I have lived in the city of Durham for fifty years, I surprise myself when I say that. In that time there have been many changes. The city seemed at that time to be small, although the very fact that I moved into a new house on an estate was a very visible sign of change, schools were being built, an increasingly busy bus station and of course the railway station which linked us to the rest of the country. Durham University although established in 1832 was up until the end of the 1950s relatively small, the students numbered in hundreds, and to a large extent separate from the city. This situation was in the process of change; free higher education and grants for students living away from home opened up this branch of education to a much wider section of the population. The University was quick to seize this business opportunity and soon became the most important part of the economic life of the city and therefore had considerable influence with Durham County Council. [No of students?]
There has been an equally big change in the domestic life inside most homes, I’m talking about television and the whole digital revolution, the mobile phone, the laptop and the computer. I grew up in a home without a phone or a television set. I remember the year the television set first appeared in my home, 1958. It was small and the pictures were in black and white, it was thrilling. Change now proceeds at a break-neck pace. Television channels occupy several pages in our programme guide, some of it made decades ago. I’m not complaining, I read books written in the nineteenth century and they still reveal something interesting about the way human beings live. A few months ago I spotted a station previously unknown to me, PBS America, I tuned in. I assume the letters stand for Public Broadcasting Service, that is to say programmes whose purpose is to tell the whole truth about events in American history from an academic point of view. There will come a time when films made from an accurate, unbiased academic viewpoint will be used in schools in much the same way that books are used now or more likely in addition to books. The programme that I’m watching is The Civil War which took place in the 1860s, much of the film was taken at the time of the war, the bodies just lying in the field, the narrative telling how many thousands of young men died, their words from the letters they sent home , incredibly moving, the soldiers became real people. The scenes of where the battles were fought and the generals view of what they were trying to accomplish. I have seen many fictionalised war films none had the impact of this true account.
This wonderful technology and the work of hundreds of people are making our own history available to everyone regardless of age or country or previous educational level. Marvellous!!!
At present there is a great fuss in the press and on TV because the Results Are Out! That is the examination results for boys and girls aged 16, they are called O levels after which many young people leave school and look for a job, as I did myself in 1955. In recent times it is also the schools themselves which are examined. What is the success rate of school A, how does it compare withs schools, B, C, and D ? There is one huge flaw in this argument. Every child is treated as a separate individual, who will live alone, work alone and has no connection with any community whatsoever. It may surprise the examiners and the teachers to discover 99.9% of us live in communities, we work day by day with other people, when we feel ill we want to see a doctor, when a problem crops up we may need a lawyer to sort it out, we all want our children to have good teachers and many of us rely on buses and trains to get from place to place, and so on.
One thing I know from experience that those few children who learn quickly and easily are frequently the target of bullying behaviour. Many children have some difficulty when it comes to learning to read, or adding up and subtracting or copying letters: these children gradually begin to see themselves as failures. It is made very clear to them that the only praiseworthy thing is putting your hand up because you know the answer, or getting 9 out of 10 for your sums. If Joe is struggling to read the text book or getting more crosses against his sums, then just like an adult Joe looks for someone to blame, someone he can make feel miserable just like Joe himself. That quiet boy who never joins in the football game and has read every book in the class, he won’t fight back. So Joe starts calling him names, throwing bits of paper at him and encourages his friends to do the same. The quiet boy, I will call Bill looks miserable and strangely enough not a word is said by the teacher. So Joe steps up his name calling and pushing and he sees the teacher smiling. The teacher does not like Bill, he is much too clever, much cleverer than the teacher’s own son I will call John. The aim of caring for every child in the class has become irrelevant, jealousy has become the need which much be satisfied. Soon Bill ceases to come to school so another victim must be found. “Every child matters”, has been binned.
This story sounds like a ridiculous exaggeration but it is tragically true. The bullying went on for a number of years before Bill could take no more. The school stood by and did nothing. Now that there is such emphasis on results, on getting the right marks I am convinced that there are a lot more boys like Joe and some girls too who are sick of being in the bottom half of the class and always being told they could do better. The question never answered is how?
Yes indeed we are all different; some can run faster, jump higher, put the ball in the back of the net. These talents most of us accept as rare and special gifts but the ability to read and understand numbers, in this complex 21st century world is essential, our names,addresses and age are written down a thousand times; if we want a driving licence, and most of us do, or to follow the instructions on a new washing machine. Then the ability to understand the printed word is also the way in which this busy, modern world is explained to us,even those modern miracles; the mobile phone, the internet and the television set depend frequently on spoken and written words even President Trump puts his thoughts down on Twitter and many people read them. Myself I would rather look out of the window at the birds, but we all have our own ways of doing nothing very much.
Teaching is a very intellectually demanding job yet our society regards it as a respectable profession for a literate young person who has no actual experience of the many and varied reasons some children find it difficult to learn. The young teacher finds herself without ongoing support and regular courses on particular problems which she will without doubt encounter very quickly. The medical and legal professions are accepted as intellectually rigorous but if you can speak politely and dress neatly you can be put in front of a class and left to discover how you can engage thirty-five boys and girls to be interested in learning something new. I have only one more thing to say, the best of British luck!
I’m happy to say that when I look out of my windows I see lots of trees. I’m not good at remembering the names but I love the shapes, the different shades of green and the magnificence of a living thing higher than the house. When these houses were built trees were along the main roads and grassy areas here and there, in addition to a garden in front of every house. I’m amazed to say that most of these houses were built fifty years ago, by Christmas this year husband and I will have lived in this spot for fifty years. You may be thinking are these people rooted to the spot? We don’t have actual physical roots but emotion and familiarity do form something very much akin to roots.
Many front gardens have been paved over to make a secure space for the car or indeed several cars. There is a shopping centre quite close by and even a delivery service from the local supermarket. So everyday life proceeds on its routine way. Something has happened recently which I find visually distressing, in a garden belonging to a neighbour a monstrosity looms into my vision. A tree has been chopped off in a very ugly fashion, I’m surprised that I find a tree ugly! One person’s idea of beauty can be very different to someone else’s idea. Another neighbour chopped very haphazardly a perfectly decent hedge, the hedge in question was actually mine.
So even a very pretty spot can be changed utterly, an ugly tree!!! So I have to turn around and look out of another window. I like to be on good terms with my neighbours but sometimes its not easy!
I’m reading a book on my kindle which involves history, the working class and is centred in my own region , so I am enjoying myself. [You see how up to date I am, no dog-eared paper- backs for me] The book is very well written. Jarrow is a few miles from where I was born in Sunderland. There was a time when both these towns were in County Durham but for some reason that I fail to understand they are now in Tyne and Wear. There has been no geographical earthquake, Jarrow is still on the south bank of the Tyne and Sunderland is on both banks of the River Wear. Its probably down to some administrative convenience.