Education reformer, star of black-and-white photographs and man called Horace, Horace Mann, once said, “A human being is not attaining his full heights until he is educated.” This may be true. It may also be the first quote I found when I Googled ‘education’, but a truth that is less often shared is that quite a lot of modern schooling is completely and utterly useless.
From what I recall the majority of my school years consisted of awkward formative sexual tension, myriad confusions and no small amount of humiliation. All of these things prepared me for adult life, which as far as I can tell is comprised of exactly the same elements – but there were several activities I was made to partake in that prepared me for what scholars would refer to as ‘sweet F.A.’.
I’m not discounting the need for sex education. Without it, we’d all be fucked…in an entirely less informed manner. But sex education in school seemed more like scare mongering than a genuine attempt at informing children of the wonders of fornication.
For instance, it’s fine to explain the dangers of STDs -- which seemed to changed their name to STIs sometime in the early 00s, presumably leaving them one step away from being referred to as ‘the affliction formerly known as cock-rot’ -- there is, however, no real need to show me a million pictures of the myriad diseased that could erode my genitals at any given point. After all, there’s nothing like a Clockwork Orange style slideshow of festering wangers to make it even less likely for awkward teenagers to get laid.
Ah, assembly – the school week’s answer the Nuremburg rally
Similarly, practicing safe sex is a good rule of thumb, but making children put condoms on cucumbers is a fast-track to not only ruining self-esteem but also foolishly raising the expectations of entire generations of women. Why they made us do it with our mouths is another question entirely. The only thing I really gained from sex ed. was an overwhelming fear that my nob might drop off and diagrammatic proof that the inner parts of a lady-garden look a bit like the astrological symbol for Aries the ram.
The School Assembly
Ah, assembly – the school week’s answer the Nuremburg rally, which is weird because the Nuremburg rally isn’t even a question, unless you make your voice go high towards the end when you say it.
Every day our Head of Year would pull himself from the caverns of his office to orate some sort of thinly veiled bible story to a hundred or so bleary-eyed children, before inevitably humiliating someone in front of their entire peer group for not having their shirt tucked in, which is presumably what Jesus would have wanted. We were then made to open our hymnbooks and, built around the archaic principal that children have an in-built ability to read music, sing one of several popular god-hits.
The only good types of assemblies were the ones where you got to watch a video – normally something made in the 70’s with the production values of a Johnny Briggs episode about a kid dying because he tried to rescue his kite from a power-line. This was presumably supposed to teach us something about safety, but in truth, if you need to watch a video to know not to climb a structure comprised entirely of metal and electricity then you’re probably going to bite it before long anyway. That’s not sad, no matter how many shots of sobbing parents you show, it’s just natural selection. Although obviously we weren’t taught about that.
Growing up in the midlands, around a hundred miles away from any natural body of water, and having no inclination to ever to embark on a Costa cruise, I never really saw the point in learning to swim. I once explained this to my neighbour who told me, with no shortage of condescension, that it was important to learn so I ‘didn’t drown’. My contention then, much as it is now, is that being beyond the age where I could wind up as one of those unfortunate bath-tub children, it’s much more likely that I won’t drown if I don’t voluntarily submerge myself in water.
Whether this was a health and safety precaution or just a random exercise in humiliation I’m still not sure
At my school we were made to prepare for swimming lessons by waiting patiently in the corridor adjacent to the pool, wearing nothing but our speedos as all the other classes filtered out, fully clothed and fully taking the piss. Whether this was a health and safety precaution or just a random exercise in humiliation I’m still not sure. We were then frog-marched to an outdoor swimming pool covered in some part-fungus-part-Perspex roof, made to wade through a puddle of bright orange disinfectant and thrust into freezing cold water full of floating plasters and remedial kids struggling to cope with the buoyancy of their armbands. It was essentially a weekly lesson in the microscopic differences between the many different ways of almost drowning.
My real gripe with swimming lessons however, is not with the general activity but with the mindlessness of the tasks you are made to complete. Being forced to spend an hour in cold water is cruel but being made to wear your pyjamas and dive to the bottom of the pool to rescue a black, rubber brick seems to me both utterly obscure and ever so slightly paedy – the aqua equivalent of being made to play sports in you vest and pants, which these days would immediately trigger some sort of lawsuit klaxon.
Dumping children in wooded areas and leaving them to try and find a way out would, in most walks of life, lead to some sort of legal action. For teachers to do it, however, is fine. Orienteering presumably fought out ‘escaping-from-the-sex-dungeonering’ for its place on the curriculum and although possibly implemented with the intention of teaching valuable survival and navigational skills, more often than not just ended with someone either taking a shit in the forest, eating something poisonous or giving up hope and shouting really loudly until a teacher came to the rescue.
Unattractive, shrill and utterly joyless to finger – I am of course talking about the recorder
It did however, much like cross-country running, give lots of children the opportunity to sit down and do absolutely nothing for forty minutes before walking the hundred yards they’d bothered to move back to the bus. Which is a useful skill in itself, as quite a lot of life, it turns out, is entirely that pointless and uneventful.
Unattractive, shrill and utterly joyless to finger – I am of course talking about the recorder. It’s the triangle of the wind section; the vuvuzela of the classroom, designed to suck any and all joy from being blessed with a sense of hearing. Why then, it’s the one instrument children at school are made to play I have no idea.
Recorder lessons were only slightly worse than the lessons in which we were made to sing. It probably didn’t help that my music teacher could only play two songs on the guitar, which for a man with a ponytail and not one but two INXS posters in his classroom, is pretty inexcusable. Having said that, I still know all the words to Yellow Submarine and got an A+ in recognising that McCartney could be a shit songwriter, so it’s not like I took nothing from it.
I only ever saw our careers guidance counsellor twice at school. He wasn’t too dissimilar to universally loathed chav-whisperer Jeremy Kyle, in so much that he had no real interest in talking about what you wanted to do but did feel the need to constantly hammer home the importance of getting a job. In my first meeting I told him I wanted to be a writer. He nodded sagely before telling me that it’s actually quite hard and that maybe I should consider a ‘plan B’, you know, just in case. In my second meeting I informed him that my ‘plan B’ was to become a careers advisor - went down swimmingly.
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