Graham Greene said, a while ago, that writing was a way of escaping the panic and fear inherent in the human condition. Bit severe perhaps but I do know most of my stories are a way of remembering adventures I never took, of dreams I remember only after I awoke and of confronting adversaries to whom I had, in reality submitted.
When St Joe’s closed I desperately needed a new job. A cousin told me that there was a new school that had been establish just that year. He had in fact enrolled two of his children at the new school and they were looking for a teacher for the next year. I didn’t know the nature of the school but as a way of solving my predicament I applied. The school was established by a small number of fundamentalist church leaders, and hastily remembering my faded upbringing I was successfully able to answer all the deep and meaningful questions with all the answers I imagined they wanted to hear. The things one does in desperation.
I got the job and walked on eggshells for the next ten years. Sometimes I smiled politely and bit my tongue. Sometimes I dug my heels in and effectively introduced a certain gentling of the regime. Once or twice I tried to make a point.
There were four Principals over those ten years. The first five years saw the coming and going of four. One of these fellows introduced a behaviour system based on Demerits. Any misbehaviour would earn a demerit. This would be entered on a class list and the Principal would collate these demerits. Three demerits in the same day would earn a detention at the end of the week. Four demerits earned on different days but in the same week would also earn a Friday detention. I didn’t like the idea. That meant, I said, that you can freely commit four crimes on each of the first four days of the week and as long as you behaved on Friday you were free. And anyway I said, with an ironic sound to my voice, just exactly what things are we talking about?
True to his pedantic and stupid self he arrived the next morning with a list of thirty-five forms of behaviour that were proscribed. Turning around in your chair, is one that stays with me. There was a delightful thirteen year old girl in my class who was enthusiastic about being alive. If I asked a question and some student at the back answered it Annie would turn around to look and smile and get involved. In her Maths class the teacher – the Principal’s wife – would give Annie a demerit. But Annie couldn’t help it. So her desk was moved to the front of the room on the left hand side so that it actually touched the front wall. I would come in the next lesson and turn her desk around so that she was facing the rest of the class and could participate without earning a demerit. Such is the stupidity of a list that prohibits normal behaviour.
One another occasion one Patrick by name was asking irrelevant questions. These were not on the list. I didn’t mind but Patrick was a little too prone to asking silly questions. So I said to him that, although the question was a good one and I would be happy to answer it at recess, it was not appropriate in the circumstances. I told him that I wanted him to think of the difference between appropriate and inappropriate questions. “So, Patrick. I want you to stand there just outside the room. Pay attention to what’s going on and when you have an appropriate question put your hand up.”
Patrick stood there for a few minutes and then the hand shot up. “Yes Patrick. What is it?”
“I can feel an appropriate question coming,” he said with a small smile on his face.
“What is your appropriate question, Patrick.”
“Can I come in and sit down?” I laughed and he came and sat down.
This was only a minor part of the day. But as I was walking out of the school I saw Patrick outside the Principal’s office. The Principal called me in. “I have been looking at the class roll. I notice that you didn’t give Patrick a demerit.”
“No I didn’t. Patrick had a good day and did nothing to warrant a demerit.”
“Did you send Patrick out of you room?”
“Yes but not for doing anything wrong. It was just part of a teaching device.”
“If you sent him out, he should have been given a demerit!”
“But he didn’t ….”
“Did you send him out.”
“Then he should have been given a demerit.”
At this point Patrick stuck his nose around the door and said to me, “Sir. Just give me a bloody demerit and we can all go home.”
“No Patrick I won’t.”
But the Principal did.
Such is the stupidity of a list that prohibits normal behaviour.