The Hothouse Society, by Royston Lambert, was published in 1967. He and his team of researchers were investigating boarding schools only, and boarding schools over forty years ago, at that, but it remains relevant today because, as it says in the introduction, 'It presents one consistent viewpoint – that of the children in their writings. No other material has been used in this book – none of our own material or the staff interviews, or the statistics, or, with a few exceptions, our interviews with the children.' Even boarding schools have become more civilised in the intervening years, by, for instance, abandoning corporal punishment and introducing co-education, but this catalogue is about risks, not certainties, and going to a boarding school still involves risks like the ones described below.
This first quotation is from a boy who had been at a Quaker school and then moved to a highly disciplined formal school.
I think it changed me a lot and not for the best, in some ways. I'm not such a decent person. Before, if I had done something wrong, I felt rotten for two weeks or so, you felt everyone at school knew, you felt everyone was looking at you, you just couldn't tell a lie to get yourself out of things but now I can lie quite easily and couldn't give a damn. I could tell the biggest lies right now just to save my skin, I could go outside and smash that bloody silly picture of Cromwell and come in and tell you I hadn't. I could look you straight in the eyes and say I hadn't. It's made me more brutal but it gives me much more spirit, much more drive, the trouble is it's against other people. They aren't interested in self discipline, they couldn't give a damn what you're really like, only what you appear to be like in that grey straight jacket. I've lost respect for people as people. You just want to take the piss all the time, anything that puts you one up on someone else.
The Hothouse Society, p 32
At another school there is a compulsory morning run. One boy writes a long and vivid description of the ordeal, and ends with these words:
This then is the morning run. Every boy has to go through the same experience. It seems strange. You are being taught to be a leader. All you are taught here is resentment and hatred for the people who try to rule your life.
Ibid, p 81
After such training, those who are eventually given power as prefects, do not always use it wisely. Here are some comments from three different schools:
If somebody does something then I usually hit them instead of punishing them in the prefects room. I find this is better and they like you more so you get more co-operation.
There are nice prefects who smash people's faces in.
Well, they got me in the Prefects room. They made me put my hand out, fingers spread on an old desk, then T.H. [a prefect] got a compass and began to stab the gaps between my fingers with the compass point, back and forwards, faster and faster. Then when he was doing it fastest, he shut his eyes. I was terrified. Thank Christ he didn't miss. They sometimes do and boys go to Matron – they daren't split – 'My finger got hit by a nail.'
Ibid, p 183
Many of the quotations in the book are neutral or positive, but there are plenty more that are shockingly negative. What becomes clear is that the pupils in the strictest schools are the ones who are most likely to suffer violence from their prefects and to learn to rebel. One such boy wrote the following account of what he does when he at last gets off the school train at the end of term.
I belt down the platform and into the nearest bar. The next hour is spent in a haze of bitter and fags. You just want to smash things because you are free.
Ibid, p 211