Wednesday, December 07, 2005

War Stories From The Education Front

My standard-three teacher was one of the most peculiar adults I ever knew. He was a great raconteur: comical, passionate, eccentric, and had a great love for physical activity. Like many men in the teaching profession at that stage, he was also senile, and had an explosive temper.

This teacher had several party-tricks. One was to launch into a tangential stream of war stories. He had been at war in the Pacific: I suspect his battle-scars were more psychological than physical. He didn’t quite understand the appropriateness of telling grisly tales of shooting Japs, or Japs accidentally shooting themselves while chasing him through the jungle on Guadalcanal, or throwing hand grenades at passing Japs, or knifing Japs… or any story, for that matter, which resulted in an Imperial Soldier being ferried home in a casket. Three or four times a day—from a maths lesson, to reading an approved school story—he would provide yet another Japanese war story.

In the second week of classes, his young pupils became aware of just how crazy he was: we had already heard his stories recycled, and were just becoming more preposterous each time. On this occasion, as he was reading some innocuous approved story to us, he went off on a tangent again. At this moment, he portrayed himself as a Jap-grenading Charles Upham. He then turned to the class, and said: “And do you know what happened next?”

One of the other kids, Jason—not particularly bright, as it turned out—called out: “What, Mr Snufflupigus turned up?”

It was a great burn. Sufficient for all the kids to erupt into the kind of shrill laughter that nine-year-olds can manage. The teacher exploded. He walked straight through several rows of desks, knocking over the kids who were seated, and grabbed this troublesome child by the neck. He picked Jason up by his throat, with one arm, and lifted him out of his seat. The teacher then carried him, by the gullet, across the classroom, and outside the door. A few of us followed, just to see what would happen next. The teacher then physically threw Jason several metres, over the path, and into a convenient gorse bush.

It was an astonishing act of random violence against a child. It happened several other times during that year—I got “gorsed”, although the teacher had the good grace to carry me by my shirt and trousers.

As children, we did not consider these to be horrific incidents. Getting “gorsed” was not extremely painful. It was certainly pretty humiliating, but I also recall thinking that it was preferable to getting caned.

Casting a modern eye against historical events is dangerous. My standard three teacher was not an outlandish exception. Physical violence against children was as normal at school as it was in many homes. It was certainly not a universal trait among male teachers, but it was not an uncommon one.

Which is why I don’t consider David Benson-Pope’s alleged tennis ball incident to be particularly surprising. Nor, for the standards of the time, in the early 1980s, was that behaviour from some male teachers, extremely outlandish. Such incidents occurred frequently, by well-meaning, but psychologically disturbed people who were unable to function in society. The classroom was the ideal workplace for them: other adults didn't have to deal with their eccentricities, and they had a secure, reasonably well-paid job with little accountability, for life. We can thank the education unions for that, but that is another story.

The long-term effects of my standard three teacher’s actions are non-existent. At a recent school reunion, we looked back fondly on the crazy old guy, who is long since dead. He didn't actually cause any physical injuries, other than a couple of bruises, a few scratches, and some wounded pride. He did teach us that in the world there are some quite fucked-up people. I wouldn't go so far as to call that teacher character-building, but it would be a massive misrepresentation to suggest that he harmed people considerably.

Likewise, David Benson-Pope’s alleged victims will not carry any psychological scars for his alleged sadistic treatment of them in 1982. Physical intimidation and violence by some teachers was not extraordinary.

I don’t blame Benson-Pope for his alleged bullying of defenceless children over twenty years ago. What is disturbing, however, is that a guy with his downright merciless and inhumane tendencies, is in a position of high moral and political authority today. Benson-Pope ascribes to a certain social agenda: he is a bully, and does not have any regard for using callous tactics to get what he wants done.

Nor does Benson-Pope take responsibility for his alleged brutality. His disregard for the sincerity of the complainants, and his constantly changing story, suggest that he has only ever seen the issue as a political fight. He sees it as perfectly legitimate to use his considerable resources, and media machine, to attack his alleged victims. After having selectively leaked parts of the Police Report, he is now attempting to shift the blame for that onto his press secretary. Classic symptoms of a man of supreme desperation, in denial.

Benson-Pope’s alleged actions in 1982 were hardly defensible, if true. But they are understandable in the context of the time.

Benson-Pope could have dealt with the whole issue by meeting his alleged victims in person, and in private, and sitting through with them, and listening to what they believed occurred in 1982. He could have apologised to them for his intimidating behaviour. And they would have forgiven him.

Instead, through his initial denials—and a ferocity of denial that convinced many that he certainly had the combative personality to inflict physical harm, his constant attacks on his accusers, his refusal to face questions with ridiculous excuses for not showing up, and his recent about-turn with protests that he simply no longer remembers what happened—he has destroyed his own political career. He has chosen to avoid a court of law, and in the process, has been convicted by a court of public opinion.

But at least in his senility, the PPTA will welcome him back to the classroom, where he can regale his pupils with political war stories.


Cathy Odgers said...


Could not have told this story better myself.

Spooky isn't it?

Peter McK said...

Of course some female teachers - especially nuns (and ex nuns) could throw fits of rage that could shame even Ramsey. In particular Patricia Bartlett who strapped me everyday in standard 2 for not knowing my spelling – (I hope she is rotting in hell). I still can’t spell but otherwise I survived. She did get a letter from me a few years back where I told her what a vindictive nasty bully she really was. That felt good for me.

Teachers like Benson-dope were common - the joy is that, like all bullies, he is a coward as well and that has led to his lying (no one believes otherwise) about this. He is finished and that is a good result. What is even better none of his own party will have any time for him and they will not forgive him for the shame he has brought upon the whole party.

I am pleased you noted that it was not Dope’s crime that was the problem – it was his lying about it – as the socialists try to defend him, they overlook this point. Stupid socialists.

Rob's Blockhead Blog said...

Sir Insolent,

I have just spent five minutes cleaning up my desk having snorted coffee down my nose when I got to the "What, Mr Snufflupigus turned up?” bit.

More seriously, you make some good points, and I'd pretty much agree with most of them.

The odd thing - and I've done some paid writing about this - is how B-P doesn't seem to realise how transparent all his evasions are, from the "sorry I can't go to question time, I've got to escort John Cleese around" a couple of weeks back, to the distorted interpretation of "prima facie" to the "bozos" comment, or the selective leaking of the police report.

Pretty much all his moves have been just plain DUMB. And he clearly thought they were smart enough to mollify or outwit the rest of us.

the guy obviously thinks we're all bozos and he is pretty smart, and I think that's one of the reasons he's in such ordure.

People don't like being bullshitted and they don't like having their intelligence insulted either.

gd said...

Well said Prick and all the comments are spot on.Its time we let these arseholes know what we think of them. They treat us with arrogance and contempt. Return the favour.One little trick Ive used is to pretend not to know who they are.They hate it when they have to introduce themselves to you at functions etc. as you look quizzically at them.

Highmaintenancechick said...

As a six-year-old I had a teacher called Mrs Stanford who was known, affectionately, as The Dragon. Not Mrs Dragon or even Ms Dragon, for despite her perpetual wardrobe of tweed skirt, cardigan, sensible heels and flesh-coloured pantyhose, there was nothing slightly feminine about her. As for those sensible heels, they were the sort that had a solid heel like a doorstop on the back of them, and periodically (most days, in fact) she'd take one off and give someone a mighty wallop with it. Even as a six-year-old I struggled to follow instructions, especially any involving the words "shut up", so it wasn't long until I felt her wrath. Well, her shoe, anyway. One hard thump on my butt and I promptly wet my pants in front of the class.

Am I emotionally scarred?

Hell no.

In fact I thank the old duck: I still have excellent bladder control.

Oswald Bastable said...

From my experience, 'Barking Mad' seens to be written into the schoolteacher position description...

In my high school days, they were either limp-wristed lefties or slightly to the right of Ghengis Kahn. Either way, most of them were total loons...

Insolent Prick said...

And they were generally accepted by society as total loons, Oswald.

I also recall the junior school teacher, Mrs Smith. She lived a couple of hundred metres away from my street--her house was visible from mine.

Years after my neighbour's kids had been in her class as five year olds, the nine and ten-year-olds would be threatened (by the parents) with the ultimate punishment if they started to act up: the parent would go and tell Mrs Smith how naughty the child was, if the child didn't start behaving.

Jarrad said...

Heartwarming, such wholesome wisdom, the virtues of a good old fashioned education. I wish I'd had a total loon as a teacher, then I could reminisce about how discipline at school made me what I am today.

george said...

My teachers were not shy of administering discipline, nor of being the master of the class. There were a number of war veterans among them. These days they would be regarded by the the likes of jarrad as being reactionary loons. They were a religious order and would probably be regarded as latent pedophiles and repressed basket cases. I saw none of that. What I did see were dedicated teachers who gave their best and expected the best of you. They taught us to compete and not snivel in defeat.

They taught us to be men.

I am indebted to them.

Insolent Prick said...

Jarrad: read what I fucking wrote, you stupid cock. I wasn't lionising idiot teachers: I was merely writing that they were common.

Anonymous said...

I too had a nutjob for a treacher in standard3 who seemed to get great enjoyment out of strapping kids. In hindsight, I thought he was repressed sexually, but I eventually had to agree with my earlier assertion that he was just a cunt.
Seems to me that Dope might fit in the same category

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Insolent Prick said...


Go and stalk other readers of this blog elsewhere.

Ed Snack said...

Whenever I read of these stories of bastard teachers, I always wonder where these people went to school. I went through Primary and Secondary from the late 50's through the 60's, and never saw a single teacher being as physically violent as described. Sarcastic, yes, strapped, rarely but usually deservedly for cheekiness, but the outright violence, never that I can recall. And, may I say, I believe it would not have been tolerated readily by the parents, although since I can't recall any such events, my assertion must remain speculative. Maybe this was the location, North Shore, not at the time particularly nobby, but reasonably middle class.

Sometimes, from the apparent ages of those posting, it seems that the extra violence occurred later rather than earlier, 70's and 80's rather than 50's and 60's. Or is it just where you were ?