Unhappy schooldays

Feb 23rd, 2008 | By | Category: Personal Columns

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone

The words of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall returned yesterday as a friend told of his first day at primary school in Ireland of the 1950s. Living with an aunt who was more than fifty years older than him, he had learned much before setting foot in the school.

“Can anyone tell me what a mummy is?” asked the teacher.

He raised his hand enthusiastically and told the teacher about the bodies of Egyptian princes and princesses being wrapped in bandages.

He became aware of the whole class laughing at him.

“Don’t be silly”, said the teacher, “a mummy is your mammy at home.” He sat hurt; his family never used the Irish diminutive “mamaí” for mother, he knew perfectly well what a “mummy” as a family member was.

He didn’t answer questions after that, and, coming from a working class family, there was no money to pay for education beyond his days at primary school. (Free secondary education was only introduced in 1967, a far remove from contemporary Ireland where even university education is now free).

How many people shared his experience of teachers who belittled their pupils and destroyed any self-confidence they might have had? Maybe the offending teachers were poorly paid and unmotivated, but they commanded great respect in communities, would a little respect for their classes have been too much to ask? It would be unthinkable now for an infants teacher to behave in such a way.

When the media complain about declining standards in school, maybe they are being a little selective in their memories, at least no child need go to school now in fear and embarrassment.

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  1. I remember those well – Unhappy schooldays! My comment is far to long. I have more than enough for a full post. It might help clear my bitterness with ‘The Nuns’!

  2. I went to school rather more recently than the fifties and I don’t remember ever being belittled or mocked, but I do remember the frustration of a couple of occasions when my teachers gave me answers (or, worse, corrected my work) and I knew they were wrong. For example, I remember writing something like ‘Grandma made tea for Mummy and me’ and having it corrected to ‘Mummy and I’. Now, however, I see it from the other side. I cringe remembering some of the mistakes I made the first time I tried to teach Old English as a graduate student. There were so many things I had never formally learnt myself, and suddenly I ran up against them…

  3. Ian

    I remember a certain school dinner lady (High Ham) being a bit of a bully(belittling kids) especially if you didn’t excell at sports!!

  4. Dot,

    I think there was a huge shift in attitudes, Les’s reminder brought back memories I had successfully repressed for years.

  5. Ian

    I’m sorry if I brought back any bad memories, I didn’t mean to.


  6. […] wrote about ‘Unhappy school days. It rather opened an old wound for me. So far I have skirted around those years trying to convince […]

  7. Les,

    No problem – repressed memories aren’t good for you anyway!

  8. But surely as the old song says “School days are the happiest days of your life”,

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