The middle classes’ best kept secret
My Dad was asking the other day why our son was staying on for A Levels. He wondered if a 17 year old should be getting a job given the high rates of graduate unemployment. Good question. So I told him about the shocking truth I discovered when I went to university, and why I want my sons to go too.
No-one in our family had ever been before me, and I kind of got there by accident with no A Levels – having dropped out of my cr*ppy comprehensive school in Brixton, South London, as soon as I could. Years later I got myself onto a BA Literature & Philosophy course. My parents were shaken. I had a good job on a magazine. What was I thinking, leaving it just to get a certificate?
When I started at university the lecturers apologised that I’d have to attend eight hours of lectures a week and turn out several essays at the end of each term. I might even need to read books. Having come from a magazine job where a ten hour day was the norm and I’d write between 1 and 3,000 words a day, I was shocked. Then I noticed the younger students around me, drinking, dating, jumping from one bed to another, and I realised that this was paradise laid on for them for three years.
Something those of us from working families – where most our our parents had left school at 14 or 15 – might never experience. Everyone goes to uni now, or lots more people, and it’s ordinary. Back then, I realised that the middle classes had created a wonderful playground for three years, where young people could laugh, learn, love, protest and run free before the cuffs of a business suit and the 9 to 5 came a calling to crush their spirits.
Thank goodness for university and its spread towards more and more people. And sadness for all those who go from school to work with no playtime thrown in. As for a job for my graduate sons… best to let them have those wonder-years.