Monday, 30 November 2015

Remembering Education Past

As part of Connections-based Learning, I made a challenge to those around called #familybloggingmonth.  My desire was to not only bring an awareness of student digital portfolios to parents but also to create a culture where people young and old are sharing with those who are most important to them: their families.  In honour of #familybloggingmonth here is a post from my father, Brian Thomas Henry Robinson. It illustrates what education looked like in a different time and place.  It celebrates the power of story.

Never spend any time behind a horse during fly season

It was often on dark and stormy evenings that the story teller would drop by.  He would stand in the small living room in our farm house and spin his yarns.  Neighbours would come over after supper to sit with us and stay for a tale or two.  This was a part of our education living in the 1940's near Tempo, Northern Ireland.  We had little to offer the “story man” as we kids called him but he had his supper and a place to lie down before he moved to the next village.  His stories carried us to worlds unknown.  The tales were riveting to all who came.  The small room was in a fog of pipe and turf smoke.  There was only light from a single kerosene lamp and the glowing embers of the hearth.  There we small children sat on our wee stools and listened.  We had no electricity or running water.  In fact, it was my job was to carry water to the house each day.  During the late hour listening to the story, sometimes my grandparents would curl up in a nook built into the fireplace that had a small bed with a drawstring curtain.  Then soon the snoring would start and we would have our laugh.
Our school was one room about a mile from the 34 acre farm named Edenmore.  We never travelled far and if we did it was by horse cart or by bike. Education was very directly played out by a teacher who handed out corporal punishment without a second thought.  I recall the older boys telling us to make sure we carried a horse hair in our back pocket in case we got into trouble. It must be, they would say, a tail hair from a white or beige horse.  Sure it was then we were to sneak it out and place it across our palm prior to getting the cane, a trick that would render even the hardest whack painless.  The punishment was dealt out if you got two wrong in spelling or whatever was decided by the teacher. No need to say that that type of "hurt-protection" never did anything but to make those watching laugh that another young one was duped.  It was another early lesson in life. 

Every day we continued to learn from our parents about the value of work, the value of  listening before you speak and to enjoy stories and music.  These lessons I bought back to Canada.  Many years later I graduated from Concordia then went on for my masters at UBC. It was almost seventy years when I first travelled back with my young brother and renewed our wonderful heritage.  We found our old farm and the school that is a heritage building.  We got to sit on the same benches as we did and the memories came rolling back like the time the teacher fired his rifle from inside the school at a rabbit that was helping itself to his cabbages in his garden. 

Being able to read the newspaper was an avenue to the world outside but that was often the end of education for farmer's children.  Learning was more about life experiences than the usual study lessons.  For instance: standing behind a horse anytime is not good but much worse during fly season ... you either get hit by its tail or kicked in the head by one of its back feet.  Basic learning: quick and absolute.     Helping to birth a cow or shoe a horse was often more important than school homework. Learning was basic back then.  And the learning continues even for an old 79er like myself.

I'm not saying we need to go back to all that.  But I am saying we would do well to remember.


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