Where shall we meet? 2

Eleanor Jane Mair, our daughter, died on the 21st April in Ninewells Hospital, as result of trauma caused by alcoholism. She was a beloved and loving person, who cared for everyone except herself, bringing joy through what she was but also sorrow through what she was doing to herself. She is with God.)

You suggested that we meet in places that were crucial in your life. Yesterday (see previous blog) we talked about our relationship as daughter and father, and one of the barriers between us. Moving on in your life, I suppose we come to your education…

Too bloody right we do. And especially to Broomhill Primary School, Aberdeen…

Yeah, OK it wasn’t great. Your mum was mentioning it yesterday as one of our mistakes.

One small mistake for you maybe, but a giant misery for me. Remember I’d started my schooling in Coventry where we lived. I went to Earlsdon Primary School, which was run on the child-centred principles which were common to good schools in England. Each child was important, and each process of learning. To come from there to a school where the teachers were all- important and the children mere vessels to be filled with knowledge, and the whole enterprise backed by a unearned middle class sense of superiority, was devastating. Of course I didn’t understand then what sort of institution it was; I just knew they didn’t like me and I felt afraid.

We were aware that you didn’t like school, but felt it was just an inevitable culture shock, which you would outgrow….

Yes, but you tended to believe them, at parent’s nights and such, rather than me, like I should talk less and concentrate more, meaning I should become the kind of pupil they wanted.

I did listen to your deadly accounts of your teachers, and tried to assure you I was on your side.

Oh yes, yes, that just made it worst, because knowing you agreed with me made me even less amenable and more likely to be in trouble. In effect you said, I’m on your side but fight your own battles. How could I win?

I hear what you’re saying…..

And did you really agree with me. Didn’t you and mum believe that education was a matter of knowing stuff, which a good teacher would know and communicate to the pupils. Isn’t that your view of school and uni, that there’s culturally valuable stuff which just has to be handed on? That it isn’t for pupils to argue over it?

Come on, that’s a parody of my attitude. Of course, there’s Shakespeare and Joyce and Hume and Wittgenstein and Darwin and Einstein and Beethoven and Bartok and…..

And not a woman or a black amongst them! The list of people worth knowing was skewed by prejudice, but more than that there was no attempt to teach us how to choose what we needed to know, and no guidance on how judge the relevance or value of any part of the cultural tradition. I can put it that way now, but then I was just presented with teachers who said, Take it or leave it, but this is the knowledge by which you will be judged. Even you and mum tended to judge me that way….there were hoops to be jumped through, and I wasn’t jumping very quickly or gracefully.

Never! I knew how oppressive school can be, and I certainly didn’t judge you by those standards.

I believe you now, but then I wasn’t sure because you did nothing; you didn’t rescue me. Well you eventually did when you got me out of an equally horrible secondary school, into a much better one..but by that time, damage had been done. I suspected I was a failure and would be found out.

Sorry, El…

But are you really? So even when I studied theology and trained for the ministry of the church you were always questioning if I had enough knowledge, whether I’d bothered to read the Desert Fathers, or Luther, or 2nd Samuel! As if that’s what faith is about. Admit it, you’re a theological snob, looking down on believers you call evangelicals or fundamentalists…

Now come on, there must be a place for knowledge in any human endeavour!

Love builds up, St Paul says, but Knowledge puffs up.

When you of all people start quoting St Paul to me, I know it’s time to stop. I’ll think about all this and then we can talk again, I hope.

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