I really can be a critical old bastard, and I don’t suffer fools gladly. I’m often criticised for being intolerant to people with different views than mine. I’m also selfish, which is why a lot of people say I never married, and to be honest I can’t really disagree with them. Why then, when looking back at my time at Hathershaw, do I not, the Nori episode excepted, have any real complaints or bad memories?
I have to agree with Vinnie and perhaps, if it’s allowed, not share Keith’s view, that we cannot view what happened 50 years ago through our present eyes. Much that I did as a teacher, which at the time I was certain was right and proper, would nowadays be condemned. I hope that didn’t make me a bad teacher. Of course nowadays it seems disgraceful that Minnie actively discouraged girls to go to University as Teacher Training Colleges were their proper place, but history shows this was the commonly held view in Schools in the early ‘60’s.
Yes, it does seem outrageous that ‘Minnie’ made some girl take their frilly underskirt off in the corridor. Just as outrageous as ’Nat’ asking Sid and Mike to check which of us boys had grown pubic hair, to decide who would have sex lessons that year, especially, if like me, you hadn’t and you had to wait until the following year to discover “Why dogs smell each other?” But did it really do us any harm? Isn’t it incidents like this that stories are made of as opposed to the ‘politically correct’, ‘health and safety’ culture of nowadays?
What I find strange is how much I enjoyed my school days at Hathershaw. Surely, in 1959, as an overweight, bespectacled boy with a stammer my school life should have been a nightmare? The fact that it was just the opposite might appear difficult to explain. There was bullying, as there is in all schools, by both staff and fellow pupils, and occasionally I was the subject of it. Somehow, however, that fades into insignificance and I have to struggle to recollect it, whereas the happy times just keep flooding back.
Nowadays much is made of the different teaching styles that must be employed to correspond to students varying learning styles. Without in any way ridiculing this I wonder how I managed to be relatively successful experiencing the vastly varying teaching styles of Ron Armitage, ‘Killer’ Kerrigan, ‘Tizzy’ McPartland, Ken Wright and Ron Jackson. I’d love to see how modern educationalist would classify some of those styles. But for me they all worked, I don’t know why, but they did. Ziggurats, shadufs, ox bow lakes and ha ha’s have won me many points in quizzes, thanks to Barmi Armi. Ron Jackson’s superb teaching got me a A at “A” level in British Government but if I’d been taught “O” level Chemistry or History the same way I’d have failed miserably, I needed ‘Killer’ and Tizzies’ style for that.
I’m not often accused of wearing rose coloured spectacles, indeed just the opposite, but I found life at Hathershaw nigh on perfect: I made great friends in staff and fellow pupils which still last to this day; I was encouraged and supported in those skills that did not come easily to me; Despite inherent difficulties I was encouraged to take part in Theatre and debating which have played major parts in my life so far.
So, what’s driven me to write this piece? Although I respect the right of people to make their criticisms of individual staff, it narks me a bit because, I think, compared with other students at school at the same time as us, ‘we never had it so good’. Which I suppose you may say brings me right back to my opening paragraph when I said “I’m often criticised for being intolerant to people with different views than mine.”
I must admit to being completely bewildered by what Nigel has just said and although he didn't say it directly there is a strong implication he thinks me a fool. I've re-read my piece above and nowhere do I say that the time at Hathershaw was not enjoyable, in fact I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and I do say that the education we received was 'second to none'.
I cannot go along with this ' all is right with the world' attitude and am realistic enough to see that there were shortcomings - but that these must be seen in perspective - and the only way one can do this is at a distance.
It is in our psyche to blot out the hurt at the time, that is why we remember the good times over the bad. But that doesn't stop us taking a look back and commenting on certain aspects which disturbed us. I know I am not alone in this view.
Regarding Nigel's intolerance of people with different views than his, I suddenly have this vision of piles of books being burned in Europe, China and Russia......
I was one of Minnie's golden boys, being literate, literary and a bit of a creep. I hung on her every word and was hungry for more knowledge about literature. Imagine, her father had been criticised by Matthew ARNOLD (The Forsaken Mermaid) before he died of a heart attack running for a tram in Liverpool. Six degrees of separation or what?
She WAS rougher on the girls and, I think, lucky in the boys she met. In those far off days, before anyone was burning bras, women were subservient and any advance was made by stealth. She wanted the best for her girls and thought (often mistakenly as it turned out) she was doing the best she could to enable girls to attain the very best they could. Her criticisms seem to me to be aimed at dissuading girls from settling for shop work or mere clerical drudgery.
As with the boys, who suffered physically in the cause of improvement, the times demanded strong measures to keep pupils on the ever upward path. Standards had to be maintained. Modern education is big on praise but the saying goes "He who praises all praises none". In my active teaching I carried the belief that criticising the bad was the way forward. Wrong! The real answer, as always, must be the middle way. Praise where praise is deserved and criticise where you are sure criticism will be taken as constructive. This demands an intimate knowledge of the individual pupil which was certainly not the case in our time in Hathershaw.
I'm glad I was a male in Minnie's class. Transferring my shortcomings into an equivalent female I would have been everything Minnie hated. Comparing the past with the present is a barren exercise. There are just too many variables. Would Stanley Matthews have been a superstar among today's pampered prima donna footballers? We cannot tell. He thrived in the spartan conditions of his time. Similarly our teachers, Minnie, Nori and Dennis Taylor were creatures of their time and viewing them through the filter of fifty years of social and educational progress is not really fair. I think the real question, in each case is,"Did they believe they were doing the best for the children in their charge?" They are not around to defend themselves so a fair trial is impossible to achieve.
Jessie Moorhouse was wonderful to me for reasons stated above. She was always willing to provide a reference at short notice but I was one of the privileged few. I appreciate we each have different experience of the people who cross our path.
No-one is on trial here and the fact that they are not around to defend themselves is not the point. History is full of observations about people who are dead and what makes it more interesting is that one is observing from a different point of view. This is the stuff of historical narrative. Furthermore, regarding Nori Clegg, does this mean that Mike's negative critisism is wrong because of the passing of time and that Nori is not around to defend himself but Alan's observation is allowable because he has supported him?
Furthermore the distance is not relevant when recalling a grossly unjust act. It will still be unjust fifty years from now.
As to being creatures of their time, so was Denis Townley, Peter Halliwell, Jim Mills etc but I see nowhere examples of public humiliation there.
And I certainly don't think that Denis Taylor thought for one second that what he was doing was the best for us - the best for him - yes.
And if, by 'fifty years of social and educational progress', Vinnie means ever improving, then I have to say I couldn't disagree more. Despite the questionable methods employed I think we would all agree that the education we received was second to none and was unequalled in the State system at that time and is unlikely to be matched in the future.
This is a general discussion on staff which was kicked off by Vinnie's remarks about Jessica Moorhouse. I start off with his piece (also on the Moorhouse page) so you can pick up the discussion.
Never, never, never, never would I imply that you were a fool Keith. If that is what I thought I'd come right out and say it. Perhaps I did not make myself clear, I was just trying to add to the debate, the only tiny quibble I had about your piece, and I couldn't help myself having a sly dig as usual, was over "Furthermore the distance is not relevant when recalling a grossly unjust act." (Oh you are a sensitive soul!)
I tried, obviously unsuccessfully, to show why distance can be relevant, that's all.
Great that these discussions are taking place, I'm sure the teachers concerned would be very proud that they had such an impact on our lives that we are still discussing it 50 years later.
Keith says - I couldn't agree more. Mike and I were saying as much on the 'phone a little ealier.
I think we are missing something here. 50 years ago we were the generation that followed The War; many of our parents had interrupted their educations or any professional training that might have been available, to do their bit for their country. They had no choice. The war over, the scarred survivors returned and took any job they could and in the North, many mothers went to work in the mill. I can still see the young women coming out, arms linked, with cotton sticking to their rollers. Never did you hear one of them hoping that one day, their daughter would follow them into the mill. The only way out was school.
To pass the 11+ and go to grammar school was the road. The teachers were respected by most parents as demi-gods. They were always right. Parents and teachers, along with scouting groups, presented a united front, pushing us along. We were encouraged with carrots and sticks, by them all. In how many homes did we hear, “if you do that again I’ll tell your dad”? One parent could give us an extra goodnight kiss, if the other had been on to us. Surely at Hathershaw, it was a continuation of home; the aim was get us ahead and prepare us, as best they could for whatever life would throw at us; the better the qualifications we got, was good for us but also good for them.
Fortunately, there were teachers, as Miss Moorehouse, who were difficult to please and kept us on the road by giving us goals and scrict codes of conduct. Miss Moorehouse was sometimes injust with us girls and praise didn’t come easily. Didn’t that prepare us? Life isn’t a bed of roses and we learnt to deal with injustices; after a quick weep in the corner, you brush it off and get on with life. In compensation there were teachers like Mr Wright, with his twinkly dark eyes and ready smile, to cheer you up. They were a great team and the combination helped to prepare us well for whatever life we might chose.
Compare to now, where there seems to be no unity between parents and teachers; where teachers have to please the kids and the parents; no bad grades please and everyone must pass; many of the kids and young adults can’t handle criticism ; at the slightest setback, the solution seems to be tantrums where violence against people and property is the only outlet.
My thanks go to all the staff as a whole but I do regret that I didn’t say “thank you” to certain individual ones. A really great team.