Some say I have a chip on my shoulder about education.
At 9 years old, I returned to Scotland with my parents, having spent almost 2 years in Nyasaland (now Malawi). While in Africa, I was home-schooled for almost a year. I then attended St Andrew’s Primary School, in the Capital City of Blantyre, for the remainder of my stay.
I had no education in the traditional sense during the months-long journeys to and from Nyasaland on Union-Castle liners. The unusual long routes round the Cape of Good Hope, were taken at the time of the Suez Crisis when access through the Suez Canal was unsafe.
My childhood experience of living in Africa was an enriching one, but my traditional education fell sadly behind. When I re-enrolled at Dunfermline Commercial Primary School in Scotland, I sat beside the classmates that I’d been with over two years before.
They were all so far ahead of me by that time. I had real difficulty catching up. My schoolroom behaviour took a turn for the worst.
I was soon to be classified as a boy much in need of counseling, and was made to attend a series of Tuesday afternoons with Mrs Len, a child guidance counselor.
My visits consisted of sessions of being helped through tests, mainly so-called association tests and intelligence assessment, presumably to determine my state of mental health and my ability.
A beautiful glen
I recall one session in particular. Mrs Len began by asking what I did on Saturdays. I explained that I spent fine-weather days down the beautiful Glen in Dunfermline. I loved the Glen and would have spent every Saturday and most Sundays there if I could.
“Why don’t you go to the films on Saturday mornings?” was her response to my story. “That’s what lots of other children do.”
I explained that I didn’t like the movies that were on at the local cinema.
“Why not?” she asked. “These films are specially chosen for children!”
I explained that I didn’t like watching cowboys and Indians killing each other, or wars with ‘Japs and Gerries’, or gangsters hooning about in Cadillacs, or cops and robbers blasting themselves to bits.
That was in 1957. I was ten years old.
Not that long after the war, it was still acceptable for children to see all this violence. Mrs Len’s assumption was that it was good for me to be subjected to hours watching movies of people shooting at each other.
I had a different opinion.
In fact, in discounting the years of my lost education, she made a number of assumptions.
Based on the results of the tests she gave me, one assumption was that I was unfit to attend High School. Luckily I had caring parents who insisted that there was ‘nothing wrong’ with their son and that he would attend High School no matter what.
The long and the short is that my parents eventually removed me from Commercial School to enrol me in Pittencrieff Primary School nearby.
A year later I attended High School. In 1965 I became a student at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. I left that place of education in 1972 with a Doctor of Philosophy degree.
So I’m not knocking Scottish education. All things considered, I firmly believe that the system served me well. But when I think of my last months at Commercial School, there were several odd and perhaps invalid assumptions made by my teacher, the school I attended and the child guidance councilor, Mrs Len, about where I stood in relation to ‘education’.
Wikipedia defines assumption as a proposition that is taken for granted, as if it were true based upon presupposition without preponderance of the facts.
This means it’s a preset notion with no factual foundation.
Assumption can present barriers and can lead to disastrous decision making. It has dogged the view of where Earth is in relation to the centre of the universe since before the time of Ptolemy. It seeded the reason why Shakespeare’s Romeo took the fatal poison.
The legal maxim that a person is innocent until proven guilty was initiated by the recognition of its fallacy. Yet assumption is often used mercilessly by legal council in leveraging notion and supposition while swaying the opinion of a jury.
One of the greatest barriers to learning is initial and erroneous assumption in the mind of the learner.
Another is initial and erroneous assumption in the mind of the teacher.