I AM A TIME TRAVELLER. I haven’t found ‘reverse’ yet but I’m rocketing forwards into the future at an amazing rate. I have already reached 2020! (Warning – time travel has side effects: sagging skin, aching joints etc. And, if you travel too fast, time can blow nearly all your hair off.) When I do master going backwards, I know where I’m headed: after a brief stop at the Lotto shop last Saturday with some numbers I’ve memorised, I’m heading back to 1970.
Fifty years ago, possibly to the very day I’m writing this, I started at good old Henderson Maximum Security High School. Later this week, our third form class is having a reunion. I have just four days to make something of my life. It will be nice to see my old classmates and to pretend to remember them. When I think back to that gawky, testosterone-pickled, pimply 1970 version of myself, I really hope that it’s my class mates who have the bad memories.
On my first day, I lied to the whole school. Seated in that stifling, sock-smelling hall, numb-bummed on horrible four-seater stacking bench-seats that were designed by someone who hated children (do you remember having to sit on the ‘gap’?), Mr Allen the Principal was regaling us with his welcome speech from the stage. “I am still learning” he tells us. “Just over these summer holidays, I learnt how to back a tractor with a trailer.”
Out of all the hundreds of anonymous third-formers in front of him, I suddenly realised he was staring straight at me. “Can you back a trailer, John Cowan?” How …? How …? Horrors! He knows my name! (Found out later he knew my Dad from the RSA). Can you die from embarrassment? I know I wanted to. A near-lethal dose of adrenaline surged though my body and shook my tongue loose and I squeaked “Yes.”
“LIAR!!” the Principal roared from the stage. “LIAR!!” thundered the whole school in unison. That bit only happened in my guilty imagination; in fact, Mr Allen just rolled on with the rest of his speech while I blushed and burned in my shame.
My generation give two versions of their school days. The first is the Dickensian version: “We were strapped and caned. Barbaric! Traumatizing!” (Or, if you are a female, “They lined us up and checked that our dresses weren’t too short and that we had the right knickers on!”). The second variant we give is the rose-tinted, school-was-much-better-back-then version. “You got a real education. What we were taught was much harder than today. And there was never any trouble with discipline … because they caned us!”
How does this Baby Boomer see modern schools? I never stopped going to school. Right through my adult life I have been walking through school gates; never as a teacher, but I have written resources, run courses for teachers and kids, and spoken at lots of assemblies. And I reckon schools are fantastic. They vary in quality, they make mistakes, some of the stuff they do is dumb. But overall, they are getting better and better. Your kids are now safer from bullies than in 1970, cared for, and they can get a top-class education at pretty much any school in the country.
Teachers are still fantastic. Henderson High in 1970 was rough, crowded and poorly resourced by today’s standards. But we had great teachers. Some teachers chose the profession because of the money, the glamour and the easy lifestyle. The poor deluded fools – they don’t stay long. Nearly all teachers I have met are dedicated to actually teaching. They like kids. And they are good at what they do.
So why would I go back to 1970 as time traveller? To reassure a gawky, testosterone-pickled, pimply third-former back there that he was normal and okay. That one day he would actually get a girl-friend, to relax and appreciate the best days of his life … and not to tell stupid lies during assembly.
AFTER DECADES STUDYING FAMILY LIFE, JOHN NOW FOCUSSES ON THE ‘PRIME-TIME’ ISSUES OF LATER MIDDLE AGE. CHECK HIM OUT ON JOHNCOWAN.CO.NZ – ESPECIALLY IF YOU NEED SOME WRITING, EVENT SPEAKING, VIDEOS MADE, OR SOMEONE TO HAVE A COFFEE WITH.