My Primary School Headmaster was a bully. He mostly bullied children of parents he didn`t like or children from poor families, considered at the time to be "lower class".
Well, this is nothing unusual. It has always happened in schools and still happens today. In those days it was considered to be acceptable to use corporal punishment and "bullying" wasn`t a focus for human rights like it is today. Still, even in those days, there were really sadistic bullies in powerful positions who could virtually do what they liked in their schools with no fear of parents or police.(How things have changed! It used also to be the case that a call to the police for domestic violence would meet with a "it`s of no concern to us"! response !!! )
Where was Robert Donat?
Well, I jest, but the movie "The Winslow Boy " made a huge impression upon me when I was a child. I was a sensitive child, deeply aware of injustice and deeply concerned for other children. Films like this gave me a sense of external justice, outside of myself, and demonstrated "right" in a way that helped me appraise any situation I was witness to. I have always carried this following example of my Headmaster`s cruelty and injustice with me, not just by the power of its cinematic imprint: it really shaped me as a person who would speak up for victims all of my life. The scene has never left me. It`s not just that I was powerless to stop it, but that I watched the interrogation of two children who were terrified, right up to the singularly sadistic conclusion of this bullies callous and demented vengeance and I will never forget that the women teachers stood by and did nothing... ( I hope to come back to why women, or anyone with lesser power, cannot raise their courage or awareness to intervene in this kind of situation.)
What am I talking about?
I was a child in a Church of England Primary School. The Headmaster was subject to rages against lower class children. One day he was at the front of the class with twins, furious, foaming at the mouth, accusing them of stealing a Mars Bar from the village shop. The shop keeper had seen one of them do it, but he did not know which one because they were twins. The Head went on and on at them, assailing them verbally, relentlessly, they would not say if they had taken it or which one of them did it. We all watched in horror. As their refusal to speak made him more angry, the stakes became higher and higher. They had disgraced the school. How dare they pull down the reputation of his school? He was foaming. I knew the signs: he had reached the same state of insanity when I couldn`t understand how to do fractions. Tension increased. I felt so sorry for the children.But I could not stop it. Two women teachers were turning a blind eye. Even if I could have done something, I would have been too scared to try. I wanted to.
He then delivered the mind-numbing ultimatum: "confess which one of you did it or I will cane you both." Silence. Their little faces blank with fear. They said nothing.
He ordered them into his office behind the classroom and caned them. We all heard it. I never forgot. And to me, it says everything about power and powerlessness. Everything about injustice. Everything about human nature and the ways of the world.
Where was Robert Donat?
I am coming back to this blog very soon to discuss the damage teachers..and especially bullying teachers... can do to children. If you would like to chip in with some comments, please do.