School’s boring! School doesn’t understand! School’s only interested in exams! School’s unfair to boys! School doesn’t care…! The vehemence with which young people talk about ‘school’ suggests that whatever it is that they mean by ‘school’ is much more powerful and personal than a collection of disparate buildings or an array of teachers trying their best and sometimes getting it wrong.
Peter says of his teachers, “They don’t care about us! They only care about themselves!”
“This school picks on people for no reason!” says Anna. “You can’t do anything! And there are some people never get the blame for anything! It’s always us!”
‘School’ is the recipient of all sorts of projections but because school is ‘in loco parentis’ —responsible for guiding and looking after young people—it picks up more than its share of parental transferences. Whenever young people like Peter and Anna are exercised on the subject of ‘school’, there’s a sense in which they’re unconsciously always talking about qualities of parenting, typically ‘fairness’ or ‘caring’ or sincerity. The same goes for the conversations and debates that the rest of us have about other organisations with any sort of nurturing role in our lives. Whatever their shortcomings, hospitals, the police, social workers, politicians and even banks stand accused of the worst crime: being bad parents. We may have elaborate reasons why we believe that this organisation or those workers aren’t doing their jobs properly (and, of course, there’s often objective truth in our accusations) but it’s hard for our views not also to be informed—unconsciously—by our personal experiences of parenting.