The Shock of my First School

In the autumn of 1934 I went to school. I went into the Infants department of a new, big and ugly state school. It was nothing like my church school. It was quite a shock to sit in an uncomfortable desk in a serried rank occupied by other children. I soon began to dislike them and the teacher who was sour-faced and harsh in manner.

She began by telling us she was going to teach us to read. Straight away I stood up and said “Please miss. I can read already”. She replied “Take the two children next to you to the front of the class and teach them to read.” I did so. At once she told me to sit down. Much later on when I began to understand that all women were not like Mother I realised that her motive was to punish me for my presumption. I was bewildered. It was my first experience of the teacher saying something she didn’t mean.

Many more followed. One afternoon we returned after lunch and on each desk there was an earring of two black cherries. We were told to draw the cherries and eat them afterwards. I did exactly what she said. I was the first to finish, since I was used to drawing with my mother at home. I promptly ate my cherries. I was supposed to ask the teacher first. Why?

This was my first indoctrination into the rule that we must not do anything until teacher told us. I wasn’t used to other children. They seemed very different from me. They were! Their mothers seemed to be very like my teacher. As a result, the children were full of such comments, learned from their parents, especially their mothers, such as “You’ve done that wrong” or “You are not supposed to do that.” or “ I don’t like your dress,” or hair or anything else they could criticise. I soon learned not to try to talk with any of them. I felt very alone, but I was used to my own company so it didn’t affect me too much.

The only thing I wanted to do there was to join the dancing group. I liked their green tunics trimmed in white and even more the black velvet capes they wore over them. Mother bought the uniform for me and I was allowed to join. I enjoyed the classes very much. We were to give a short show at Christmas time for the parents. We were divided into two groups of three: a driver and two horses. One was the driver with a whip in her hand and two kneeling down in front of her.

To my horror I was chosen to be a horse. I flatly refused. Didn’t they know that I was a natural driver? I dug my heels in and got my own way. I have an old sepia photo of my group. I am brandishing my tinsel whip. My fur-trimmed cap is sliding forward over my face. I can see the triumph in my five-year-old face.

Decades later, reading George Bernard Shaw’s essays, I was pleased to know that I was not alone in my dislike of schools. He believed many of them were not for children but to keep children out of the way of their parents. The writer Charles Dickens, was of the same opinion in his book “Nicholas Nickleby”. When I read the work of Alice Miller, the Swiss psycho-analyst, who coined the phrase “poisonous pedagogy”, I was even more pleased.

Obedience, seen  as a virtue, is what all tyrants want. Hitler is a perfect example. We all have to find our own way in life or we stultify and the essence of our individual nature, dies.

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