Reading a touching and poignant post by Jennie Fitzkee this week here, the subject of having an inspiring teacher cropped up and brought me back to my senior school.
I pretty much enjoyed school and by the time I entered the sixth form was attuned to learning. But my then history master, a new recruit to my school opened up something in how to learn that made me want to do more, go the extra mile and find out the hidden stories.
I was taught to self educate. It was a harsh lesson, with Colin deriding our spoon fed mentality. We’d grown used to a text book telling us what we needed to know. The lesson Colin drummed into us was that if a text book has any purpose – and most of the time he thought them at best misleading and at worst downright deceitful – it is as a staging post to our real learning, setting us on a trail to the source materials.
How can you know what X or Y thought if you don’t read their actual words rather than someone else’s version of them? To begin with it was hard work but, soon enough, we understood we were finding our own version of events.
That’s when we learnt about our own biases, how we bring ingrained prejudices to our reading and interpretations. He was a short, swarthy moustachioed Trotskyite but he hid his politics most of the time in order to highlight our own unknown leanings. One time we sat in on a talk given by a representative over the South African embassy – this was the 1970s and Nelson Mandela was entering his second decade of incarceration on Robbin Island. Colin showed his colours that day, but what I remember vividly was the mastery of his brief. The embassy man had details galore but for each ‘fact’ Colin had another. If, he showed us, you want to argue with a steadfast opponent, know your material and know theirs too.
I believe university would have been a huge challenge for me but for what I learned. And ever after the Joy has been in the journey even more so than any form of answer.
Realising, with the help of an inspiring teacher that learning is a life long pleasure is in itself a delight. I hope everyone has had someone like Colin Boun. If so then like me they can count themselves very lucky.