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“Best Friends” Ban in UK Schools Mirrors Ayn Rand’s Anthem

An almost-unbelievable story in The Sun claims that teachers at some UK schools have banned “best friends.” Harry Hawkins writes for that paper:

Teachers are banning schoolkids from having best pals—so they don’t get upset by fall-outs.

Instead, the primary pupils are being encouraged to play in large groups.

Educational psychologist Gaynor Sbuttoni said the policy has been used at schools in Kingston, South West London, and Surrey.

She added: “I have noticed that teachers tell children they shouldn’t have a best friend and that everyone should play together. They are doing it because they want to save the child the pain of splitting up from their best friend. But it is natural for some children to want a best friend. If they break up, they have to feel the pain because they’re learning to deal with it.”

The story seemed so strange that I contacted Chris McGovern of the UK’s Campaign for Real Education; McGovern also was quoted in the story. He responded, “No one has questioned the veracity of this story. It simply reflects the state of our ‘education’ system. 1984 has arrived.” So for now I will take the story at face value, as bizarre and unbelievable as it seems.

While perhaps it was natural for McGovern to invoke the dystopian work of English author George Orwell, Ayn Rand’s dystopia Anthem (published in England more than a decade before 1984 came out) actually better-anticipates the “best friends” ban.

In Rand’s novella, a collectivist society has crushed individuality to the degree that the word “I” has been eliminated from the language and preferences among friends have been forbidden. Yet the central character of the story, Equality 7-2521, nevertheless develops a preference. He writes:

International 4-8818 and we are friends. This is an evil thing to say, for it is a transgression, the great Transgression of Preference, to love any among men better than the others, since we must love all men and all men are our friends. So International 4-8818 and we have never spoken of it. But we know. We know, when we look into each other’s eyes.

Equality 7-2521 goes on to fully embrace individualism and to see preference in friendships not as a transgression but as a reflection of his deepest moral and personal values. Hopefully his example will help to inspire and liberate school children of today who are forbidden to engage in the “Transgression of Preference.”

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Image: iStockPhoto

Posted in: Education Policy, The Arts

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Anonymous

    Imagine finally getting around to reading Anthem, and checking the news that evening to find out the world has finally gotten around to copying it. That’s me.

  • Sonja Bernhardt

    Utterly ridiculous UK concept.  Leaning to make and break with friends, and learning to cope with people who are not ‘friends’ is LIFE.  Developing realistically based approach to life IS WHAT MATTERS not faked up circumstances that do not reflect the facts.

  • Anonymous

    As a reader from the UK I feel I should point out that the Sun is far from a reputable news source. It is especially fond of these sorts of stories but they are nearly always utterly fabricated.

  • Anonymous

    The story is obviously not “utterly fabricated”; Chris McGovern verifies the story quoted him accurately. Whether McGovern is correct is another question. I contacted the psychologist quoted in the story, but unfortunately she has not written me back yet. If I learn more information either way, I will be sure to update the piece accordingly.

  • Anonymous

    Let me be clear I did not mean for my original post to sound inflammatory. Rather I wanted to urge caution regarding the Sun newspaper as it is well known for being untrustworthy and has no moral grounding whatsoever.

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate the caution; that’s why I did a bit of background checking first and stated my concerns. I did also just send a Tweet to Russell Hobby, another fellow quoted in the story. I’ll post an update if I hear anything else.

  • Anonymous

    It is amazing how prescient Ayn Rand was with her early novel Anthem.  We are certainly headed to her dystopian world as people are less and less well educated regarding history and individual rights.  It is time to overthrow our public schools and allow the private schools to flourish.

  • B E

    Let’s just put ALL the children in a bubble that way they’ll be safe from just about everything including “fall-outs”, germs & viruses, and STUPID educators! Whomever idea this is was/is certainly w/o close friendships.

  • Anonymous

    It has always “been time” to avoid public schools. Home or private schools may be expensive but when a mind is at stake the choice is clear. I would hope this is taken into account when couples do their financial planning and before having children. 

  • Anonymous

    You can`t have a best friend ner ner ner ner ner… 

  • charles fuchs

    Awesome !!!!!!!!!!