Lesson 106 Corruption

Lesson 106 on Learning from contrast

Living between two cultures is odd. Things that are taken for granted in one are unacceptable in the other.

I was thinking about this today, as I was stuck in an hour long queue at Gatwick passport control. I had come from an airport where the border police just looked at the holiday making families with little children and the old age pensioners fussing over where they had put their travel documents, and waved them through. 

I was thinking about LB too, as we reach the 107th day.


In my second culture, corruption amongst politicians and government officials is accepted as a matter of course.  One local mayor, having been found guilty of a huge fraud involving public money, was freed on bail pending an appeal.  He retained his passport. The local paper reported without a hint of irony that that the judge considered this no risk, because “he was a person of integrity!”

As an innocent brought up in Dixon of Dock Green Britain, it is an eye-opener to experience a society that shrugs its collective shoulders and recognises that bad things happen because people who should be honest and committed to the service of others, are corrupt.

It hit me again that what is so hugely hurtful in the struggle for Justice for LB is the bland corporate pretence that their hands are clean, that everything is fine and dandy, that anyone who protests or thinks otherwise must be misguided, stupid or unhinged.

It is this Alice in Wonderland situation which is so appalling and cruel.

The fury that has pulled so many different people into LB’s campaign, springs from the conviction that what happened was just so glaringly wrong. That a system that tries to pass it off as merely “unfortunate” is deeply corrupt.

We can’t countenance the sham of a flawed organisation protecting its interests by picking on the victims of its negligence.

In the heart-felt words of all my fondly remembered pupils

“It isn’t fair!”

Lesson 45. The Non-exam Exam Group

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.