Off The Shelf

30th December 1994 at 00:00
The year's end, with a new century coming nearer all the time, is a good time for nostalgia. Forty two years ago, for example, I did badly in my GCE, mainly because, when the time came to revise, I took enthusiastically to heart the advice of those teachers who said that we should "not forget to get out and take some exercise." In fact I did nothing through that lovely summer of 1953 but cycle, play tennis and moon about after the unattainable Betjemanesque girls who shared the grammar school with us pimpled louts.

Today's students, though, can read How to Pass Exams Without Anxiety by David Acres (How To Books Pounds 6.99). Now in its third edition, this deservedly popular book is a good one to have on the shelf at home or in the head of department's room ready to lend to a needy candidate. It is packed with advice, including a section on hugging. "Visualise being hugged" it suggests. Not sure about that. For me, visualising being hugged was part of the problem.

Shirley Meredeen's How to Know Your Rights: Students, also Pounds 6.99 from the "How To" stable, reminded me of the time ten years when I was the parent of a student who had the right to eat candlelit dinners and get rat-arsed while I was cancelling our holidays and trading in my car for a cheaper one. As the American writer David Wood once said about college, "When else are your parents going to spend several thousand dollars a year just for you to go to a strange town and get drunk every night?" Shirley Meredeen's book is comprehensive and excellent, but someone should write one for the students' parents. It would have to be pretty cheap though.

My father, who was 85 when he died, had his own wealth of memories of his schooling. He spoke often, for example, of a teacher called "Daddy" Rudge, whose hand was so large, "that when he boxed one ear, his fingers would come around the back and hit the other ear a second later."

None of dad's memories, though, included anything he actually learned in class. This, he always maintained, against my mother's oft-stated conviction that "You never listened", was because the teachers themselves "were nobodies who knew nowt." That we learn considerably more from our schooling than the content of the official syllabus is the theme of The Unwritten Curriculum by Arthur Blumberg and Phyllis Blumberg (Sage Publications Pounds 12.50). Theirs is not a new argument - the concept of "the hidden curriculum" is familiar to anyone who did educational studies in the seventies. The Blumbergs, though, bring it to life in an entertaining and thought-provoking way, using many very readable short case studies from the American system. There is the 54-year-old contributor, for example, who at the age of nine was unjustly beaten by a teacher, Mrs English, for being in the wrong place on the instruction of another teacher. "I have remembered this for 45 years. Mrs English is now 136 years old and still beating the shit out of those kids."

It would be good to think that teachers who read these tales will never be thoughtlessly unkind again, for fear of being darkly remembered for ever.

Memories of hateful schooldays have shaped the thinking of generations. Paul Simon, in fact, once said "When I look back at all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all," and Lord Boothby felt almost exactly the same - "Nobody who had any sense has ever liked school."

These quotations are from The Freethinkers' Guide to the Educational Universe, which is a book of pretty subversive quotations on education compiled by Roland Meighan and published by the Educational Heretics Press (Pounds 12.50). It is a rich mine of support for anyone who wishes to prick the pomposities of the people in suits who believe that kids should sit up straight and be told things. A useful feature of this book is that it uses a large typeface, with OHP reproduction in mind.

Offering considerably more quotations, chosen less selectively, is A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing edited by James Charlton (Robert Hale Pounds 6.99). It includes quite a few that Roland Meighan missed, such as "You can get all A's and still flunk life" from Walter Percy. The focus of this book is American (which means it includes some good Dan Quayle epithets) and it generally leans towards higher education - it gave me the David Wood thought which I quoted earlier for example. If you give lectures and present in-service sessions, get both books and be sure of the first laugh of the day.

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