Reg from Croydon’s ruminations on “capital (sic) punishment” in schools (sick) rather did for me. On he roared. And on. Shut up Reg! Please!
So let’s go instead to an actual classroom, to this rich tragicomic theatre, to the start of a 10th year English lesson of a February morning. And let’s freeze frame it, let’s look at a nanosecond of the 1,500 hours pupil-teacher contact time. There are 28 students, 12 languages, most classes and several, often fundamentalist, religions. They’re from hostel, hotel, cupboard, mansion, canal barge, fancy embassy and the odd mansion.
They’re about to “do” Carol Ann Duffy’s Valentine from the GCSE Anthology. Are they on message? Well, not quite. Theodora is worried about her father being sent back to Estonia and Lily is gripped by Carson McCullers, and Shaka is wondering what day it is, and Ronald Crumlin is wondering if Harold Redknapp knows what he’s doing. Me too.
Little Kevin ponders on that “Blade Runner breh” and deems him “a prime donut” and Dave Mania thinks the corpse “well fit”. I consider giving the idiot some of Reg’s “capital” punishment. Decibelle thinks she’s pregnant again and Adel is nervous about his trial for Brentford FC.
Aisha is worried about her mother, who’s just been sacked from St Mary’s, and Charlie Johnstone is terrified they’ll be waiting for him under Westway, and Geena is wondering why I didn’t make something of myself with all my alleged GCSEs. Many others are mentally elsewhere. The perpetual presence of a classroom is a complex place.
Will we all get on message?
Fast forward 10 minutes! We’re reading the poem, whose central metaphor is an onion. I give each group an onion and a knife. They cut through the onion and get the giggles and tears in their eyes and discuss sincerity and biology and chemistry and sentimentality and gender and why it’s good or bad to blub and lie to those we love. Most are thrilled by the poem – even Charlie. They talk with a real shock of surprise.
Today’s lesson has worked. It could have gone belly up. Teaching is, famously, the best and worst of jobs. Some days you think Thomas Hobbes had it about right. Others that William Blake nailed it. Whatever, you’re privileged to be in a bit of a thrilling, subterranean counterculture, a world beyond the frontier gibberish of Radio Bonkers.