So, my Primary School Headmaster was a big bully. This took many forms on different levels. He overtly bullied lower class children, sometimes he was bullying concerning their education too, as he was with me.
I`ll outline what happened to me personally to enable some thought on this.. Well, I did not "get" sums at all. I tried very hard to arrive at the answers he wanted, yet failed even when I thought I had cracked how to do it. Failing led to ridicule, name calling and his vicious temper. I remember one day being kept behind after school because I could not understand fractions; he went on and on about cutting various slices of cake. I was too frightened to listen. I felt ashamed and humiliated and very disturbed by the implication of guilt levelled at me by being detained.
But there is not just a random, temperamental need to bully in a person like this: a child like me unwittingly probed his deepest feelings of inadequacy and loss of control. Of course, someone who is not a specialist maths teacher will fatally flounder when they attempt to teach even primary school children in a class environment:they don`t understand the subject. I triggered the vulnerability of his mathematical stupidity and he saw me, little frightened me, as a threat. Indeed, he attributed my inabilities as defiance, a personal affront to him ! The compartmental conscience kicked in and he therefore "saw" me as the guilty party and himself as the "abused".
A classic example was in class one day when I was giving the wrong answers to some basic sums to do with adding up apples, oranges, bananas,etc., pictures of which were up on the board... With mounting anger he was trying to force me to add up some apples and oranges. I sat there terrified and befuddled. How can you add up apples and oranges ? I thought. He was foaming again, "Answer meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee", he yelled. "Surely you can add up three oranges and two apples. What is the answer?" Thumping heart. Terrified. He wants the wrong answer, I thought. I can`t give the wrong answer because it`s wrong, so I`ll give the right answer. "Fruit juice", I said. Rage, white foam on his lips, shouting. I sat rigid. Somehow the ridiculous man didn`t know that he had asked me to define these items as "fruit" before I could add them up !!! Of course, as an adult, I knew this problem to be one of the "class paradox", but as a child I just knew that I could not do the sum.... Well, there were numerous examples of his having learned maths rote, with no understanding whatsoever......
He would teach something as an unbreakable rule, like adding together and subtracting zero: 4 + 9 - 0 = 13. He would then be incredulous at a child`s stupidity when they did what they were told them to do in another situation: the unbreakable rule !!!!!! Thus, doing my best to do what he told me to do,as exampled in 4+9-0=13, I was certain that 0 x 4 = 0 and 4 x 0 = 4. If you have zero and you times it by four,I thought, you still have zero, because you had nothing in the first place, and if you have four apples and times them by zero, you still have four apples! It is THAT obvious he must be mad to tell me otherwise ! If you say that 4 x 0 = 0, what happened to the four apples you had ? Anyhow, so you get the idea :)
I was frightened of maths forever because of him and switched off. Mind you, he made these absolute assertions in other areas, too ! One classic was, "there`s no such word as can`t " !!! Now, this was something I knew to be untrue ! I had seen "can`t" in lots of books and I now knew this man was stupid and a liar!
This both illustrates how a teacher can damage someones learning potential with bullying, but also shows just how non-specialist teachers do incalculable damage to children in Primary School. Fact: unless you understand a subject fully, which this man patently did not, you cannot teach it to children except to the level of your own ignorance. It is a myth that children, being at such a low level of learning, don`t need specialist teachers. The contrary is true: if you don`t get teaching right at this early age, you can destroy a child's learning potential in this subject forever.
In later years I saw just how true this is. In my direct experience as a specialist recorder teacher, I saw how the teaching of this instrument in class by teachers who are no more than dabblers, damaged the potential of so many children to play the instrument,advance as musicians, and to fulfil themselves. Why? Because incorrect articulation, breathing, hand positions were taught on a huge scale. And what is worse, this was thought to be OK, simply because they were little children and it didn't matter. I remember taking over at a Prep School and receiving more than 30 boys to teach individually. All had been disastrously taught and the mess had to be undone.....somehow!
Well, it is as true for maths as it is for recorders.
In general terms, though, damaging kids learning, setting them up to fail, making sure they go into the bottom set.... This is how groups reward the kids they want to be winners and make fail the others. It is not a mistake. It is all part of societies animal structure and is carried out as part of our natural instincts. My Primary Head liked parents who were "well to do", who flattered him, people more like him, he hated those who were lower class, whose children didn`t wear a uniform or were problematic.(He wanted the children he LIKED to do well.) So how did he make sure certain kids failed? Well, it`s simple, you are unkind to them, you shout, make them wrong, all the things you can to make them fail at their learning. Little of this is conscious, of course, we work on basic instincts, group animal motivations, and these behaviours we learn when we are children and grow up largely unaware of our motives. People of more awareness and sensitivity will be less likely to behave like this, many, though, are functioning, sadly, at a much lower level.
So there is actively making kids fail with bullying and less directly with disapproval and criticism and not SHOWING them how things are done.
So, why am I so passionate about Home Education if I so much disdain dilettantism in teaching?
Please join me shortly.....