Monday, September 07, 2015

The great thing about a 60s education was nobody told you you were special

When I look back at my upbringing in the 50s and 60s I don’t remember anyone ever telling me I was in any way “special".

Nobody suggested there might be a novel or a symphony inside me. I don’t think we ever had Creative Writing. In Art I don’t think we were ever encouraged to “let our imaginations run wild”. They just put things in front of us and we drew them. In drama we never improvised. We read the script. We learned poetry. If we wrote any poetry we were encouraged to keep it to ourselves.

I realise that by contemporary standards this may seem a terrible denial of the natural creativity of youth. It doesn’t bother me a bit.

When it came to school report time our teachers had nothing to say about us that couldn’t be condensed into a sentence. “Is struggling in this subject but occasionally calls for a life-belt” is one I remember. Teachers didn’t ask for our views. They didn’t pretend they found us fascinating.

We didn't mind. We knew we were lucky. We went to grammar school and by the time we got out National Service would be abolished. Therefore we had nothing to complain about and little to congratulate ourselves on either. Our education and upbringing seemed designed to communicate one message and the message was “you’re not all that".

When I read about the apparently intolerable pressure faced by today’s sixth formers I can’t help feeling it’s the inevitable corollary of a system that affects to believe everyone’s a bit more special than they are.


  1. "If we wrote any poetry we were encouraged to keep it to ourselves"

    Possibly the greatest advice anyone can give, ever.

    David, you forgot to mention that not only did our teachers not think we were special, this view was backed up by our parents, siblings and extended family.

    I'm still in recovery from the sorts of negative things my father would trot out on a daily basis. He confidently predicted I would be a dustman, I became a university lecturer.

  2. Never mind their problems in the Sixth Form; one wonders what they will feel like during the midlife crisis most of us encounter, when we accept, having encountered the works and deeds of those who are genuinely special, that we are not.

  3. On the other side of the equation, there was a paucity of expectation that raised the bar for working class kids. Surrounded by the viciously overconfident many were a lap down before they knew the race had even started. Many people at the top seem to think that if you haven't made it by 30 you never will - so if you have no self-confidence at 18 then your chances of success in life are low.

    I'm not in favour of prizes for all, but just because you turned out alright does not mean it was the best way to do it. I see so many talented people who are lacking in self-confidence because they have not been supported in the right ways at the right time (which is occasionally by a verbal kicking) that I am pleased to see an attempt to make young people feel more positive about themselves. Regardless of whether they deserve it or not. Many people at the top don't deserve it, so let's not pretend the world is a straight meritocracy.

    But just to provide the counter-factual, I was constantly told I was special in the 70s (mainly because I was top of the school) and I haven't set the world on fire or created some much loved and much missed magazines.

  4. John Lennon summed it up pretty succinctly: they hurt you at home and they hit you at school. They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool.

  5. I disagree somewhat as I went to school not long after Mr.Hepworth and absolutely detested it. This was not helped by adults telling me these were the happiest days of my life. You mean it's gonna get WORSE?

    When I was 11 I said I did not want to attend religious assemblies because I was an atheist. I had noticed that Catholics didn't have to attend. I was told I had to go anyway. I bet that wouldn't wash nowadays!

  6. I think there is a huge difference between telling kids to be the best they can be, and telling them that they can be anything they want to be. The first is constructive encouragement to make the most of their abilities, the second is X-Factor nonsense.