or Irish ones …)
I can remember studying Animal Farm, and Lord of the Flies, and Macbeth, but I definitely wasn’t taught Chaucer, or Dickens, or Homer. My fondest memory is of doing a long, self directed writing project with Miss Ladd. The books that I associate with my childhood are those that I read myself at home, not at school. Our school was in ILEA, so we got free music lessons, and a local authority grant (the last of its kind) gave me the chance to train as a dancer. My school was fine: some great teachers, some not so great.
When I did ‘A’ level at evening classes we studied great women novelists – Austen and Eliot and Charlotte Bronte. At university (an ex-poly) I found modern writers: Toni Morrison and John Steinbeck were happy discoveries. We read Dickens, and I can see the brilliance, but he didn’t really strike a chord with me. Sorry. That’s fiction for you: not everyone likes the same stories.
Have I suffered from a deficit of Dead White Dudes? If I was the equivalent of the ‘deprived but intelligent child’ that people want to save, would life have worked out better for me if someone had swooped in with a spoonful of Dickens at just the right time?
The problem with the notion of an ‘elite’ is that it elevates some kinds of lives above others. If your purpose in life is to be as clever as you can get, then that’s one possibility and very good luck to you. But others choose to be as creative, or as caring, or as kind, or as helpful, or as adventurous as they can get instead. And there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
I couldn’t possibly put it better than Robert Frost (not so long dead and an American, but hey ho):
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.”