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School Scars from the '60s
by Gwen Boswell

To begin with, I must explain that I was far more of a humanities student at school, than ever I was a science student and I am not quite sure what I could offer by way of explanation for this. It may have been just good old genetics, or down to the over, or even under development of one side of my brain. It may even have been the fact that my brother often used to beat me around the head with his school copy of “Science and the Modern World,” when I interrupted him doing his homework behaving, apparently, like an annoying little ratbag. Either way, mathematics was all Greek to me, confirmed I thought by the inclusion in its realms of the area of Algebra with its hidden city of Parenthesis, occupied by the often-misunderstood population of Equations. How can there by any variables where numbers are concerned? You either have 10 of something, or you don’t.

I shall never forget the disappointment of my introductory lesson to logarithms. Thank goodness I had the intelligence not to actually turn up in dancewear. I learned soon enough what the required equipment was for this particular lesson - a pencil, a Panadol, oh yes, and a large eraser.

Since my beleaguered maths lesson days, I have read somewhere that the logarithm is arguably the single, most useful arithmetic concept in all the sciences. Indeed? Well, I recall reading my table of logarithms from cover to cover and still being unsure of the balance of my pocket money, after buying ‘x’ amount of Babychams on a Friday night.

Science was as subject that terrified me, as I lived in fear of my life that should our presiding science teacher turn his back to the class for one minute, the ‘bad boys’ might decide to use their pipettes to measure and then blow, just the right amount of hydrochloric acid required to disintegrate the back of a school blouse worn by a timid schoolgirl. I was less concerned about being blinded, than I was about the results of this cruel scientific experiment making me the ridicule of the fourth year by revealing that I still wore a vest rather than a Playtex.

Art was more frustrating than traumatic. Paint this Mrs Shepherd said, I looked up and saw, then looked down and painted, looked up and saw, looked down and painted and so on, and so on. My endeavour and concentration were absolute, so why did the simple white vase with a sunflower in it on Mrs Shepherd’s desk end up looking like a pineapple on my paper? What went wrong with the apparent link of thought and action where my eye, brain and hand were concerned? More ridicule, but this time it was from the art teacher, ‘not the best mentor in the world was Mrs Shepherd.

To finish, I would just like to draw to the attention of Generations ‘X’ and ‘Y,’ that their privileged and somewhat soft school life has come about by some severe emotional and physical scarring to the Baby Boomers. For example, the outcome from a teacher in the 1960s wanging a blackboard rubber 15-feet across a classroom at Baby Boomer Johnny for forgetting one of the lyrics in the (still!) difficult ditty known as the “Nine Times Table,” has paved the way for the parents of ‘X’ and ‘Y’ to successfully sue teachers for far less. Without little Johnny’s NHS glasses smashing, thus distributing glass fragments and vast amounts chalk dust into his cornea, how would teachers since even realise that this was unacceptable classroom behaviour? (I am, of course, referring to the wanging, as opposed to the forgetting).

Thanks to those crash dummy years of the Baby Boomers, lessons have also been reconfigured for the benefit of the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ Generations, with some omissions from the curriculum making the school environs nowadays virtually vertigo free. Does any child now have to suffer learning maypole dancing? I think not, and it is thanks to a rather ungainly Mary Sidebottom and her near garrotting experience one lovely May morning in a Birmingham primary school playground that it has been removed.