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By E.R. Braithwaite

The Guianan diplomatist Eustace Braithwaite was bom in 1912 in British Guiana. He flew with the R.A.F. 1 during the war years. After the war coloiy prejudice precluded him from obtaining the kind of job for which his scientific qualifications fitted him. From 1950—1957 he worked as a school-teacher. In the sixties he was a Permanent Representative of Guiana to the UN. In 1959 Braithwaite won the Ainsfield Wolff Literary Award for To Sir, with Love, a book about his experiences as a teacher in a school in London's East End. The other books that came from his pen are A Kind of Homecoming (1961), Paid Servant (1962), A Choice of Straws (1965), Reluctant Neighbours (1972).

 

Chapter 8 (Extract)

Each Friday morning the whole school spent the pre-recess period in writing their Weekly Review. This was one of the old Man's2 pet schemes: and one about which he would brook no interference. Each child would review the events of his school week in his own words, in his own way; he was free to comment, to criticise, to agree or disagree, with any person, subject or method, as long as itwas in some way associated with the school. No one and nothing was sacred, from the Headmaster down, and the child, moreover, was safe from any form of reprisal.

"Look at it this way," Mr. Florian said. "It is of advantage to both pupils and teacher. If a child wants to write about something which matters to him, he will take some pains to set it down as carefully and with as much detail as possible; that must in some way improve his written English in terms of spelling, construction and style. Week by week we are able, through his review, to follow and observe his progress in such things. As for the teachers, we soon get a pretty good idea what the children think of us and whether or not we are getting close to them... You will discover that these children are reasonably fair, even when they comment on us. If we are careless about our clothing, manners or person they will soon notice it, and it would be pointless to be angry with them for pointing such things out. Finally, from the reviews, the sensible teacher will observe the trend of individual and collective interests and plan his work accordingly."

On the first Friday of my association with the class I was anxious to discover what sort of figure I cut in front of them, and what kind of comment they would make about me. I read through some of the reviews at lunch-time, and must admit to a mixture of relief and disappointment at discovering that, apart from mentioning that they had a new "blackie" teacher, very little attention was given to me ...

It occurred to me that they probably imagined I would be as transient as my many predecessors, and therefore saw no point in wasting either time or effort in writing about me. But if I had made so little impression on them, it must be my own fault, I decided. It was up to me to find some way to get through to them.

Thereafter I tried very hard to be a successful teacher with my class, but somehow, as day followed day in painful procession, I realized that I was not making the grade. I bought and read books on the psychology of teaching in an effort to discover some way of providing the children with the sort of intellectual challenge to which they would respond, but the suggested methods somehow did not meet my particular need, and just did not work. It was as if I were trying to reach the children through a thick pane of glass, so remote and uninterested they seemed.



Looking back, I realize that in fact I passed through three phases in my relationship with them. The first was the silent treatment, and during that time, for my first few weeks, they woulddo any task I set them without question or protest, but equally without interest or enthusiasm; and if their interest was not required for the task in front of them would sit and stare at me with the same careful patient attention a birdwatcher devotes to the rare feathered visitor...

I took great pains with the planning of my lessons, using illustrations from the familiar things of their own background... I created various problems within the domestic framework, and tried to encourage their participation, but it was as though there were a conspiracy of indifference, and my attempts at informality fell pitifully flat.

Gradually they moved on to the second and more annoying phase of their campaign, the "noisy" treatment. It is true to say that all of them did not actively join in this but those who did not were obviously in some sympathy with those who did. During a lesson, especially one in which it was necessary for me to read or speak to them, someone would lift the lid of a desk and then let it fall with a loud bang; the culprit would merely sit and look at me with wide innocent eyes as if it were an accident.

They knew as well as I did that there was nothing I could do about it, and I bore it with as much show of aplomb as I could manage. One or two such interruptions during a lesson were usually enough to destroy its planned continuity... So I felt angry and frustrated when they rudely interrupted that which was being done purely for their own benefit.

One morning I was reading to them some simple poetry. Just when I thought I had inveigled them into active interest one of the girls, Monica Page, let the top of the desk fall; the noise seemed to reverberate in every part of my being and I felt a sudden burning anger. I looked at her for some moments before daring to open my mouth; she returned my gaze, then casually remarked to the class at large: "The bleeding 3 thing won't stay up." It was all rather deliberate, the noisy interruption and the crude remark, and it heralded the third stage of their conduct. From then on the words "bloody" or "bleeding" were hardly ever absent from any remark they made to one another especially in the classroom. They would call out to each other on any silly pretext and refer to the "bleeding" this or that, and always in a voice loud enough for my ears. One day during an arithmetic period I played right into their hands. I was so overcome by anger and disgust that I completely lost my temper ... I went upstairs and sat in the library, the onlyplace where I could be alone for a little while. I felt sick at heart, because it seemed that this latest act, above all others, was intended to display their utter disrespect for me. They seemed to have no sense of decency, these children; everything they said or did was coloured by an ugly viciousness, as if their minds were forever rooting after filth. "Why, oh why," 1 asked myself, "did they behave like that? What was wrong with them?"

 

THE FUN THEY HAD

By L. Asimov

 

A professor of biochemistry and a science writer, I.Asimov is well-known as science fiction writer as well. In 1957 he won the Edison Foundation award for Building Blocks of the Universe, and in 1960 the Howard W.Blakeslee award for The Living River in which he analysed the chemical composition of the blood and related it to other manifestations in our universe. He is also the author of The Intelligent Man's Guide to Sciences, an encyclopedic work covering in brief essay all of science for the layman. Besides all this, Lucky Stars and The Pirates of the Asteroids (1953), The Kingdom of the Sun (I960), The End of Eternity (1962) are only a fe^vscience fiction books that came from under his pen.

 

Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary.

On the page headed May 17, 2157, she wrote, "Today Tommy found a real book!" It was a very old book. Margie's grandfather once said that when he was a little boy his grandfather 1 told him that there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.

They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to — on a screen, you know. And then, when they turned back to the page before, it has been the same words on it that it had been when they read it the first time.

"Gee,"2 said Tommy, "what a waste. When you're through with the book, you just throw it away, I guess. 3 Our television screen must have had a million books on and it’s good for plenty more. I wouldn11 throw it away.

"Same with mine," said Margie. She was eleven and hadn't seen as many telebooks 4 as Tommy had. He was thirteen.

She said, "Where did you find it?"

"In my house." He pointed-without looking, because he was busy reading. "In the attic."

"What's it about?"

"School."

Margie was scornful. "School? What's there to write about school? I hate school."

Margie always hated school, but now she hated it more than ever. The mechanical teacher had been giving her test after test in geography and she had been doing worse and worse until her mother had shaken her head sorrowfully and sent for the County Inspector.

He was a round little man with a red face and a whole box of tools, with dials and wires. He smiled at Margie and gave her an apple, then took the teacher apart. Margie had hoped he wouldn't know how to put it together again, but he knew all right, and, after an hour or so, there it was again, large and black and ugly, with a big screen on which all the lessons were shown and the questions were asked. That wasn't so bad. The part Margie hated most was the slot where she had to put homework and test papers. She always had to write them out in a punch code they made her learn when she was six years old and the mechanical teacher calculated the mark in no time.

The Inspector had smiled after he was finished and patted Margie's head. He said to her mother, "It's not the little girl’s fault, Mrs. Jones, I think the geography sector was geared a little too quick. Those things happen sometimes. I've slowed it up to an av-erage ten year level. Actually, the overall pattern of her progress is quite satisfactory." And he patted Margie's head again.

Margie was disappointed. She had been hoping they would take the teacher away altogether. They had once taken Tommy's teacher away for nearly a month because the history sector had blanked out completely.

So she said to Tommy. "Why would anyone write about school?"

Tommy looked at her with very superior eyes. "Because it's not our kind of school, stupid.5 This is the old kind of school that they had hundreds and hundreds years ago." He added loftily, pronouncing the word carefully, "Centuries ago."

Margie was hurt. "Well, I don't know what kind of school they had all that time ago." She read the book over his shoulder for a while, then said, "Anyway, they had a teacher."

"Sure, they had a teacher, but it wasn't a regular teacher. It was a man.”

"A man? How could a man be a teacher?"

"Well, he just told the boys and girls things and gave them homework and asked them questions."

"A man isn't smart enough."

"Sure 6 he is, My father knows as much as my teacher."

"He can't. A man can't know as much as a teacher."

"He knows almost as much, I betcha.7" Margie wasn't prepared to dispute that. She said. "I wouldn't want a strange man in my house to teach me."

Tommy screamed with laughter. "You don't know much, Margie. The teachers didn't live in the house. They had a special building and all the kids went there."

"And all the kids learned the same things?"

"Sure, if they were the same age."

"But my mother says a teacher has to be adjusted to fit the mind of each boy and girl it teaches and that each kid has to be taught differently."

"Just the same they didn't do it that way then. If you don't like it, you don't have to read the book."

"I didn't say I didn't like it," Margie said quickly. She wanted to read-about those funny schools.

They weren't even hall-finished, when Margie's mother called, "Margie! School!"

Margie looked up. "Not yet, Mamma."

Now!" said Mrs. Jones. "And it's probably time for Tommy, too." Margie said to Tommy, “Can I read the book some more with you after school?" "Maybe," he said nonchalantly.

He walked away, whistling, the dusty old book tucked beneath his arm.

Margie went into the schoolroom. It was right next to her bedroom and the mechanical teacher was on and waiting for her. It was always on at the same time every day, except Saturday and Sunday, because her mother said little girls learned better if they learned at regular hours.

The screen lit up, and it said:

"Today's arithmetic lesson is on the addition of proper fractions. Please insert yesterday's homework in the proper slot."

Margie did so with a sigh. She was thinking about the old schools they had when her grandfather's grandfather was a little boy. All the kids from the whole neighbourhood came laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day. They learned the same things, so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it. And the teachers were people ...

The mechanical teacher was flashing on the screen:

"When we add the fractions 1/2 and 1/4 8 — "Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had.

 

 


Date: 2015-12-17; view: 1333


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