Another brick in the wall

| September 9, 2019 | 0 Comments

‘Whenever you feel like criticising anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The thing about education is that while it (ever so nobly, mind you) tries to be the mainspring of the social forces engaged in levelling the playing field of the haves and the have-nots, human nature has a way of imposing a curious sort of reality. Sport is such a good way of bringing people together. And South Africans have embraced this idea. ‘We are prepared to play anyone, anywhere, anytime’ is the generally accepted mantra of any school, including the well-off ones, in the modern transformation era. Private or state. On their grounds or ours. And so interschool sport has created travel into areas that used to be regarded as off limits. On one occasion, the teachers of a wealthy school very carefully prepped the pupils. They must behave properly. The concern was that they should not, in any way, make their hosts feel demeaned or uncomfortable by any ill-mannered remarks, criticisms or condescending attitudes. The above quote from The Great Gatsby was used. On arrival at the school they were visiting, they were welcomed. Everybody was ever so polite to each other – an inevitable consequence of decades of artificial apartheid. The facilities were politely praised, the change rooms provided were deemed perfectly adequate and the games proceeded without incident. It was after the second match that a problem occurred. A boy came to the visiting master-incharge to inform him that his wallet and cellphone had been stolen. The master’s first reaction was anger that these had been left in the change room – ‘An obvious temptation! What did you do that for?’ The boy was abashed, but said, ‘Sir, their teacher made a point of saying everything would be safe in the change room. We thought it would be rude not to listen to him.’ The master agonised about what to do. On the one hand, if he brought it to their host’s attention, would it not be just too embarrassing? Should it not just be brushed over, and be seen as an unfortunate reality of life? But, on the other hand, there was the question of right and wrong, and educationalists should confront these things. The miscreant should be ferreted out. For his own good, at least to attempt to reform him; to let him know how he had disgraced himself and his school. He agonised some more, but decided he must do it – he must, as tactfully as he could, bring it to their master-in-charge’s attention – all the while, of course, assuring him that they would not see it as a reflection on their school and it would not influence future fixtures. And so he spoke to the host master-in-charge. It took a while, because he carefully couched his statements so that would not sound accusatory, or – heaven forbid! – superior. However, the home-team master was appalled. He immediately said, ‘Action will be taken. Come with me.’ Puzzled, the master followed his opposite number. ‘We have cameras. We will find the culprit.’ Ah! Of course, at a school ‘like this’, they would have experience of how to deal with these things. The review on the screen did not take long. In no time, a boy was seen to enter, go straight to the kitbag and take the wallet and cellphone out. And the boy was clearly identifiable. Including his visiting team’s posh tracksuit. There was silence. Then the home-team master cleared his throat and began a fairly long-winded attempt not to appear accusatory, or superior, and to assure the visiting master that this could happen at any school – it should not be seen as a reflection… The visiting master was very quiet on the way home. His thoughts were occupied not only by considerations of glass houses and stone throwing, but also with the humbling way playing fields can be levelled that have little to do with sport, and an awful lot to do with eliminating prejudice.

Bruce Pinnock had a long and successful teaching career.

Category: Spring 2019

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