Anonymous assistance

17th October 1997 at 01:00
I had a typical independent school education. I went to a small prep school + outside Worcester, a school that was very traditional even by the standards of + the early 1960s, and, as with all such small schools, the personality of the + headteacher had an enormous impact.This man had a way of encouraging boys to + think about the world apart from the modern consumer society. He introduced us + to nature and the natural environment, and, while I wouldn't describe myself + as a countryman in any sense of the term, in so far as I have an understanding + of the countryside I owe it to him. He was also a very religious man, and had a+ strong sense of what was right and wrong, a strong sense of moral code. His + influence stands out in my memory from that time. From there I went to + Uppingham, where two people spring to mind as really good teachers. They are + both still alive so, to spare them embarrassment, I won't name them. The first + one taught me English literature or, more precisely, drama. This was at + O-level, and he taught me to enjoy the use of language and appreciate things + about language and the way it works. I don't remember any particular lessons, + but I do remember the set texts we did, which were Shakespeare's Henry V and + Shaw's Arms and the Man. He enjoyed taking what were for 15-years-old in that + day reasonably challenging texts and making sense of them. I think it was a + particular speciality of his to engage with boys at that age. We had a long, + thin classroom with a dais at one end on which we acted; it became something + that we positively looked forward to and enjoyed. I wouldn't say the rest of + school was drudge, but it was a new experience to look forward to a lesson and,+ as a result, I remained interested in theatre for the rest of my time in + school. It was because he taught me English that I went on to do A-level, + although he didn't teach me then. The others in the English department were, I + suspect, brighter men, but they engaged my interest less. My second good + teacher took me for A-level history. He was certainly the brightest man at the + school, and although I had always been interested in history, my interest + developed at this time into a lasting passion. In fact, when I selected my + holiday reading the books were, almost exclusively, about history. I always + think the people who really understand a subject are those who can take the + most complex issues and make them accessible. He did that for me with the + English Revolution, taking that 20-year period and going through it almost on a+ month-by-month basis, distilling all the different currents for an impatient + 17-year-old to the extent that I can still remember them all to this day, and + am still interested if anything new comes out on the subject. I didn't do + history at Oxford, which was a mistake. I was encouraged by my parents to do + what was called a useful degree - law. So my teachers at Oxford suffered from + the disability of having to teach me law. They were decent men, whose company I+ enjoyed, but they had to teach me a subject which did not interest or excite + me in any way. One of them was Bryan Gould, who later became a Labour MP and + then a vice-chancellor at Waikato University, in New Zealand. A strong + moderating influence on me, in my personal life, is my wife, who is half-French+ and who, when I first met her, said she had always thought that the idea of + sending children away to school at eight, as I was, was merely Gallic + propaganda against the English. She couldn't believe people actually did it! + And it certainly isn't something we would ever want to do with our own + children. My political mentor was Peter Walker, who had forgotten more about + politics than most people ever know. He encouraged me in political attitudes + and methods, but my political ideas have evolved under a wide range of + influences. I don't really understand people who say their whole outlook was + shaped by a particular individual, because this hasn't been my experience at + all. I've picked up things from different individuals, but there's certainly + been no dominant influence in my life.These three men were the highlights of my+ education. I think to say the rest were dull would be a bit hard, but there + are things that I'm not going to go into that were simply bad. For my own + children I would certainly hope for something that is more intellectually + stimulating than the environment of Uppingham in the late 1960s. So, no, there+ aren't any teachers I'd want to give knighthoods to. Although the + qualification for a knighthood, as I understand it, is to turn around a failing+ school, and that's not exactly a phrase you could apply to Uppingham, is it? + Stephen Dorrell is the Conservatives' education spokesman. He was Health + Secretary in the last Conservative government.

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