Another school semester will soon begin. If you’re in school, are you looking forward to starting classes? If you’re out of school, what do you miss about it — or are you glad those days are over?
Photographers, artists, poets: show us LEARNING.
A photo taken a few years ago when I decided to let my hair grow (some sort of post hippie phase I was going through, thinking that long hair was being in – forgetting at the same time that it would have been better in another colour except for grey). At the time I was learning Italian. I already knew the basics of the language, but a friend had enrolled for the course, which had become an advance course and due to other things, could no longer carry on. She had paid for the course, so gave the rest to me. I finished the rest and enrolled for two further courses, hence me sitting in this class as a golden oldie.
I have been out of school so many years, that the three schools I visited no longer exist. The infants school is now a boys only school, the primary school (ages from 7-11) has been demolished and my high school in the middle of London was built on such expensive land that it too was removed elsewhere to accommodate high office towers which brought more profit. The land was a very expensive zone in London. The hall still exists, being transformed into an expensive French restaurant in the meanwhile. It was really not my fault, they destroyed the schools to make money, to organise a new school system and not because I left a negative effect or tried to blow it up (although the thought often passed my mind at the time).
My mum always said “school days are the best days of your life”. Not that mum was wrong, and they probably were the best days of her life. Her schooling was finished when she was thirteen years old and she had to learn the hardness of real life. In the early 20th century growing up in a working class family in the East End of London, you had no choice. There were four children and money had to be earned, especially as granddad was not exactly the pillar of society. He had a good job as a carpenter, collected his pay on Friday and drank most of it away on Friday evening. The family had to make do with what was left until the next Friday.
I was lucky. I grew up in the post war years. We were still not rich, but I could take advantage of what I knew. The world was at my feet, but my feet were not so sure. It seems I was intelligent enough to pass exams and reach high school. A school uniform was bought, I had my first leather bag for carrying school books and other such articles and it was ready, steady go. To be quite honest “go” was the main word. I did not like school, full of learning things that I did not want to learn, and travelling to and from school on the London busses.
We had games once a week, which meant and hour’s travelling to some isolated sports ground on the edge of London, or in a part of London which was complicated to reach with public transport. We arrived at the sports ground with a coach supplied by the school, but most of the time the coach driver would stop the coach and tell us if we did not behave he would throw us all out of the coach. That driver just did not have humour. Apparently a coach full of 30 teenage girls was too much for him, especially when we all spoke at once. We had to complete the home journey at the mercy of the London Transport system.
Time passed, and at the age of seventeen/eighteen for me, school was over and the earnest of life begun. My last year at school was a secretarial year. I could type; write shorthand (Pitmans system) and cope with the basics of office life. When I left school I was not sorry, now I could learn what I wanted to and not what I had to.
The first part of my non-school life was spent somewhere in an office in London during the day and evenings mostly in the local library (I enjoyed reading) or week-ends at West Ham United stadium watching a football game. Saturday evening was usually in the local dance hall or in the pub according to what was organised with my friends.
Was I missing school? Forget it, I missed it like a hole in the head. I was having fun. What I missed, to be quite honest, was nourishment for the brain. Living on Beatles songs, meeting people of the other sort (do not forget I spent my school life at girls only schools, co-education was not so common in my years) was in order, but I had my hobbies. I loved learning foreign languages, one of the few ideas that school gave me on the way. I learnt six years French at school, although I wanted to learn Italian. Eventually I enrolled in an evening course for Italian. I spent two weeks holiday in Italy and they understood me.
As the years passed, I immigrated to Switzerland, met Mr. Swiss and decided to have a family. I learnt how to bring up children who also went to school. I found I hated the school system in Switzerland even more than that in England. They had Saturday morning school, you know the day when you do not do anything you have to. The week-end, reserved for some shopping, relaxing and even spending more time in bed on Saturday morning. The Swiss school system was based on sending your children every morning to school. On Sunday they were allowed to stay at home. There are also the complicated time tables. Your children do not go to school at the same time and come home at the same time, it depends how old they are and which class they visited. With four children this was complicated. One child still at home, and the other three coming and going all through the week, each child needing mummy to be there when he/she came home or left.
You were also expected to help them with homework. I remember my mum gave up with that when I started bringing Algebraic problems and Pythagoras home. My dad knew how to do it, but he did it different to the way I was taught at school. His mathematics were more based on football permutations and working out the odds on horse racing bets. I did actually understand my children’s homework, even if it was in German. When it came to correcting grammar, I passed it on to Mr. Swiss. Somehow I got this all behind me one day, but I found sending others to school was more tiring than when I visited school myself.
One fine day my kids did not need me anymore. Some had moved out (I even helped them to go) and others were thinking about it. Now I began to catch up on the things I always wanted to do. I learnt Russian at evening classes for about twelve years, and did a year Arabic. German I learnt as a side-line because I had to, living in Switzerland. I even found the six years French I learnt came in handy.
Summing all this up, I do not miss school, but even as a golden oldie I found it is never too late to learn. My last escapade was Tai Chi, but that was more a necessity to keep me moving. I learnt how to drive a car at the age of forty. I learnt how a computer works and how to do a web site at the age of fifty. I have discovered in life it is never too late to learn anything really. You just have to want to.
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