Like many young boys in England in the early 50s, Robert ‘Bob’ Esau was sent away from home to boarding school at the tender age of eight years old. He found the separation from his family over the entire course of his childhood to be traumatic, and despite making many friends and working hard, he felt a huge longing for home.
Bob never blamed his parents for sending him away, understanding that they felt they were doing the very best for him and his future. Indeed, Bob went on to study English at Cambridge University and became a well-respected and much-loved teacher.
His academic success came at a huge personal and emotional cost however, and he waited until his father died before finally telling his mother of the sexual abuse he had suffered whilst at boarding school, at the hands of a member of the school’s clergy.
Before Bob died in 2020, he passed on a folder of his poetry, including ‘Outrage’, to his daughters, with the express wish that they should be shared and where possible, published.
He came like a fox in the dead of night,Robert ‘Bob’ Andrew Esau
That man of God, ambassador of light,
Tearing me from the fluttering fantasy
Of childhood slumber with his foul, fumbling
Fingers and his fetid breath; the torch beam
Razing sleep’s sanctuary beyond repair,
My defences mere castles in the air.
Pinioned and paralysed with shock and fear,
Overwhelmed by the weight of God’s great book,
Complicit by just being there, I let
Him take my soul away without restraint
Or retribution, without a single word
Of protestation, a pathetic pawn
In his game of abject violation.
For when he had told the twisted tale
Of the Millar and the mill wheel grinding,
He simply cracked the egg of innocence and left
My coop of broken dreams and desecration.
Bob also left behind some letters which he wrote to his family during his time as a junior boarder dated from 1951 onwards:
Boarding School Survivors (BSS) – Founded in 1990 to raise awareness of the effects of sending children away to school, to provide therapeutic help for adult ex- boarders and to inform and train the therapy profession.
The Making of Them: the British Attitude to Children and the Boarding School System – A book written by BSS founder, Nick Duffell, describing the history and social context of boarding, the inevitability of ‘Boarding School Syndrome,’ as well as the process of de-constructing a ‘Strategic Survival Personality’. It offers pointers towards a philosophy of education that honours the needs and the intelligence of the natural child.
Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion – A Psychohistory – Another book by boarding school survivor, Nick Duffell, showing how this uniquely British system has affected the whole of society and contributes to our political malaise.
The Making of Them – A British TV documentary filmed in September 1993 about young boys starting boarding prep school.
Boarding School Action – This group says that boarding schools adversely affect children’s development:
“We think boarding schools, as currently constituted, represent a rupture in the process of education and upbringing. This results in a premature adulthood which harms our society.
We support and campaign for greater understanding of emotional neglect and abuse.
We argue that the practice of early boarding contravenes the Human Rights of children.
We think that the practice of sending young children away to boarding schools re-enforces negative attitudes about the value of childhood and parenthood. What it is to be a child and the role of children in families and society needs greater understanding and empathy in order to better protect all children from cruelty and neglect.”
Sad Little Men – “A public school education has long been accepted in Britain as a preparation for leadership, but being separated from your parents at a young age is traumatic. What sort of adult does it mould? Tackling debates about privilege head-on, Sad Little Men reveals what happens when you put a succession of men from boarding schools into positions of influence, including at 10 Downing Street, and asks the question: is this really who we want in charge?”
Men’s Accounts of Boarding School: Sent Away – This book is a collection of writings by men about their childhood experiences of being sent away to boarding school. “Much has been written about the adverse effects of early separation and broken attachments, and these men illustrate this research in their accounts. This book will be insightful and useful reading for therapists working with the issues of Boarding School Syndrome, as well as former boarders.”
Sent Away, an Animation by Rosa Fisher – Rosa says that boarding schools can rip children out of their secure, loving homes and deposit them into a cold, unloving institution:
“‘Sent Away’ looks at the psychological implications that this can have on children and in particular the effect it had on my father, Tom. The film explores themes of masculinity, and also speculates how the cultural practice of sending children to boarding school has politically shaped the UK.”
Schooling the World – A documentary by Carol Black, education analyst and TV producer. The film investigates the global implications of colonialism and spreading the western school system (including day and boarding school) around the world:
“Generations from now, we’ll look back and say, ‘How could we have done this kind of thing to people?'”