3. Jacqui and Peter

My sojourn at a school in Cairns was good for me. While there I was often questioned by a dynamic lateral-thinking colleague about the need for many things that I did routinely to satisfy the system. Over a cold one at the Masonic Club or Hides Hotel, his Socratic style made me halt and think.  I would read profusely about the issues that my next-door neighbour, Oscar Bell raised. He was ‘with it’. I was studying for a master’s degree at UNE at the time and was able to check issues easily. He provoked my thinking as did the lecturing folk at Armidale.

One day…

Jacqui and Peter were two Year Two pupils at Edge Hill State School in the 1960s. It was my routine, as principal, to examine every child in every examinable part of the school program twice each term. It would take about two weeks to do each tour.

There were multiple classes so one stood at a door between classrooms and called the test items, while pupils recorded the answers on their pads.

As I was giving a Notation test to a double Year 2 class I stood behind the top pupils in one of the classes. [We always arranged the class in order of achievement at the previous testing marathon, so that anyone could tell that the dull ones were in the front row, close to the teacher. Each knew his or her place and we reminded them constantly. ‘Place in Grade’ it was called.  Jacqui and Peter were two of the very brightest pupils that I have ever encountered and I was standing right behind them. Each was highly competitive. Top of the class was a really fierce contest for each of them.

Peter had four items out of five correct for one of my tests and Jacqui only three. She was distressed at being beaten by Peter and the tears flowed. As the teacher was recording individual marks in the mark-book, Jacqui slid a book out from her desk and, through her tears, this truly brilliant person who had just received 60% in a silly unnecessary test and started to read the book. I have forgotten the name of it, but it was one being studied by high schoolers at the time.

I thought to myself, “There is somebody stupid in this room, and I know that it is not Jacqui.”  Mindful of the provocations of my friend, Oscar, I asked myself why I was doing what I was doing and whether it was of any use to the pupils of the school.  I left the room at that point and never gave another blanket-type test. Such idiotic routine now appals me when I think of what damage I may have done.