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Rant #273
(published April 6, 2006)
A Wasted Education And The Rest
by Danny Bernardi
My school days were characterised by brutality, terror and misery. I was one of the thousands of children who were bullied. In my case the perpetrators were not peers but my teachers. As a result I still shudder whenever driving past a school building or sitting in front of teachers at a parents' evening.

I attended a dull West Midlands comprehensive in the UK sometime between the late seventies and early eighties. It had previously been a well regarded grammar school and was reluctantly forced into the new non-selective regime. When I arrived the staff were still in shock and overwhelmed by the diversity of pupils facing them. I had got on fine at junior school having been considered bright, although not particularly academic. The physical assaults commenced pretty soon after I started my senior education. It became apparent to us all that violence was the preferred tool of control. The catalogue of injuries I received in my five years was worthy of the worst sort of military junta. The staff managed to nearly strangle me with my own tie, knock my head repeatedly against a brick wall in the woodwork storeroom, pull out handfuls of hair, larrup me with broomsticks from behind the curtain on the school stage and regularly strike me with both fists and palms. All this in addition to corporal punishment!

Whilst teachers obviously need to maintain discipline and control in the classroom, the use of violence only made me realise what inadequate human beings they were and how incompetent they must be if they needed to resort to such brute force. Now I realise they were merely frightened victims who were also probably deeply disappointed with themselves. I left that school without learning a single thing and with a stern resolve to speak out against brutality. I suppose I should go back to thank those imbecilic pedagogs because as a result of such harsh treatment I subsequently became involved in peace movements and human rights' groups, this being the era of CND et al. I became a committed pacifist and still possess an almost zealous hatred of injustice and victimisation. This is probably the reason I regularly lecture my step-son about the futility of violence and physical oppression.

So, what could I possibly have done to warrant such treatment? Was I rude or uncooperative? No. I merely questioned the perceived wisdom. I demanded evidence for the things I was being told by the teachers — most of which I now know to be unsubstantiated twaddle. Instead of engaging in intellectual discussion they chose to beat the living daylights out of me. I doubt many of these idiots remain in the classroom, their personal dissatisfaction having probably propelled them into mid-life meltdown. Where were my parents in all this? Too busy trying to survive and make a living in the depressing years between the Winter of Discontent and Thatcher's early reign. They did not possess the tools to question authority and anyway I hid most of the violence from them or blamed it on football or playground scuffles. I was ashamed of being assaulted and, like most victims of abuse, somehow believed it to be my fault. For the record it was not my fault. I was just a child.

To this day I cannot believe that I would walk home some nights with my ears ringing from the head blows I'd received from teachers. Why was I being treated like this? I cannot pretend to understand - I can only pity them.

By my final year I had become quite strong so the female members of staff ceased striking me and their male counterparts were too busy terrorising the smaller kids from the council estate. I was written off as a no-hoper and eventually excluded. I dared not tell my parents for fear of letting them down. Instead I decided to educate myself with daily trips to the Central Library in Birmingham where I had a great time reading everything I could get my hands on related to the creative arts and popular culture.

In the meantime the careers master (ex-army with no careers qualifications whatsoever) had refused to allow me to apply to the town's prestigious sixth form college. On the afternoon of my exclusion I stopped at the local technical college and stood at the gates in tears. I resolved not to end my education at sixteen. I wanted to go to university. I knew I must start again. I had to get into this college which appeared to be more geared up for teaching hairdressers and motor mechanics rather than aspirational university entrants. I strolled up to the reception desk and enquired what I needed to do to get a place to study for 'A' levels and, if necessary, retake a few 'O' levels. The receptionist gave me an application form and helped me to fill it in. She took me seriously and I suspect she might have realised I'd been crying.

The next two years at technical college were wonderful. The lecturers were kind and encouraging and eventually I ended up going onto university.

About three years ago I stopped the car to buy a newspaper and was spotted by a music teacher who had behaved particularly badly towards me. He tried to make eye contact so I dodged his gaze. He moved in nearer, making it impossible for me to miss him. Eventually, after realising I was not going to acknowledge him, he greeted me. To this day I am extremely proud of my response. I fixed him with a stare and without cracking my face told him in a very calm tone, "I don't wish to be rude but I have absolutely nothing to say to you."

That's exactly how feel about every teacher I encountered during my secondary education. I have nothing to say to or about them anymore. That five years is a closed book, a sad excuse for an education. I'd love to name and shame but that would be childish and I'm an adult.

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