Lesson 45 on Ingenuity
In the dim and distant past, for a few years, teachers were trusted to create an exam syllabus specifically for their own pupils. There were criteria from the examination board that had to be met and approved, but you could devise a CSE exam in a subject that wasn’t offered elsewhere. You could create a CSE in Gardening Studies or Motorcycle Technology or Musical Theatre, or whatever topic best matched your pupils’ interests and needs.
At Mandy’s school we decided to pilot an option in Language Studies which I would organise and teach. I had 18 in the group, all of whom were known to social services and/or the educational psychology department.
We were going to begin by looking at our different languages and their scripts, but before we could start, we came up against a problem.The pupils pointed out we had to agree how we would use language in the group. There were three main languages spoken within the group and we had to negotiate who could speak what when.
When the pupils were working in twos and threes, they wanted to discuss things in their own languages. This was objected to, on the grounds that I was the teacher and only spoke English. I would not know whether they were working or not.
I asked whether I wouldn’t be able to tell by their body language and by the written work each group produced.
The general consensus was that this was not good enough, because I couldn’t judge who was doing what. One person might be carrying the others, who could just be gossiping. Also they didn’t trust my ability to judge body language. They pointed out they had plenty of experience in deceiving teachers on this score.
They felt the only fair solution was for everybody to use English in class. It was the only common language. It also got over their greatest concern, which was that one group might be talking about the others, and nobody would know.
“But why do you think that?” I asked
“Miss, they do it all the time!” everybody shrieked.
” But what about the ones who only speak English?”
” They speak in their language, so we can’t understand!”
“What language?” I was confused by now.
“Their secret language, Miss”
And that was how I learnt that my indigenous and Afro-Caribbean pupils, who had been deemed failures at every stage of their formal education, had devised a private language to communicate amongst themselves.