Lesson 46 on How nobody needed to be taught about exclusion.
The first discussion about using languages in the classroom changed the direction of study for the Non-exam Exam Class. We began by looking at how language can let you in or keep you out of groups in society.
At that time there was a case much reported in the papers of a recently discovered feral child who had grown up in isolation from human communication. We followed this coverage and talked about the difficulties which arose for this individual.
Immediately it became clear that everybody identified with a situation in which they could not follow what was going on around them and the powerlessness which this entailed.
One girl in particular, who normally never spoke in class, voiced just how it felt to be lost and alone, surrounded by talk and practises that you couldn’t understand.
When I mentioned this to Nurse afterwards, she explained.
Sukdev had been rejected by her family at birth because of a medical condition and put into foster care with an English family. When she was four and her medical problems resolved, she was sent back to her birth family. She didn’t speak a word of their language, she had never eaten their diet nor had any contact with their daily life. They were complete strangers to her. No wonder she understood!
Following up their interest in the way language could open or close doors to you, we collected examples of this. The group had plenty of experience and ideas. In their twos and threes they listed situations where your ability with, or use of, language stigmatised or limited you.
At this point I had planned to show an episode of Grange Hill, which was relevant to this, but just before the lesson I was horrified to discover that somebody had recorded over it. I was desperate. The Language Studies group was not easy to keep focused. We needed plenty of videos to assist our deliberations and fuel our written work.
The only relevant thing I could find in the video cupboard was an old black and white film of Pygmalion. When I say old, it was very old – Lesley Howard starred as Professor Higgins. It was the original George Bernard Shaw script. But I was desperate. It was that or nothing and we had an afternoon’s double period to get through.
They were riveted to it. They didn’t want me to stop it and explain things. They grasped the story straight away. I had to promise we would watch the rest of it the following lesson.
They didn’t like the ending. It caused a great deal of discussion and heavy criticism of the male characters. Professor Higgins had used Eliza callously, the friend had been too weak and wet to protect her, the father was a feckless drunk.
“What I can’t understand,” said one of the group, “Is why she couldn’t just go back to where she was before?”
“But don’t you see!” yelled Mandy at her, “She could never go back! That’s the whole point!”
And this was the Non-exam Exam Class, rejects all, arguing over George Bernard Shaw on a wet Friday afternoon in November.