What’s Wrong With Poor White Boys?

Back in my sink school days, we unathletic types skirted our rugby teacher’s Trenbolone-induced psychopathy by skiving physical education.

Rather than submit to Mr. Id’s rib-snapping assaults, the delinquent classes instead smoked low-grade hash through an improvised Coke can. Sometimes, we’d smash a window, or in the biting winter, light on fire the teetering totems of discarded Latin textbooks littering the ruins of the old grammar school banked below our school grounds. 

Our school was in “special measures,” which is bureaucratese for “useless.” In true socialist-style, professional redeemers papered over the wanton failures of progressive education with reviews and inquiries and meetings and “lessons will be learned.” 

These interventions did nothing. Few will understand something their salary depends upon them not understanding; the poverty pimp will never end poverty.

A delinquent later set fire to the old grammar school. But the harm-preventers ruined it long before then, destroying overnight a system that plucked bright poor kids from their hardscrabble beginnings and infused them with the best of which has been thought and said. From culture to anarchy.

From Bad to Worst

Only for the worst has anything changed since the early 2000s. At least back then we didn’t pretend half of the kids were worthy of an “A”—it was more like a quarter. Our schools remain pointless, churning out pupils whose literacy and numeracy compare to some of the poorest countries in Europe, and whose grasp of culture is limited to “contemporary” artists missioned to coarsen and degrade rather than sweeten and lighten. Our culture, what’s left of it, an adolescent Banksy splash.

We white working-class boys remain unfashionable, our white privilege depriving us of the “empowerment” obsession our culture imparts upon its preferred victims.

Figures from the U.K. Department of Education confirm the continuing trade in apathy.

White working-class boys are bottom of the pile. Least likely to go to a decent university, poor white boys are most likely to remain rooted to their station of birth. White boys on free school meals (a British marker of poverty) are the least likely of all ethnic groups to break into higher education.

Just over a quarter of all poor kids go on to university, yet half that are poor white boys.

Curiously, progressives say next to nothing about such educational apartheid. Perhaps our white privilege has forgotten about us: 59 percent of black African pupils on free school meals go to university, with 32 percent of their black Caribbean peers joining them. Systemic racism, then, discerns between the two, holding back the latter while advantaging the former, and forgetting, it would appear, all about the white kids the system is meant to prefer. How sophisticated.

When the Working Class Disenchanted the Left

Columnists at the Guardian and woke progressives gaze upon us poor white boys as if we’re untameable pre-modern creatures, some uncontacted tribe daubed in the fiery sap of a plant to which we ascribe divinity.

It wasn’t always this way. Lefty intellectuals slicked dry their slimy obsession with the working class when it dawned upon them that we weren’t keen on doing their dirty work of a Marxist revolution.

The bohemian radicals turned their compassion toward convincing minorities and women that Western society is a Margaret Atwood novel, liberation from which lay in revolution. Hence the woke obsessions with race and gender and deconstructing a Western civilization never more opposed to discrimination.  

As George Orwell observed, “The truth is that, to many people calling themselves Socialists, revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which ‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon ‘them’, the Lower Orders.”

Chipping Away at Meritocracy

It wasn’t always so grim. That grammar school we defiled as Mr. Id exorcised his messy divorce upon the more obedient kids once cultured the finest of minds from the roughest of grist.

Nowadays, as Peter Hitchens labors and labors, grammar schools are preserved for children of the Guardian opinion pages and the radical rah-rahs.

The Sutton Trust found poor kids were much less likely than middle-class kids to win a desk at the top 500 comprehensive schools in England. Forty-three percent of kids at England’s “outstanding” schools were from the wealthiest 20 percent of families. Poor kids were half as likely as their richer peers to go to an outstanding school.

A recent furor over teaching Latin in British schools highlighted our educational apartheid.

Every progressive on Twitter chimed in: “I learned Latin at my grammar/private school. It didn’t do me any good! Kids need to learn relevant subjects.”

Of course, their kids learn Latin. What they mean by “relevant subjects” is preserved for white working-class kids. What poor white kids need, say the professional redeemers, is an education of relevance, by which they mean classes in how to cut rap videos and viral TikToks.

Grammar schools tuned the minds of poor kids to the finest frequency. One grammar school girl, Margaret Thatcher, went on to become prime minister. A truly meritocratic elite was on the rise. So, the progressives thought they’d help us out: they shut down the grammar schools in the name of equality. 

Now, in the age of “empowerment” and “inclusion and diversity” poor kids are subjected to the lottery of birth.

Through their liberal organs, progressives chirp about equality while barricading their children from the threat of a true meritocracy, condemning the poor to drain their talents in schools where trendy teachers scoff at notions of excellence and rigor.

Aesthetic Equality Only, Please

The equality they do like is the aesthetic kind. Most diversity and inclusion schemes (except the noble Journalism Diversity Fund to which I am indebted) are sealed from white working-class inclusion, drawing their awardees from the black and Asian middle-classes in which excellence and rigor are cultural obsessions. Poor white kids need not apply.

One of my old English teachers thought grammar and composition were outdated. “Just write,” he told me, “Don’t worry about all that grammar stuff.” That’s like suggesting one can listen to Jimi Hendrix and never bother learning a basic guitar chord.

For all their talk of “build back better,” our neophile political classes stitch little meat on to the bones of our paltry democracy.

Unlike them, the greatest political minds are forged in those rare journeys across the political spectrum.

As Christopher Lasch put it, a true meritocracy sought to “raise the general competence” of all, not just promote a token poor kid for emotional profit. Our meritocracy concerns itself chiefly with whether a particular line goes up on a graph or whether boardroom composition satisfies ever-shifting woke dogmas. 

David Goodhart, author of Head, Hand, Heart, asks, “Can we really argue that the work of a junior account manager in a City PR firm is more useful than a bus driver or an adult care worker?”

Indeed, can we really argue my writing of this essay holds more value than my mother’s feeding, bathing, and nursing of those blighted in their final days with dementia? 

A real meritocracy, one matured to bloom, would appreciate the poet and plumber, the businessman and the bricklayer, the neurologist, and the nurse. A real meritocracy wouldn’t condemn poor kids to while away their education smoking hash through a Coke can.


Editor’s note: This article appeared originally at Oxford Sour. Subscribe to Christopher Gage’s Substack here.

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About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist and a founding member of the Gentlemen of the Swig. Subscribe to his Substack, "Oxford Sour."

Photo: Mardyke Primary School in South Ockendon, Essex, 1954. Earl/Daily Mirror/Getty Images