The notion of "school" probably means a lot more to me than it does to most people. I was not born in a hospital but in a rural schoolhouse - right next door to the village primary school where my father was the headmaster. I wrote about this back in October 2010 and have probably alluded to it on other occasions during my seven years in the blogosphere.
After advancing successfully through my primary and secondary school years, I joined the last cohort of eighteen year old British school leavers to become V.S.O. (Voluntary Service Overseas) volunteers. It was 1972 and I was posted to the most northerly of the Fiji Islands where of course I was a teacher in Rotuma's only high school.
Later, in Scotland, my degree was in English Studies with Education and during those four and a half years at university I visited or taught in a range of Scottish schools before embarking on my teaching career proper. Thirty two years flashed by teaching English in secondary schools in and around Sheffield.
So naturally, after all of this, I have many memories of things that happened in schools. Do we ever choose the memories that resurface or are they chosen for us by the "id" deep inside us? Some of my school memories are rather dark - often to do with injustice while others are light and quite joyful. In another post I shall reveal some of the darker school memories that still rankle even as they become fuzzier with the passing of years. But today, as February makes us shiver and a silver-grey cloud blanket shrouds the sun, let me think positively. The happiest days of your life?
I was in my last year at primary school so I was just eleven years old. It was my turn to lead a morning assembly. Usually, the Junior 4's just told stories from a book called "The Bible" - you may have heard of it. But another idea was stirring in me. I wanted to give a speech that questioned the very existence of God and challenged the authenticity and origins of the "good book". In the days leading up to my assembly, I scribbled down some of my budding ideas. I had never shared them with anyone before but even at eleven and as a solo-singing member of the church choir I had come to realise that religion was all a load of poppycock. "The Bible" was just a story book, written by men and the idea of an afterlife was really quite absurd.
The night before my assembly, a voice in my pubescent head told me that the sky might fall in if I delivered my planned assembly talk. I imagined the stony silence that would follow my profane oration and the stormy ripples that might follow. So I ditched the idea and hurriedly reconstituted the safe and comfortable biblical story of Daniel in the den of lions. The next morning that tale was met was met with nods and applause.
|Daniel in the lions' den - perhaps a suitable |
motif for my life in education
A few weeks later, the teacher - who was my father - asked my class if they knew the names of any great composers. I was thinking Beethoven, Handel, Bach... but Dad had noticed that Joyce Collingwood's hand was up so he asked her. Beaming with confidence, she said "Albert Hall!" - London's best known concert venue. A few of us tittered but I guess that others admired Hall's great symphonies!
At secondary school, though I was always an average footballer, I discovered that I was naturally good at rugby. I was a Yorkshire terrier, ripping the ball from the hands of other forwards and muscling through. I was at the heart of the scrum - a fearless warrior, from scrum to line-out, from maul to ruck. I had a great "engine" as they say and I especially loved playing the game on muddy winter grounds.
At the age of fifteen I was promoted to the school's first fifteen even though the other boys were all seventeen or eighteen. The standard of rugby was higher - harder and faster - but I learnt to hold my own and gave as good as I got. And one of the proudest days of my life was when, after county trials, I was selected to play for Hull and East Riding schoolboys.
Soon after that, I transferred to the sixth form at Beverley Grammar School where the rugby tradition was not as strong and where I grew my hair long and became enamoured with modern music, poetry and art. Even so, I still turned out for the inter-house competition and remember the acclaim I received when, in the final, I had to take an "impossible" conversion kick from the touchline. The ball sailed between the posts as sweet as a nut and we had won the game!
Fast forward to September 1978. It's breaktime at Dinnington Comprehensive School and I'm in my leaky shanty town classroom on the edge of the school campus. I notice two new first year boys in fresh blazers walking across the adjacent sports field. I go out to them.
"What are you doing here lads?"
"We're trying to find the science department."
"Well it's not on the field is it?"
"It's supposed to be," one of them says.
He shows me the map his form teacher has given him and there smack in the middle of the sports field is indeed the science department! The amateur cartographer has put it there for convenience because science is on the first floor of the main school building and the one-dimensional map can't overlay floors. That's why there's a big arrow to show that in actuality the science floor belongs on top of humanities. I chuckle at the boys' confusion and try to explain their error but they look at me blankly. To paraphrase The Jam - That's Education!
And that's the end of this post. I have waffled on long enough... for now.