Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Phys Ed

A few brief prologues:
a) A monarch butterfly drifted in twice this afternoon through the open French sliders. Why my concern for its well-being? The scale of values we apply to things.
b) I’m a terrible proof-reader. Trouble is I learnt to speed read as a youth. I skim down a page looking for meaning. So I often miss spelling mistakes. I see in yesterday’s Gibbon piece I imply New Zealand has had no wars. I meant in my lifetime & not on our soil. I have never heard the sounds of guns fired in anger.
c) Monday was our wedding anniversary – 24 years. 30 years actually together. A lot of memories. We celebrated with food. Melon and prosciutto with a drizzle of lemon for lunch – one of the most divine flavour combinations - and Cloudy Bay oysters followed by grilled salmon fillets for dinner.
d) I spellchecked prosciutto. It suggested prostitute

Phys Ed

District High Schools increased five-fold in numbers between 1894 and 1914, part of a spectacular development after Seddon’s government offered secondary school free places. Historians tend to be cynical about Seddon’s education reform giving credit to Hogben for them. Seddon’s mother was a school-teacher, like many under-educated people he may have valued it more than we imagine. Holyoake is rather similar. The secondary part of Akaroa opened in 1901, and the manual training section in 1908 near the smaller wharf. When I went there as a student the school reflected different education architectural styles. The manual rooms, with their high stud and small windows with no view except the sky, contrasted with the new, airy secondary block built in 1936 at the south end of the town. For a while students from the outer bays stayed in a hostel for the week, but it had been replaced by a school bus service round the harbour. Parents from outlying eastern bays brought their sons and daughters over to link up with this service, or else privately boarded them in Akaroa.

Mrs Brocherie’s where I boarded had blue penguins nesting under her coal shed. When I filled up the coal bucket there was this great racket as the parents chattered their alarm. To get to Akaroa I caught the Christchurch-Akaroa Road Service bus at Little River just before 9 on Monday morning. This meant not arriving at school till after 10. In this double period Geometry was taught, so all my subsequent life I have been deficient in this area of maths. At the time this seemed irrelevant. The bus left at 3 30 pm on Friday for the return trip.

The first lessons stressed the town's history. In August 1838 a French whaler, Captain L'Anglois, purchased Banks Peninsula from the local Maori. Back in France there was talk of establishing a penal colony, but eventually this faded and 63 settlers, including a few Germans, (two of whom are ancestors) set sail in February 1840. They arrived on 13 August, two days after the French frigate L'Aube under Commodore Lavaud, but importantly three days after the British, Captain Stanley on the H.M.S. Britomart. To us it was presented as a dramatic race, the British just arrived in the nick of time to prevent the French claiming the South Island. According to Miss Greenwood, Lavaud let slip to Governor Hobson the frigate's destination and his nation's plans. "in his cups." She seized the opportunity to elaborate on the perils of the demon drink. Otherwise we would be speaking French. Historically the race is not true, but it makes a good tale and a splendid way of gaining attention. We also knew what the whole town knew, Miss Greenwood liked her gin and tonic.

Though the French settlement had all the problems of all early settlements - land to be cleared, no grain or vegetables for a while, and even when crops were mature seed had to be kept for the next planting - it was a safe anchorage for whaler and sealer. Once the settlers got established they could supply passing ships. This led to shipbuilding. In fact timber became the main industry. Old weatherboard houses at Akaroa still revealed pit-sawn timber.

The department had two teachers. Mr Arnold ran the big room where Science, Maths, Agriculture and History were taught. It had a row of science sinks along the north wall, a locked cupboard of chemicals and a fume box. That room always held the lingering smell of a lab. He retired half-way through my time there to be replaced by Mr Mahar. Miss Greenwood ran the second room - English, Social Studies, Geography, Art, Music and Horticulture. A bright boy I did well in both rooms.
The department was very run down, especially in equipment. During my fourth form year, after the inspectors had spent time in the two classrooms, they remained closeted with the two teachers and the primary principal for ages. Sensing something was up, we played impromptu games outside until a very grim-faced Miss Greenwood called us in. Years later I learnt the reason. Apparently Miss Tindall, who had reduced me to tears at my inability to solve a physics problem – I’d got the right answer intuitively, but she believed I’d cheated - declared her unwillingness to sign the certificates for the practical science course and had been extremely critical of the physical education programme. She was talked into signing by Mr Mahar on agreement to get new equipment and materials. Box after box arrived to be excitedly opened and stored under his direction. As a lab monitor I happily helped him label and shelve.

When Miss Tindall came back a year latter Mr Mahar prepared well. He etherised a frog, and rather nervously opened it up to expose its living heart. The process was just getting interesting when dramatically a girl fainted, followed by two of the boys sitting down expressing feelings of wobbliness. In the ensuring mayhem the lesson was forgotten. What Miss Tindall said on this occasion is not known. Mr Mahar went up in our estimation - he took the fight to the enemy.

Mr Arnold let us play sports during phys ed time. I liked the tennis – my primary school had the local courts alongside so I’d learnt to play, but cricket and rugby were nerve-wracking. The two best boys would toss and then pick in turn those they wanted to play in their team. Nervously I waited to see when I would be picked. Being picked near the end was not a lesson in confidence. In rugby I was well-down the list. Cricket was not quite so bad. With a reasonable eye and reflexes, shoulders powerful from swinging an axe, I was usually frustratingly caught after a few lusty blows. Mr Mahar did attempt to show us how to hold a bat and bowl a ball and he gave us catching practice. Most of the boys considered this a waste of time, they wanted to get on and play. Secretly I disagreed, and regretted not having improved those skills earlier.

The new phys education equipment including a vaulting horse which I loathed. We actually had to jump over the bloody thing. After I'd baulked several times Mr Mahar would stand beside it to help me over, a process which usually ended crushing my testicles against the saddle. In agony I would go back to try again. The tumbling mats were OK, though graceful I never was. My destiny lacked the words ‘physical prowess’. One would never have guessed that I would end up in charge of PE syllabus revision when I was Assistant Director, Curriculum Development in the old Department of Education

I enjoyed this responsibility immensely, members of the working party included national players, (including Jeremy Coney one of the wittiest men I’ve ever met), top coaches and high level administrators as well as teachers and university people, all very bronzed and fit. Unbeknown to them I carried a recollection from my inspector days when I was as experienced as three years in the job could make one. A liaison visit was to Matakana District High School on the island that separates Tauranga Harbour from the ocean. A new inspector whose specialty was physical education had just started in the Hamilton team. "Take Joe Hughes with you," my boss said, “show him the ropes.” We jet-boated across the harbour to the small school. Joe did a better job than I at eating the kina, which the locals provided for lunch.

Last period of the day was physical education. "I look forward to that", Joe said. I stayed talking to the principal while he went down to the harbour to watch the swimming lesson. He came back, his eyes on stalks. Apparently the whole school, nearly all Maori, had stripped naked, the elder pupils helping the younger ones and then all dived into the sea and waded or swam across to a small island where they sat eating blackberries and splashing in the shallows. At the whistle they all swam back, the elder pupils then drying and dressing the small ones and shyacking back to school. "It was lovely, the closest thing to Eden I'll ever see", Joe said. "But was it Phys Ed?" I asked. "It was life", Joe replied; who throughout his stint in the inspectorate infuriated and amused us all by his eager one-eyed advocacy for his cause. As the committee discussed objectives, learning experiences and the best ways to teach eye/hand co-ordination I polished that memory, life’s winners and losers. Education has a tendency to inflationary earnestness that loses friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment