Lesson 50 on Confronting realities
Karen was my first official school phobic. She turned up at Mandy’s school half way through the autumn term. We had inherited her from somewhere else that had got fed up of her continual lateness and non attendance.
At the convent we had had a few girls who didn’t like school, but it was a quirky building and there were a number of places where someone could sit quietly out of the way until they felt a bit better. There were adults and the cat around to talk to, so one way or another, they had become reconciled to attending.
Karen was a different kettle of fish. At some point in the past she had been seen by an educational psychologist and had gained a phobia.
She was quite pleased about her phobia. She felt it got her off the hook. She used to sit around Nurse’s room and tell her about it. When Nurse got busy she would come and sit with me. She didn’t go to class much. As she was in her final year of statutory education nobody bothered. She had missed so much work in the past, there didn’t seem much point.
As far as the law was concerned as long as she was attending somewhere, she dropped off the radar. What she actually did once in school was neither here nor there.
She wasn’t with Nurse or me all the time. She went to some lessons, and of course she never attended for a full week and she never came into school until mid morning.
In vain Nurse tried to point out to her that phobias weren’t usually so intermittent, or subject to inclement weather or to what was on afternoon TV.
Karen, when she felt Nurse was not being properly sympathetic to her condition, would resort to me.
“I just don’t feel like getting up in the mornings, especially when it’s raining,” she explained. “I can’t face coming into this place. Going into class, it’s like going into prison!”
” I know how you feel, ” I said grimly. “So does half the working population of the country! ”
” But if they feel as bad as me, how do people put up with it?”
“They just find ways of making the time pass, I guess. They think about other things. They plan where to go on holiday or what they’ll do at the weekend. They talk to their friends. They decide what to have for lunch. I don’t know. What do you think?”
“But work’s not prison, Miss.” Karen protested. “You can choose. School’s like prison. They force you to be there!”
“Listen – the law makes you go to school, but all sorts of other things force people to work where they do. They need the money, they need a job close to home, they haven’t got the experience or qualifications to work somewhere else. You think about it!”
Karen thought. She agreed I had a point. I pursued it.
“You’ll be able to choose in a few months time. What are you going to do?”
Some Nurse/Mrs Wise sessions later, Karen conceded that it wasn’t school or education as such she objected to. We agreed that a lot of her experience to date had not been glowingly positive, and it seemed perfectly reasonable and sensible to have disliked it. She didn’t need to have a phobia.
Gradually these sessions turned into discussion of courses at college that she might actually find interesting – courses the law didn’t force her to take, but that she could choose.
What a day it was when she agreed to go down to the local college with me to see what it looked like. We had a good walk round. We inspected the cafeteria and the toilets. We sussed out the entrances and exits and found the bus stops. We observed the other students. We picked up the application forms.
Nurse and I stressed that if nothing else, she must learn to come in on time before she left us. We told her that people could get sacked for persistent lateness.
“Even you?” she asked aghast.
“Even us!” we sternly replied. “By law!”