Shoe laces and psychopathy

When I think back to my time in the mid-1970s at Holy Child Primary School in Andersonstown in West Belfast I often conclude that the principal qualification for teaching most staff there had was either a hatred of children or a psychopathic desire to do them physical and mental harm. (I am not joking by the way).

English: The Andersonstown Road This road is c...
English: The Andersonstown Road This road is constantly busy with shoppers, churchgoers and cars. It is the route of choice for people travelling to and from Twinbrook and Poleglass. The floodlights of 443977 can be seen in the top right of the picture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Children were hit for any reason, or indeed no reason at all. Once a female teacher dragged me off the ground for a good ten metres by hair alone. My crime was to have, at a school sports day at Casement Park, to have got out of my seat to have congratulated a school mate. No circle of hell is hot enough for people who treat 9 year olds in this way.

(Of course, at the age of 11 the system then went on to throw 75% of its victims on the scrapheap via the 11+ exam. I passed that and went on grammar school, one of the lucky ones. But I remember the waste of talent and the brutality of the system well enough to regard those who think it was some sort of golden age of order and social mobility with a mixture of pity and contempt.)

One of the little scams of our teachers – all of them, not just mine – was to naff off to the staff room for a cup of tea and a cigarette at morning break time having set us some work. The idea that the point of the break was to let the kids out into the playground seemingly never occurred. School was not for our benefit, after all. Failure to do the work, or to have done it badly would quite often result in a beating.

So one day my P6 teacher decided that the task we would all have to do was to write-up on how to tie our shoelaces (as you can see the task was predicated on the need for the teacher to have to make the minimal amount of  preparation – sometimes we were simply told to copy out passages of school books). In truth, I did not know how to do this and the task caused more than a little panic. Frantically, experimenting and desperate, I managed to get it done.

And, whatever the reason, the way I learned to tie my shoe laces is, it would appear, the correct way.

When I read this column in the Guardian last night I thought the opposite, and so this morning tied one shoe in the way I have always done (at least since that day in 1976) and one in what I thought, from having read the linked website, was the “correct” way. Needless to say, after about half an hour of walking the shoelace on the “correctly” tied shoe was coming loose and that on the “traditional” side was still firmly fixed.

8 thoughts on “Shoe laces and psychopathy

  1. Those 75% of students—sorry: “victims”—“thrown on the scrapheap” in Northern Ireland still subsequently outperform their matched peers in comprehensive schools on the mainland. I’m tired of reading this cliché—this lie—every time the question of school education policy in these islands comes up for the usual evidence-lite discussion; though it’s understandable that it should proliferate as rigour and hard science have been drained from the secondary curriculum by the same ideologues who’ve brought us selection-by-house-price.

    I’m not an advocate of a return to the grammar/secondary modern divide, but my main problem with the ironically named comprehensive system is that, *especially* for the most disadvantaged, it is *even worse* than what preceded it.

    1. You are ignoring the fact that there are an excess of low performers in Northern Ireland. It’s hardly a surprise, given the huge skewing of resources in favour of grammar schools in Nothern Irleland, that grammar school pupils do well and so raise the the apparent performance. But look at the bottom of the heap and you will see large numbers getting nothing at all. West Belfast Catholics are (or were, it’s a few years since I last checked), both the best performing and the worst performing school leavers in the UK.

      So, no, Damian it’s not a cliche.

      1. I’ve just done a Google verbatim search for “scrapheap” AND “secondary modern” and returned 48000 hits. If that’s not a cliché, I don’t know what it is

        Understandably, you still haven’t addressed my central point, which is that the claim that 75% of kids end up on the “scrapheap”, however generously you interpret that metaphor, is simply false. I’ll say it again: under the comprehensive system, kids from the same backgrounds do worse than they would do at secondary moderns. The dogma of comprehensivisation is up there with Lysenkoism in the pantheon of systematic, ideologically motivated establishment lying.

  2. Let’s be clear here. I am writing about the 70s and Catholic education in Northern Ireland – Catholics got 30% worse results than protestants in the time frame I am discussing. That was being chucked on the scrapheap. I am trying to research a more detailed reply but it’s difficult to find the unanswerable stats on a Saturday night when you are also trying to do other things.
    Your claim that kids would do better at Secondary Moderns is beyond a joke – look at the results in Kent.
    Your comparison with Stalinist lies about biology – lies that saw people thrown in prison and possibly worse – is disappointing, to say the least.

  3. Obviously there’s no way to test the counterfactual, but I wouldn’t be even slightly surprised if the advent of the comprehensive school in system in England and Wales led to significant numbers of children who might otherwise have led happier lives growing up to be convicted criminals; but I’m not going to overplay my hand here; you’re right: unlike Lysenkoism, it’s unlikely anyone died of starvation. Let’s just say that—even if it resembled reality in any way at all—your talk of human beings being “thrown on a scrapheap” isn’t exactly measured language either. And that’s where I came in.

    One thing that *isn’t* a counterfactual is my central contention. Again, you deliberately avoid the point. I’m not saying that kids “*would* do better at secondary moderns”; I’m saying that kids *do* do better. It’s the biggest side-by-side comparison in secondary education and ideologues deliberately ignore the overall result; just as they ignore the results when vouchers are shown to help poor and black pupils in the only randomised trials in education I’ve ever read about.

    Kent is neither here nor there: it’s one artificial island of selection set in a sea of mixed-ability, LEA-controlled state schooling, so the effect of selection-by-house price is doubled down. Of course kids in secondary moderns there are going to do badly—if indeed they do: you haven’t actually cited a substantive result in that case either.

    I freely concede that the religious divide in Northern Ireland had, and continues to have, terrible effects. Catholic kids are and have been simply worse-off on average. That’s a fact, and that wasn’t what I was engaging with either.

    I was simply attacking one tired, hyperbolic, clichéd untruth that appears over and over again in such discussions. It keeps being trotted out because no right-thinking person dares to challenge it. The burden of proof here doesn’t lie with me; it has always rested with the social engineers. (If only they had a tiny fraction of the rigour of most actual engineers!) It’s a measure of how polluted the ground has become that you and others can repeat this outrageous myth and throw up chaff when asked to back it up with anything other than personal anecdote.

    And, yet again, for the avoidance of doubt: I am not advocating a return to the grammar/secondary modern divide. I just want discussions about education to be based on evidence, not dogma and tribal boilerplate.

    1. Damian, well, I believe the figures exist that show you are wrong – as it is I have already said (correctly) that pupils are twice as likely to leave school in Northern Ireland with no GCSEs as they are in England, where selection is a minority sport. But if you dismiss Kent – where the number of kids getting no GCSEs is high and where selection predominates – what’s the point of me taking the few hours I need to make the comprehensive case? You merely dismiss any evidence offered and then crow that your opponents won’t offer any evidence.

      1. You’ll be relieved that I am not going to bother saying exactly the same things all over again. This will, in turn, save you from ignoring them in favour of discussing anything but those things. I’m happy for others to read this discussion back and judge for themselves.

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