My Lovely Wife and I are great believers in public schools in the American sense of the word. Hey, we reason, if it was good enough for us. . . . And yet when we lived in Oxford we sent our daughters to public schools in the English sense of the word: that is, private, or as they say these days over in Blighty, “independent.” The state school in our neighborhood came highly recommended but was so oversubscribed that we couldn’t be sure there’d be room.
And so our then-14-year-old went to a private girls’ school, and our then-16-year-old was a day student at a boarding school. Both girls were at the tops of their classes, which at first worried all of us, so deeply entrenched is that anti-American prejudice.
Beatrice, our younger daughter, decided that the English are even more obsessed with teaching to the test than we are in the No Child Left Behind USA. Her classmates were gearing up for a standardized test called the GCSE, which they wouldn’t take till the following year. She spent much of her time bored by the slow rate they moved at, as teachers spent months on a single Shakespeare play and studied glaciers at a pace that can only be described as glacial.