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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: School's message hits a sour note

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The billboard shows a boy in King's uniform holding the world in the palm of his hand. "Come to King's," it says, "and you will control the world." Photo / Dean Purcell
The billboard shows a boy in King's uniform holding the world in the palm of his hand. "Come to King's," it says, "and you will control the world." Photo / Dean Purcell

If there's one thing we can safely say about the billboard advertising an open day at King's School on February 25 it's that you don't need a private school education to be able to understand it.

The billboard shows a boy in King's uniform holding the world in the palm of his hand. "Come to King's," it says, "and you will control the world." My education was very different from what you get at King's. This might leave me open to charges of sour grapes, but I prefer to think of it as objectivity.

The school must turn out some fine young people - statistically that must be the case. After all, some people finish their prison sentences having reformed.

The message of the billboard is that if you go to King's you will be able to do anything. It's often said we should teach our children they can do anything.

That is not true of course - young people's ability has a lot to do with what they can achieve. Hence a lot of modern education's emphasis is on helping people achieve their potential. Kids who are expected to be able to do anything and know they can't often find that stress too much to bear.

The trouble with people who think they can do anything is that they all too often start to think they can get away with anything. People who can hold the world in the palm of their hands are above ethics or criticism.

It's no wonder our elite - and if you still doubt we have an elite, take another look at the photo - has got a little out of touch.

Almost equally significant about the billboard is what it doesn't promise. It doesn't promise to make them good in any way. It doesn't promise to make them kind. Or generous. Or creative. It doesn't - and this is the bit I still marvel at - even promise to make them educated. It just promises to make them in control.

Why is this billboard in Ponsonby, that bastion of diversity and the alternative? Just kidding. Only the most out-of-touch observer could think this an uncongenial locale to flog an expensive education. Some of Auckland's most expensive houses. Some of Auckland's most fashionable fashion stores.

Still, it's quite a schlep from here to King's - about 7km each way to school in the Range Rover. Or in the buses now running from Ponsonby to the school each day, as advised in a wrongly capitalised sentence on the billboard.

But such imagery is not done without much forethought. Research will have been undertaken. This is an expensive exercise and you don't want to waste your money by sending the wrong signals.

So the creators of the billboard and their clients have discovered the sort of people who might be persuaded to send their children to King's want those children to be the ones running the show.

The people who can afford to live in Ponsonby are the people who can afford to send their children to King's, even if some have to get the bus because their mummies have to - gulp - go to work.

But can they afford to be so out of touch? And can they afford to breed a generation of selfish, entitled and arrogant young people, as promised in the advertisement?

• The original version of this column mistakenly referred to King's College

- Herald on Sunday

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