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.