Saturday, July 15, 2017

It never rains chilis

I was, initially, excited when I moved from 3rd class (year 3) to 4th class. Our new teacher was a Mr. Nugent. He seemed pleasant enough and at the beginning of the class he brought out a guitar. He strummed his guitar and he sang two songs to us. The first song was 'Screwball was a racehorse' followed by 'It Never rains in Southern California'. On the first day this seemed like a real novelty. The songs were interesting and his singing was quite tuneful. Mr. Nugent got us to discuss the lyrics of the songs and it was my first introduction to the idea that a song could have a multilayered meaning. At this point in my tale you may expect me to espouse the value of music in the class room and for me to wax lyrical about Mr. Nugent or to remember him through the warm lens of nostalgia. If that were the end of the story then that may well have been the case. The story continues because on the second day Mr. Nugent pulled out his guitar and played us two songs…'Screwball was a racehorse' and 'It never rains in Southern California'. It seemed as if we were going to listen to these songs until we learnt them all the way through. Every day the guitar came out and every day the same two songs were played. It seems that one of the lessons that we were to learn was that these were the only two songs that Mr. Nugent knew how to play. The story could end here, but unfortunately Mr. Nugent had several more things to teach us. These things are important to learn, but it could be argued that his methods were (at the very least) inappropriate for year 4 students. Mr. Nugent taught me that not all teachers/adults act responsibly, that cruelty can be a powerful persuader, but should never be seen as the only tool in a teacher's tool belt. Mr. Nugent would not tolerate any talking or muttering in class (I have been a teacher for many years so I am aware that it is important to control the volume of speech within a classroom and that it can be a struggle to keep a group focused on the task at hand). If anyone spoke out of turn they would be ordered to sit in a chair out the front of the class, off to one side, with both legs held out in a horizontal position. If you're muscles became fatigued (as they inevitably would) your legs would begin to drop as your heels sought the feeling of blessed relief that the support of the floor could offer. If your legs were seen to dip. Mr. Nugent would be at the ready to strike your shins with the metal stripped edge of his wooden ruler. The choice was between aching discomfort and sharp searing pain (or perhaps not talking in class in the first place). When I was the person in the chair (this would only be occasionally) it was very apparent to me that this method was cruel and totally unnecessary. When it was another child in the chair the unnecessary cruelty was even more apparent. It taught me that feelings of empathy can be almost as strong as the emotion that you are witnessing in others. It taught me that one lesson that cruelty can teach is that cruelty is wrong. The other lesson that Mr. Nugent taught me was that humiliation and torture were ineffective and unacceptable. There was a boy in our class called Guy H (I won't use his full name as this story should not be about him and everyone else in that class will know of whom I am speaking of). Guy sucked his thumb. He would not be the first or last primary student to do so. Mr. Nugent took it upon himself to be the one person that was going to stop Guy and change his behaviour. Mr. Nugent set up a roster. Each day a student was assigned chili deseeding duty. Mr. Nugent would bring in a long red chili and the seeds would be removed so that the soft inner flesh of the chili could be rubbed on Guy's thumb. It was meant to act as a deterrent. It seldom worked. The whole process backfired when one of the seeds flew up and went in the eye of the de-seeder du jour Craig G. Craig was in so much pain that the incident came to the attention of the Principal (Mr. Evans). The Principal brought a halt to the chili roster and the case of the fiery thumb. A few days passed before Mr. Nugent tried his second method…public humiliation. He wrote a large note and pinned it to Guy's back. It read "My name is Guy H. I am in 4th Class and I suck my Thumb!" Guy was made to wear the sign out in the playground and around the school. Thankfully Mr. Evans saw the sign and ordered that it be removed. I don't think any of Mr. Nugent' methods were very effective and I hope that he learned something about his behaviour by the way it was received by Mr. Evans. I learnt destain for Mr. Nugent and I gained respect for Mr. Evans. I also learnt the importance that variety plays in a musical repertoire and that cruelty, torture, and humiliation are wrong.