Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Questions that puzzle kids.

I have written about my time at school elsewhere on the blog. Here, here, here and here. Of the teachers who I disliked and the way things were back then. I was the usual post war child, brought up in austerity. In a time when things were starting to get back to normality, whatever that was. My school was a typical stone built Victorian building. Built to last, but without a single item of merit in its design, which was purely functional. To a certain extent the staff were the same, almost utilitarian. They were returning from a time of strife and trying to pick-up the pieces. Non had the ability to gain the respect of the children through their teaching ability - in those days grudging respect was demanded by corporal punishment administered to children at the wrong end of a cane.

One consequence of this climate of fear was that we were encouraged not to ask questions. The encouragement came through fear and being held to ridicule. "Stupid boy", was often the reply if anyone had the temerity to ask. Being an inquisitive child meant that I often had questions, but I was smart enough not to ask. Modern teaching methods were many years away. So much of the "teaching" was done with the mind numbing practice of "learning by rote" We were forced to endure hours of shit, like chanting the "times tables" and other such nonsense.

I remember a time when the Queen was paying a visit to the area. We were being taught to sing the national anthem. I suppose it was just in case she decided to pop in an see us - she missed the opportunity I might add. There was one particular line that I could not understand. "Send her Victoria's happy and Gloria's" Why would anyone want to send plums? We had a plum tree in the garden, would we be sending some of ours? Gloria lived close by and I wondered what it was of hers that would be sent that would make her happy? It would still be many years before I knew that there were in total, five verses to the anthem.

Morning assembly was another case in question. We had a repertoire of about four hymns that we would sing with monotonous regularity. "There is a green hill far away without a city wall". What was that all about, a city on a green hill that did not have a wall? I wanted to ask if someone would build one round it. However, at least we did manage to sing all five verses. The other verses were no better. I felt guilty by "He died to make us good", I could have had a complex. Also, just how were we "Saved by his precious blood"? Would they splash it on us!

Then there was the so called "school journey" now this sounded promising. Every one of the kids spent weeks copying maps that were drawn on the blackboard. Writing in advance a journal of the journey that we were going to make. The reality was that this was a short bus trip to the Derbyshire Peak District. We stopped twice, toilet and at the toads mouth rock where a picture was taken. We also paused to look at the view at the "Surprise" but we did not even get off the bus. Then we returned back to school in time for lunch. For me it was a bitter disappointment. It was a place that I often went on a regular trip to visit relatives with my mother.

We were not allowed to take our "journal" with us for reference. They were collected up and taken away. Half of the kids did not go because their parents could not afford the fare. However, they had to do a journal anyway! The big downer for us who went on the trip was that those left behind were given the whole day off school. Why did they do this - because the following week we had a school inspection and our journals were to be examined. What of the school picture taken at toads mouth rock. Copies could be purchased from one of the teachers for a small fee.

Thank god I passed the eleven plus (major miracle) and went on to a school where inspiration was used rather than a cane. Where questions were encouraged and ridicule frowned upon. Where hard work was rewarded with a complement. Where I never had to endure another afternoon sat with my hands on my head because someone had fidgeted. A place I actually wanted to be for the first time in my school life. What of my old school chums who did not pass the eleven plus - the senior school was on modern campus built in the 1950's and had a sports field. The class of tutor was much better but the cane was often the answer to the slightest  of misdemeanour's. The focus was on metal work and wood work as the kids were prepared for a life working in the steel or coal industry.

For me, it was the sciences, sport and a mathematics master who recognised my abilities. Not least was my mother who answered many of the questions I dare not previously ask. Who talked and explained to me about many things that the previous school avoided. Who read to me many of the classics until I fell asleep in bed. But mother would only let me stay up late to watch Patrick Moore and the "Sky at Night".


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