It’s a Sin — My “Special” School Days
New to this story? Start here with chapter one
Chapter 2: Setting Sail (Launch)
Whilst my school days were not the stuff of Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown, the fags that appeared in our school were called tabs. It resembled more Nicholas Nickleby’s Dotheboy’s Hall then Tom Brown’s Rugby.
People think we exaggerate when we equate these institutions with Victorian principles, but adult institutions frowned on intimate relationships between couples. If this was frowned on between adults, it was a big no-no between adolescents. Girls were housed at the top of the school and boys at the bottom and never should the twain meet; after all, the lessons must be learned early. Of course, ways were found to mingle.
Another fiercely fought battle was bedtimes teenagers were meant to go to bed by 9.30, can you imagine kids today agreeing to that. This was not seen as being unfair by the school, but we rebelled. Paul reminded me that on one occasion such a rebellious act resulted in both of us being slapped. Today that would result in a phone call to Childline.
Let me add here some historical perspective. In 1952 several parents of children with Cerebral Palsy who feared what might happen to their offspring once they died, or were unable to cope (they being the parents) came together and formed the Spastics Society. To ensure there was some group to support their children and the children of other such parents.
By the time I was entering the school this group had grown into a large charitable organisation which was raising millions of pounds from public donations, resembling more a business than a charity. I often wonder what the original band of parents would make of the creature their original idea became. Some now refer it as a monster! I would like to think they are spinning in their graves feeling ashamed and embarrassed by the capitalist, money-grabbing beast it has manifested into. Forgetting and/or ignoring its original purpose.
When people with brain and body defects are born, I think that they are born with impairments and only become disabled when they encounter society. For those like me born with the condition Cerebral Palsy I am unsure whether I am referring to the charitable society or society on the wider scale.
The reality of the situation is that society had no idea how to deal with or work with disabled people. So, they were more than happy, if not grateful that charities such as the Spastics Society took that burden off their hands, from their minds, “out of sight, out of mind” is a phrase that sums it up perfectly. If it meant they needed to throw these organisation vast amounts of cash, then so be it. I doubt our fate rarely, if ever impinged upon their thoughts.
I was brought up within the Catholic faith and I must admit there were many times when I was sat at the rear of a cold church, listening to ancient priests (they all seemed ancient to me back when I was a boy) preaching from the pulpit about curing people like me, and I saw huge parallels between the church and the charity, both were transfixed with the notion of recovery over discovery. Making us into the person (they think) we should be rather than help us explore the people we could be.
One story particularly stuck me. That of the Catholic Jesuits who are said to have claimed, “Give me the child for the first seven years I’ll give you the man”. With the Spastic society the span of years may differ, but the principle remains the same. Of course, the other difference between the church and charity is that the charity does not discriminate over gender, be you girl, boy, woman or man the charity will fuck you over equally.
Let me draw you a picture of my schooldays, not by using pastels, paints, and pencils, but by crafting my narrative skills using words, sentences, and paragraphs.
When Lewis Carrol wrote of Alice falling down a rabbit hole into a wonderland, he never imagined life in a Scope school, or he would have described Ali in blunder-land not Alice in Wonderland. To the naked eye it could appear that a Scope pupil blundered from one classroom to the next, growing a year older but no wiser.
To call it hell would be an exaggeration, as there is no escaping hell, but one dragged up in the Roman Catholic faith could recognise aspects of purgatory. If you did your time, endured your penance, you might find a way out, beaten but not broken.
I hoped to skip over the deviances of the level of education provided by such establishments. There has been much documented on this subject. However, if I were to do that, I would be failing you the reader, by not providing you with more complete picture.
For me to achieve this I must once more remind myself and you of some historical perspective.
I sometimes mistakenly refer to myself as a child of my time. In truth I was not a child of my time I was a child of somebody else’s time. If I were to choose my time, I would have attended the same educational facility as my sister and spent all my days in the family home, but I had no choice or control over that. Neither did my parents, or the parents of any child forced to attend my school.
Back in those days the thought of integrated schools, never mind inclusive education, was still an enigma.
This resulted in classrooms of a dozen pupils, were made up of on average three wheelchair users, two or three who used walking aids and the remaining half a dozen or so were fully ambulant kids who had mild learning difficulties or behavioural issues. If a mainstream school within the catchment area felt even a little uncomfortable accommodating such kids, they would ship them in our school’s direction and other such schools across the country.
This meant the difference between learning skills and speeds were vast. This meant that no-one was adequately supported or educated. Remember there were no such things as teaching assistants then.
When the school bell rang the care staff disappeared like hot-blooded creatures hibernating during the winter season. They were nowhere to be found.
Which meant that as a boy with high support needs, I had two options (not choices): either piss my pants or persuade my more able peers to support me to take a pee. Luckily, I had some thoughtful helpful friends. If you were charitable, you could say those were early lessons in independence training. As I do not believe in the charity model, I find it difficult to see it so.
So, in conclusion I do not remember my education as being either special or enlightening.
So, you may think that considering the tone of this blog, I blame the staff of this establishment; this in fact, is far from the truth. Both were equal victims of the time and regime. Both parties were forced to comply to the restrictions placed upon them.
More next week!Posted on March 4, 2021 #socialChange #SpecialEducation #Robert