Last shoeshine for Eton seniors

Another bastion of English upper-class behavior is about to fall -- this time at the elite public school Eton. The fagging system -- where older boys can enlist younger boys to do menial tasks -- has been banned by headmaster Michael McCrum, who thinks it incompatible with modern standards of conduct.

He is encountering criticism from older pupils who enjoy ordering nervous "first years" to buff up their boots or nip down to the post office with letters to mom and dad. The directive is also not all that popular with new Eton boys. Some say fagging is fun. Others (perhaps eyeing their own future) think its abolition unwise.

If the McCrum edict prevails it will buck a hefty amount of tradition. Along with crimped suits and strange hats, fagging has been a custom since 1440.

Eton critics say such conduct is bad for the school's image -- not to mention the arrogant and subservient roles Eton students must play.

Headmaster McCrum is virtually certain of prevailing in his move to purge 10 of the college's 25 remaining "schools" of the practice.

If so, the prince of public schools will not be the same later this year when the last thirsty boy's stentorian roar for late-night cocoa echoes down Eton's oak-lined corridors. But it will be a bit more democratic.

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