British Schools Banning Best Friends: Finally, A Country That Can Ban Something Correctly



— It’s generally regarded as a fact of childhood that most kids will have a best friend. They will also have invisible friends. And imaginary friends, some talking animals, a superhero alter ego and at least one fictitious sidekick (mine was Han Solo, obviously, because I was awesome). They will also have several other best friends, several other non-best friends, some regular friends, passing acquaintances, people they sit next to because their last names start with the same letter, bus kids, basic deskmates, nondescript lockerneighbors and at least one arch-nemesis. I had all of these, especially the latter: His name was Chuck, he thought he was smarter than me and we faced off regularly in things like spelling bees, all of which I won because when it came to the primal ferocity of the fourth-grade spelling bee, I was not to be jacked around with.

But as I understood it, that’s what school was for, learning about “The Tempest” and the quadratic equation and covalent bonding and other things that you literally cannot go a day without referencing, but also stumbling around and attempting to carve out some social structure that you will go on to one day to apply to your adult life, assuming you don’t grow up to be someone who regularly comments on websites.

Yet this is apparently not what school is for in Britain, because as everyone knows school in Britain is about one thing only: defeating Lord Voldemort. Indeed — or I guess “prithee” or “to wit” or “I say dear boy” or however British people write transitions, I feel like it should include the word “fortnight”— in a story that almost certainly contains layers of subtlety and is born from psychological research but has been boiled down to “KIDS NOT ALLOWED TO MAKE BEST FRIENDS” in America, where most news is delivered in four-word increments adjacent to articles about actors who resemble cats, schools in parts of England have banned kids from having best friends. (The kids are instead encouraged to interact in larger groups.)

This is news to me for a number of reasons, primarily that I was already under the impression this policy was apparently in effect in Indiana in the mid-1980s. But also it’s shocking that this policy has seen anything close to the light of day; over here people lose their damn minds at banning things like “giant sodas” and “assault weapons.” But according to the Sun newspaper, the policy has been employed in schools in Kingston, South West London, Surrey, South Farthington, Little Whirlingdishes, Kate Middleton West and Downton Abbey OK obviously most of those are made up but have you ever tried to come up with fake British names for a list joke? God, it’s fun, grab some wine and try it, I’ve spent 40 minutes on this paragraph alone.

“They are doing it because they want to save the child the pain of splitting up from their best friend,” said educational psychologist Gaynor Sbuttoni to the Sun newspaper in Britain, or they possibly stole it out of a private voicemail she was leaving for a colleague, whichever. “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.” This brings up a number of compelling social questions, such as: Wait they have education psychologists in Britain? Jeez, in America it’s kind of a huge deal if every classroom has lights.

But if the story is true (there are lots of sensors going off here), Sbuttoni makes a good point: Children must be equipped to deal with loss! This is something we’ve been learning around the house a lot lately, particularly when it comes to my 9-year-old and board games. Just a few hours ago we had a minor breakdown over a scene in a game where I commanded a minotaur to send one of his Lego ninjas back to the starting line, which, trust me, was a PRETTY BIG DEAL. He responded as he usually does when something negative happens to him in a game: Pouting, followed by an attempt at suddenly amending the rules in his favor.

But despite involving both Legos and a minotaur, this game was not that big of a deal; I shudder to think what would happen if my son’s school suddenly announced that it getting its grubby little gubmint fingers all up in his friend-making. I am generally pretty progressive when it comes to most educational topics, especially as they pertain to “teacher pay scales” or “teaching evolution” or “having like everyone carry guns in there for some reason,” but I have to confess to getting all libertarian when I think of someone monitoring my son’s playground activities for excessive companionship. Just step back and let the kids play as they’ll play, at least until it’s time for the Voldemort battle.


About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

17 responses to “British Schools Banning Best Friends: Finally, A Country That Can Ban Something Correctly

  • Paula Hendrickson

    Cool:) ANd damn funny. Again.


  • soblade1

    Reblogged this on Sonya in August.


  • Reheated Coffee

    This is a pretty brilliant response to a pretty absurd idea. I’m fairly sure that the inseparable bonds I felt with my elementary best friends were not nearly as difficult to break as I thought. I’m never putting my future child in school in Little Whirlingdishes, that’s for sure.


  • Katie Robinson

    First, your writing is completely hilarious and I immediately clicked Follow.

    Second, if this is really where humanity is going, it needs to stop. Why are we protecting children so much? Why are we afraid of pain?! No good can come if there is no bad. We can’t learn unless we hurt. I have no idea how someone could think this was a good idea.


  • simonashton (@simonashton)

    This is great. Mainly because my mum lives in Little Whirlingdishes and it rarely gets the attention it deserves.


  • Matthew Wright

    It’s not the first time that educational theory (framed by academic idealism) has been imposed across real behaviours.

    It was Churchill, I think, who remarked that his own school days were a sea of unpleasantness best not mentioned. I am inclined to agree…but sometimes it’s apposite.

    Great post!


    • Jeff Vrabel

      I’m sure, and parts of mine were same, but at least in my case the idea of reducing my number of friends just seems illogical. If not entirely impossible. Thanks so much for reading!


  • cruiz76

    How would we have gotten through elementary school without the loyal best friend and the evil arch nemesis? My arch nemesis thought he was all cool and hip because his name was inscribed inside his glasses and got to dance with the woman I loved in 3rd grade. Oh Angelica, how could you!!! Government’s everywhere are totally upsetting when they hash out these psyched out plans to better insure a child’s development. I assume many of the people who fought for this ban didn’t have many friends in school thus making other kids suffer the way they did. How sad.

    Han Solo? I guess it was a reasonable choice, I mean you would have someone to blame after using your slingshot on your arch nemesis. In defense, when explaining to your folks, you could have said “Han shot first!”. Epic.


  • Jeff Vrabel

    Ha! Mine thought he had a better comic-book collection and could best me in 5th grade spelling bees, which he definitely could not. He was also a huge nerd, a fact offset slightly by the fact that I was also a huge nerd. If we could have used government intervention in anything, it would have been a reduction in the size of my brown plastic glasses frames. Thanks for reading – J.


  • AnnaDango

    My little brother plays that Minotaur game too. But…I don’t think he’s ever gone by the rules. 😀


  • Jeff Vrabel

    I mean, the point of Legos is to foster boundless creativity, right?


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