“Dark Lord Badman!” she called shrilly. “Are you coming out to play or not?”
I ducked back and paced up and down, gnawing on a knuckle. My wife smiled as she walked through the lounge.
“Ah! Sweet! Why don’t you go out and play, Badders?”
I glowered at her. “You know why! I want to keep a low profile for a bit.”
“That’s silly. It’s been two weeks now! Anyway you ran into Miranda when you were leaving for the Select Committee the other morning.”
I turned back to the window ruefully. “She asked me if I’d been CPR checked.”
“She meant CRB,” my wife laughed.
“No she didn’t. She said her daddy told her it was CPR in my case because I’m heartless! Damned guinea pig! Damned cat!”
My wife gave a snort before adding thoughtfully, “Have you been CRB checked, Badders?”
“Don’t be ridiculous! I am an education expert! It’s these home edders who are under suspicion.”
She shrugged and went through to the kitchen. Miranda appeared to have given up and resumed her dolly’s tea party on the lawn. She seemed to be talking to a large fluffy doll I was unfamiliar with. I squinted at it for a second as she patted and stroked its ginger hair. Suddenly the penny dropped. It wasn’t a doll at all. It was Autonomous Ed! Traitor!
I grunted and moved over to the computer. I didn’t suppose Rev. Thomas would be coming over to look at it now. Maybe the spell checker problem had resolved itself. I sat down, opened a Word document and began to type a heading for a new report.
I had intended it to read;
Balls Upholds My Position Amid Parents Objections
The spellchecker had altered it to read;
EDUCATION REVIEW BALLS UP
Hold my Poison Acid Pants Suggestions
I angrily tossed the mouse aside and moved to the sofa. I sat there stiffly with my arms folded staring sullenly at the floor. I though about Smith and his family, home-edding over the fence and felt the corners of my mouth turn down. How could he be so convinced that he was right and I was wrong? I am an expert.
“An expert!” I muttered out loud, nodding vigorously to myself. I continued to stare at the floor deep in thought as I mulled over everything I believed in. I saw all my convictions swimming before my eyes in a maelstrom of events recalled from a lifetime in education.
“Who the Dickens are these home-edders anyway” I said, closing my eyes and allowing myself to drift down into my own subconscious. “Who the Dickens…”
I suddenly sat up with a start. The room was darker and colder. Had I fallen asleep? I glanced at my watch, but it appeared to be only five minutes since I had last looked. Why did I feel so odd? I was startled to see a swirling fog slowly enveloping the room. I called for my wife.
“Have you left something on the stove?”
The fog had grown so thick that I could no longer see across the room. Soon I could barely see my hand in front of my face. I became aware of a figure moving in the gloom.
“What’s going on?” I demanded.
A whispering voice answered me with a tut-tutting sound. “Graham Badman CBE. An expert in education.”
“Who’s there? What is all this?”
“Not another one, surely!” I gulped.
“A review of education past. A review of education present and a glimpse of education future!”
“That’s not only ridiculous, but a cliché,” I complained. The shadowy figure was starting to fade away but in its place stood a smaller apparition. A timid, weedy looking boy in short trousers was looking intently up at me.
“Let me guess. You are the Ghost of Education Past?”
The little boy nodded solemnly. “I’m you!”
“What! Good heavens!” As I examined the child more closely I recognised a face that I hadn’t seen in the mirror for a very long time. “Well stand up straight, boy! You’re wearing that uniform like an old sack! Straighten that tie for a start.”
I fussed over the eight year old version of myself, appalled at the smudge on my face. I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket and scrubbed at it.
“Well stand still then! Oh this is no good. Stick your tongue out!”
The little me did so. I dabbed the handkerchief in the wet and then resumed scrubbing.
“Oh that’ll have to do! So, what exactly am I supposed to learn from meeting you?”
“We’re at school. It’s Monday, just after assembly.”
The fog quickly dissipated and I found we were in a classroom I barely remembered. The younger me sat down at a desk and I crammed my legs underneath to sit beside him. The teacher was walking up and down the rows of desks tossing exercise books onto them.
“Harris, well done! Gold star!... Jenkins, you should have included more detail.... Patterson…. Acceptable, Patterson.... Badman….” A book thudded onto the desk making the younger me jump. “Badman, I sometimes wonder if I’m wasting my breath. You have failed to grasp the subject, your spelling is atrocious and the only thing you know about grammar is that she married Grandpa! See me at the beginning of break.”
“What!” I exclaimed, appalled. “I don’t remember this!” I snatched up the exercise book and began thumbing through it.
“Good grief! This really is awful!” I glared at the younger version of myself, who muttered something. “What did you just say?”
“I said I don’t like school,” the younger me sulked.
“Yes you do! School is wonderful. Look at all the things you get to study!”
“Who cares? It’s boring.”
I reached over and clapped a hand over my younger mouth.
“Shhhh. Don’t ever say that!” I riffled through the pages of the book again. “What were you studying? Victorian trades? There are two ‘B’s in ‘cobblers’.”
“Maths,” boomed the teacher from the front of the class. “We will carry on with multiplication of fractions. Badman do try and keep up this time!”
The younger me swallowed audibly. “I can’t do this. I don’t understand it.”
“Well, tell the teacher.”
“I have. He says I’m being lazy. He goes at such a pace that I can’t follow.” A thought occurred to him. “You’re me grown up. Can you multiply fractions?”
“Hmmm? No, there’s no need to. Everyone works in decimal places…. Anyway I use a calculator.”
“What’s a calculator?”
“It doesn’t matter…. You need to pay attention to the teacher. Look what he’s doing on the blackboard. See, it’s quite simple he’s turned that one upside down.”
“Well… because that’s what you do… Look, I’ve had enough of this, where’s the Ghost of Education Present?”
“When I grow up I want to be a teacher,” the younger me declared.
“Excellent! And you will be!”
“Then I can change school completely!”
“No you will not! You love school!”
The younger me was welling up. A large tear spilled down his cheek and splashed onto the desk. We both became aware of the teacher’s shadow falling across the desk and looked up fearfully.
“Are you with us, Badman?” he barked. “In all the years I’ve been teaching I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more distracted child. Whatever I try and drum into you, it just doesn’t stick, does it? I can spout about a subject until I’m blue in the face, but you never seem to get it, do you? I can swamp you in a deluge of information about any given topic, but you completely fail to assimilate it. Tell me, Badman, what do you aspire to be when you leave school?”
“A…. a teacher….Sir…”
“Then heaven help the youngsters of tomorrow, Badman!”
Everything began to go grey, the voices becoming distant and the fog billowed up once more from nowhere. I thought I was alone until the whispery voice from before hissed in my face.
“It’s so easily forgotten, isn’t it? How we felt when we were children? As grown ups we make decisions about our children’s lives with the arrogance of adulthood. We never honestly put ourselves in their place and imagine what it feels like for them. Just because we endured something, doesn’t make it right to perpetuate the experience. It takes far more courage to stand up and try something different. It should be applauded, not treated with suspicion.”
The elusive spectre faded once more and a new figure was standing before me. This one was about 15 years old and dressed in a hoodie. The hood was pulled so far forward I could only see the mouth and chin. It slouched and shuffled toward me exuding an air of sullen menace.
“I’m the Ghost of Education Present, innit!”
The fog receded again and I discovered we were in a large modern classroom of over 30 children. A very harassed young woman was trying to maintain order amid noise and chaos. The young hoodie slumped into a chair and stuck his feet on a desk.
During the next hour and twenty minutes I watched the disaffected youth and several of his comrades totally fail to engage with the subject matter. At the end the teacher handed out a homework assignment requiring considerable research and organisation.
The Ghost of Education Present stuffed the photocopied sheet into a folder without examining it.
“Shouldn’t you read that in case you need clarification on something?”
He shrugged. “S’a point? Download it, won’t I?”
“I beg your pardon? Are you suggesting that you will simply copy and paste your project from the internet?”
“Yeah, mate! It’s how I done all them others, innit? We all do… well, ‘cept a few who think its cheating.”
“Well it is cheating!”
“So what?… I get top marks, they don’t. 'Nuff said!”
“But when you come to take the exam you won’t know the answers!”
He shrugged. “Don’t matter. I’m never gonna use this stuff anyway when I leave school.”
I sighed on hearing that tired old argument yet again. “But you might! It could become how you earn your living.”
“How d’you figure?”
“You might become a teacher!”
He snorted. “So are you saying that every subject in the curriculum must to be taught to all pupils, even if only a tiny percentage of them ever end up using it to earn a living?”
“Why not teach brain surgery then? Some tiny percentage of kids will become brain surgeons.”
“That’s a ridiculous example.”
“Percentage wise, far more kids go into the armed forces than ever make their living from history or trigonometry.”
“Your point being?”
“You ought to be teaching kids how to kill someone with a garrote. Statistically it’ll be more benefit than studying Henry VIII.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but everything was going grey once more. Soon I was back in the foggy room with the spectre again.
“Look, I’ve had about enough of this!” I rushed through the fog towards him. “Just who are you anyway.”
The spectre backed away with a yelp. “No, no, no…. keep away…”
Now it wasn’t whispering there was something very familiar about its voice that I couldn’t place. The spectre tripped over its robe and collapsed in a heap on the floor. Triumphantly I leaned down and pulled the cowl from its head to reveal its true identity...
TO BE CONCLUDED…