Winners and losers

I would walk a mile for supportive education. It’s really meaningful to me. The sense of importance attached to this idea probably emerged as a result of my experiences at school…unsurprisingly.

I Would Walk a Mile for a Camel

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIxtnMfCURs

Widow of Marlboro Man Sues – Chicago Tribune

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1996-09-13/news/9609140118_1_marlboro-man-lung-cancer-philip-morris

When I graduated from primary to high school in Ian Smith’s land (not in a thousand years) we were required to do an IQ test and then a short pencil and paper test to determine our aptitude and therefore our future career paths. That is what we were told. At that time being a white, English speaking suburb of South Africa the school used the GSAT, a non-verbal non-person interactive South African multiple choice test that was culturally fair.

A short thousand years: the end of Rhodesia’s rebellion – Paul L. Moorcraft – Google Books

http://books.google.co.za/books/about/A_short_thousand_years.html?id=yHgNAQAAIAAJ&redir_esc=y

Two hundred of us sat in the school hall and filled in the booklets we were given for each time controlled section.

I need to tell you about the school’s monthly class tests and weekly assemblies on a Friday morning.

After the religious elements of assembly were concluded the non-Christians, in other words the Jews were called back into the hall. It was that time once a month for the headmaster to announce the results of the class tests to acknowledge and praise those who did well in their academics. So to the unbridled glee of those who came in the top three, their names were proclaimed to the full hall, teachers, pupils, boys and girls of the entire school followed by copious amounts of well-deserved clapping.

And pursuing another sound educational best practice the names of those pupils who by their own (de) merits came in the last three of each class were also proclaimed to the entire school (including sometimes brothers/sisters) in the tried and tested belief that it was deserved and served as a warning to others to not associate with and avoid becoming like those people; an older version of the current practice some hardware shops and city authorities have of naming debt defaulters and paedophiles.

The headmaster having concluded his report of those who won and those who lost instructed those who lost in a very perfunctory manner to form the line outside his office at the conclusion of the assembly.

We all stood in line, the six-hundred of us, silent in the valley of death. Each of us was waiting to meet his maker, the one who made you or broke you, the sole and final judge of your worth; the headmaster.

The Charge of the Light Brigade, Alfred Lord Tennyson http://allpoetry.com/poem/8473299-The_Charge_Of_The_Light_Brigade-by-Alfred_Lord_Tennyson

“According to the IQ test you should be coming in the top of the A stream Leon, how do you explain that you have been dropped to the B stream and not doing at all well there either? Well boy!” he insisted.

“I don’t know Sir.”

Truth be told I really didn’t know why I was failing, save to recognise and feel the personal horror and on-going pain of my being at school. Still I was not going to give him any pleasure or real power over me, even if I knew I would not say.

And thus came the educational intervention carefully calculated to help me remediate my failing ways.

“Bend over Leon.” Two brutal lashes of his cane later, and with only the fierce determination to not release the tears holding back the pain he clearly enjoyed inflicting, I left his office refusing to show defeat in any way to any person in the 50 yard queue outside the headmaster’s office. We all refused to yield. “I shall not yield to you or any man!”

Caning

Corporal Punishment and Bullying: The Rights of Learners http://www.populareducation.co.za/sites/default/files/punish booklet_WEB.pdf

Freak the Mighty http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0439286069

The Mighty https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B0094PWO1U?ie=UTF8&keywords=The%20Mighty&qid=1443693186&ref_=sr_1_1&s=movies-tv&sr=1-1

As you might have gathered me and the other losers, in the game of winners and losers, were blessed with such experiences nearly every month. Banish any thought of impressing the girls or having the respect of my friends, it was dog eat dog out there, red faced hot and sweaty. Name, shame and rehabilitate!

Surprising then was it that I ended up spending every recess in the school library huddled in a corner pretending to read in the last days of my schooling before I refused to go back.

One day when I could no longer tolerate the suffering I said to my father; “You can punish me, disown me, banish me but I am never going back to that school.” He accepted my ‘request’.

Some days after the aptitude test I was summoned to the hall by the ‘school counsellor’ as there was no school counsellor’s office, there was no school counsellor. She was the person who had the most psychological training, first year psychology at varsity, maybe.

“Leon”, she said succinctly never having laid eyes on nor spoken to me before, reading from a small square green slip of paper “You need to go to Teachers Training College in Bulawayo and become an English teacher. You are not university material”.

What a backhanded compliment to teachers! And there it was – my life, being and destiny in twenty words.

I used to sit in music classes completely unnerved by the sound of 30 boys singing a quaint olde English ditty…whilst the poor middle aged music teacher played on her piano and sang loudly encouraging us to sing…that was one brave woman.

At one point she dramatically stopped playing in mid note looked to the back of the class and shrieked at Pete (name changed) to put away his rat! The class of 15 year old boys descended into roaring uncontrolled guffaws of laughter…Pete did not have a rat…he had his genitalia out of his pants. This act of defiant bravado was typical of Pete. He was everything the school loathed in a pupil. He consistently failed, he was not compliant. According to the prevailing wisdom Pete was going to end up in a borstal; no miracles were expected in this case.

Piano teacher

I used to watch the pupils who succeeded in producing top academic results. Their lives felt so different to me. The teachers spoke with them, even occasionally smiled with them as opposed to their contemptuous grinning at us recalcitrant boys.

It bothered me immensely that some were invited into the circle of belonging whilst others were tolerated, because the law prescribed it, but openly disavowed as persons.

There were many problems in the educational approach of the school. The two central issues for me as I look back were exclusion and devaluing. The school worked hard to put up a boundary wall between those that defiled the institution and also clearly believed that some of the pupils were of little value as persons.

So what happened to those who won and those who lost? Where are they now? Did their school experiences have an impact on how they saw themselves? I don’t really know the answers. What might have been? What might have unfolded in people’s lives with a different approach? That is what kept me up at night.

Later in my life one of the senior teachers at the community school where I worked, trying to create and build an inclusive and supportive education programme, once said to me with frank candour that there will always be winners and losers. Those words left me exhausted in respect of the challenges our team faced in changing attitudes towards those kids who were now included at our school.

I suppose as an adult I was still at school because I had to work so that other kids would not have to go through what we went through; so that they would feel included and valued irrespective of who they were and what they could or could not do.