Three Rs and Sumeria

The absence of most of the students from the school gives an opportunity to peer into empty rooms. Every classroom is filled with colour, posters, displays relating to the subject being taught. Secondary school rooms are as bright as their primary counterparts. Looking at some of the walls, I imagined my childhood self would have spent even more time than I had just looking around.

If secondary education fifty years ago had been as filled with images as it is now, I wondered what the eleven year olds would have made of it. I wondered how it would have compared with the schools they had left.

I still remember our primary school classroom  There was a globe that sat in a window sill; one of recent vintage, the 1960s had removed much of the pink from the map.  There were mathematical things, maybe times tables.  There were maps showing ancient civilisations.

The Sumerians stick in the memory.  We learned about clay jars and stone houses and their writing.  The Sumerians were important to me.  In later years, when the Christian fundamentalists tried to tell me the world was only 6,000 years old, I remembered those Sumerians and the history taught to us by Miss Rabbage at High Ham School.  The Sumerians invented glue a thousand years before the fundamentalists said the world began.

Teaching materials now seem bright and lively compared to the dullness of the texts with which we worked; there are lots of pictures and far fewer words.

Perhaps the teaching in our times  was very elitist. Perhaps it was an education system shaped by the classically-educated public school old boys who would have controlled educational policy.  Perhaps it did not serve many people as well as it might have done, but the teaching in those years did equip most people with basic literacy and numeracy.

Public libraries, mechanics’ institutes, reading rooms, would have been filled with blue collar workers seeking news and information.  Tradesmen would complete complex calculations with no more than a notebook and the stub of a pencil.  Complex permutations and plans would have been worked out to complete the football pools coupon.  The potential winnings on horse race betting would have been worked out in the head.

Reading, writing and arithmetic and maps of Sumeria were hardly exciting stuff for an eleven year old, but at least laid the foundations for the years that followed.

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