I don’t know much about Oliver Curtis, except what has been in the newspapers.
One thing I do know about him, however, is the school he went to.
I know this because those same newspapers seem to feel there is something noteworthy about the fact that this alleged insider trader is a St Ignatius Riverview ‘old boy’, as was his partner in (alleged) crime. They met on its exclusive (yet paradoxically tax payer-subsidised) playing fields.
I have noticed this frequently when the graduates of supposedly prestigious schools get themselves publicly shamed on the pages of the newspapers. Journalists feel compelled to note their glittering alumnus. I doubt that if I was to get myself into some kind of trouble (heaven forfend) those same journos would bother to describe me as ‘Forest High old girl Jane Caro’.
Why is this? Is it schadenfreude? Or surprise? Or a bit of both?
It is hard to escape the thought that many of us remain astonished when those who were exposed to the (ahem) superior ‘values’ of expensive private schools fall by the wayside. The attitude seems to be ‘how can this be, when they went to such a good school?’
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This shock appears immovable, despite the fact it is not uncommon for alumni of such salubrious schools to have their day of ignominy on the front pages of our less salubrious newspapers.
Indeed, I remember the same incomprehension when I gently suggested to a friend about to hock herself to the eyeballs to pay for what she called ‘better peers’ that I doubted the triad or organised crime bosses sent their kids to the local public school.
L-R: Oliver Curtis pictured in a Riverview yearbook photo; author Jane Caro.
Indeed, I remember chuckling (schadenfreude — guilty, Your Honour) quietly to myself when an episode of Underbelly, Channel Nine's series about Australia's criminal underworld, made this abundantly clear.
Egalitarian (hah!) Australia appears to have swallowed whole the idea that privilege equals virtue and lack-thereof equals vice. If a kid from Bog Standard High comes a public cropper, it is no more than we expected all along.
I have long (though fruitlessly) argued that sending your kids to a public school is a win/win for parents, while going private is a lose/lose.
Let me explain; if you send your kids to a public school and they do badly (exams, behaviour, front-page-of-newspaper) the world thinks 'oh well, what can you expect? It's such a crap school'. If they do well in any way at all, the world thinks 'wow, you must be great parents because it's such a crap school.'
Despite a minimum of effort or expense, public school parents get the credit while the school cops the blame.
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With private schools it's the opposite.
If your kid does badly (see categories above) the world thinks 'shit, they must have crap parents because it's such a great school.' And if they succeed the world is all 'well, of course they did — it's such a great school.'
Poor private school parents. They cop the blame while the school gets the credit — and they pay good money for this!
In fact, maybe that is one reason why we still seem to find it relevant to reference the prestigious school some of our bad boys and bad girls once attended — so we can be sure to blame their parents and not the school.
Another reason may be that we still get a subversive thrill out of seeing how the mighty have fallen, and journos know this.
The public shaming of those who we suspected were a little too sure of their own superiority (an occupational hazard of attending a premium brand school) gives us a not-very-nice-but-still-very-human moment of pleasure.
Most of us didn't attend prestigious private schools ourselves and won't send our kids to them. Indeed, they are designed to keep most of us out — that's why they continue to charge such jaw-dropping fees, despite their generous public subsidies. Such premium brand schools actually educate roughly five per cent of Australians. (Ninety per cent* of our politicians, though, and isn't that an achievement?)
How could it be otherwise? You can't be elite or exclusive unless you keep the riff-raff out.
Given such schools accept the taxes of all of us while retaining the unfettered right to keep almost all of us at arm's length (while holding their nose), I think us riff-raff may be forgiven for taking a little comfort whenever the tables get turned.
*completely unscientific figure
Featured image: Instagram/@roxyjacenko