Education is the process of casting false pearls before real swine
Irwin Edman (1896-1954)
I realised Harrow County had a web site when Jess Campbell, whom I hadn’t seen since 1967, rang me and mentioned it. He rang because Clive (Sup) Upton has recently died of cancer, not many years after Bruce Lidington had a fatal heart attack. I had thought, until then, I was the last of the Mohicans, but what do I find? Graham Leach, publishing his reminiscences and including me in the honourable company of those “yobbo wearers of long hair, winklepicker shoes and tapered trousers”, kindly attaching my name to a list I had always considered among the elite of the misfit brigade. It cheered me considerably, as Hut C is a mental condition from which I still proudly suffer.
But he also made a number of valid points about the nature of education in those days, and he made them far too gently. A brief personal history will support his argument, and show why my gratitude to HCS is profound but slightly ironic.
My first year of grammar school was in Spring Grove, in Hounslow. It was a mixed school (with real girls) who didn’t stream until year two. After a long line of labourers and illiterate peasants, a Eustice was in a decent school and doing well. Very well. During that year my father left the army and had trouble adjusting to civilian life. A family of ten ended up in one room in a hostel in Ruislip and I travelled from there to school by tube every day. Despite this inconvenience, completing homework among the straphangers every morning because it was relatively quiet, I ended the year with a glowing report - a form captain who was also taking violin lessons and looking forward to learning Latin in year two, in the A stream where he had been placed. Had I stayed, I could have turned into one of those tedious swots who rise from the swamps to a decent scholarship. But I was saved by moving to a council house in Harrow, and starting year two in HCS.
Here, of course, they had started Latin in year one. In this one aspect I was a year behind, and therefore a nuisance. The only logical place to go was the C stream, which housed those wicked souls who were so unpromising they had already given up Latin. One individual could not spoil the neat workings of an august institution so, at a single stroke, my ascent was interrupted and my attitude to education rendered rather more complex. I suppose my parents should have complained more loudly, but in those days the workers knew their place and were easily intimidated by the arguments of a be-gowned Dr. Simpson. So HCS was not inconvenienced.
I had already learned at primary school that teachers were not always right. Now knew they could be cynical, arrogant and downright bad for you. So I started to look more closely at their feet of clay and, of course, discovered sufficient faults to justify not taking most of them too seriously. Jock Lafferty and Jim Golland seemed civilised. The art department was harmless enough, and worth turning up to. But when other mugs were out getting muddy on rugby fields I preferred to hide in Hut C with a packet of Weights, a pack of cards and a sceptical enquiry as to the value of what we were being asked to believe in.
A few pleasant little pranks passed the time – smoking a pipe under the desk to see how long before the new teacher had to stop pretending he couldn’t notice, wrapping a new deputy head’s car in bows of toilet paper whilst he was escorting the mayor from our school play. Well worth a caning. But by the time I started repeating the fifth year, it seemed fairly pointless. So one idle day I wandered along Fleet Street, took an alley on the left, got a job in advertising and didn’t go back. They didn’t chase me.
Dropping out to hitch about Europe – initially with Bruce and Sup – I drifted for seven years through building sites, commercial art, garage forecourts, fashion industry – the usual sixties stuff. Then, a bored postman, went to evening classes for one year, straight into Sussex University and suddenly I was a graduate being vivaed for a first. So Further Education seemed to work where HCS didn’t bother to try. Which is why, a masters and various professional certificates later, I am still working in it. Until last year, oddly enough, running a department of media and performing arts, which included the organisation of events for Brighton Festival –drama, dance, live music from around the world and our own record label. Using the talents Graham described as unappreciated by the dinasours. Now – more ironic still – as Executive Director of Student Support it is my job to make sure all lecturers in the college make due allowance for the backgrounds and learning styles of the individual students, and that those with talent are fairly treated by the system.
It was whilst I was busy redrafting the tutorial system and the charter of students’ rights, expounding the principles of “inclusive learning”, that I came across Graham’s article and realised that, one way and another, HCS had determined my trajectory over four decades. I am writing this now to support Graham’s comments, and to encourage him with the notion that, as a fellow socialist so rightly said – we are the masters now. And Hut C rules, OK?
I hope HCS has learned many lessons since then. If it hasn’t, then the yobbos will be back to ask questions. And this time they mean business.
Paul (Bernie) Eustice, July 2001