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Another brick in the wall

| November 7, 2014 | 0 Comments

I am often asked whether I believe teaching has changed today from yesteryear.

“Yesteryear”? It’s a unit of time about three times longer than ‘back in the day’ and half the time of ‘when I was young’. Never use the phrase: it establishes you as a contemporary of Paul Kruger.)

The answer is, of course, no. The absolutely inexplicable behaviour of pupils has hardly changed. It is still mostly at odds with teachers’ valiant, wellmeaning but mostly naïve efforts to understand. Which is as it should be, because, throughout history, the few times those in charge of the education of the young actually achieved control and attempted to impose direction, the results were (to say the least) not good. The Hitler youth is a case in point. But it does beg the question about the relevance of formal education for our youth. Fortunately, nature is often able to take her course and youthful stupidity recurs more or less unimpeded by clumsy attempts from those entrusted with education to change it. And so mistakes are made, making it possible for lessons to be learned. Or not . . .

One of the least pleasant situations a boarder housemaster has to face is stealing in the hostel. Thus, when the Grade 8 boy came to my study to report a theft, I was feeling less than enthusiastic.

“So. What has been stolen?” “Sir, my three plants, sir,” he said, his eyes shining with righteous indignation. This was odd. “You brought three plants into the dormitory – and somebody has taken them?” Boys bring odd things to school – often from the world of fauna, including pets like rats, snakes, insects or even spiders.

But never flora. Plants are somehow, more… dare I say it in this age of gender equality?… feminine. I imagined potted flowers – African violets, maybe. Who would steal those? “Have you any idea who might have taken them?”

“Oh yes, sir!” And he named a boy who had spent the weekend with him on his farm, and who had helped bring his plants back to school. We investigated. After questioning, it turned out his ‘friend’ had indeed taken them. But he claimed it was in order to plant them in the school garden – which, while it seemed curious (and he was wrong not to get the owner’s permission), was not really criminal.

It was almost commendable. I was heartened. Greening and beautifying the school is to be encouraged. I suggested that the charge of theft be dropped – and the first boy agreed, because he claimed he had also intended them for the garden. “What plants are they?” I asked, intending to use this as an example of a random good deed which showed that boys, however insensitive they appeared, cared about their surrounds.

“I don’t really know, “said the first lad, a little guardedly. Well, I invited the headmaster to witness this solid evidence of two boys’ good intentions, and together we went to have a look. He studied the very green and sturdily healthy plants. He said: “I am less than streetwise, but even I know that those are fine examples of cannabis varietals.”

Was my face red? It took me a moment to take it all in. Unbelievable: the first youngster had seen fit to report the theft of dagga smuggled into the school?? That’s like a Colombian drug dealer calling on the US drug squad to recover a hijacked consignment of smuggled drugs from a rival gang.

And then the second culprit saw fit to use the school garden – the very backyard of a lawenforcement agency –- to start an illicit cottage industry. He was ‘narked’, because he had doublecrossed his supplier. And their teacher had innocently believed they were being good boys by caring for the environment!

After the hoo-ha died down, I pondered the stupidity (or was it entrepreneurship?) of our youth – and the trusting nature (or was it rank foolishness?) of their teacher. No wonder our criminal world is such easy pickings for the mafia from any number of countries.

Bruce Pinnock teaches at St Alban’s College in Pretoria in Gauteng.

Category: Regular Columns, Summer 2014

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