Encouraging revolutionists

Tomorrow starts with two Year 7 classes. I love teaching Year 7 students, they have a breadth of vision and a wonderful sense of the absurd. They recall the many hours I spent in Dublin teaching Sixth Class pupils (twelve year olds) for an hour each Friday morning. It was a weekly confrontation with a group which included people far more sophisticated, travelled and intelligent than the country clergyman who stood at the front of the room.

Marking the exercise books from Sixth Class one evening, I made a note of some of the answers offered.

“Why did the Prodigal Son leave home?” seemed a reasonable question to have asked them.

“To join the circus”, wrote one boy, “or maybe it was just because he was bored.”

Perhaps the questions I had asked them were platitudes and perhaps twelve year olds growing up in the competitive, combative and very affluent culture of south County Dublin had a keen eye for things they could mock.

The exercise had concluded with questions about how they would make the world a better place. Maybe it was not such a bad question, but it was probably one they had answered countless times, in the knowledge that their answer made not the slightest difference.

A handful in the class had no time for churning out lines they had been taught. “What would you do to make the world a better place?” asked the textbook, and the less conformist elements, who were dotted around the classroom, responded with answers that made me laugh aloud.

“Grapefruits, bigger grapefruits”.

“Make cement a different colour”.

“Have barbecues on Wednesdays.”

“Profiteroles, lots more profiteroles, oh yeah, and peace as well”.

As twelve year olds, they were hardly likely to have been able to have articulated thoughts on being subversive, on challenging the accepted ways of thinking, but, a dozen years on from those Friday morning lessons, it is probably those who gave the absurd answers, the sort of answers that might have appeared in some student rag magazine, who are now young professionals in their mid-20s asking the most searching questions, hopefully with the humour they showed when they were twelve.

In his 1903 essay “Maxims for Revolutionists”, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Perhaps I should strive to inculcate a growing taste for absurdity among the Year 7 students.

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