I was such a serious twelve year old that I failed to understand that there is great fun in the absurd.
The genius of Monty Python, and similar programmes in my youth, was to realize that people, well some people, delighted in the utterly incongruous. To realize that what was sometimes not much more than schoolboy humour, worked because it was simply silliness for the sake of it.
I remember a class of twelve year olds who seemed to far better understand and delight in the absurd than I did at their age..
“Why did the Prodigal Son leave home?” they had been asked.
“To join the circus”, wrote one boy, “or maybe it was just because he was bored”.
Perhaps the questions from the RE textbook were platitudinous. Perhaps the twelve year olds had a keen eye for such things.
The exercise 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.
One answer was sharp, a note of frustration, “It should not take a crisis for people to do something”.
Most contained the stock responses about the environment and peace and climate change, though there was a feeling that these were being recited, just as the answer to 6 x 3 might be spoken without much thought.
A handful 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 potential Monty Pythons, who were dotted around the classroom responded.
“Grapefruits, bigger grapefruits”.
“Make cement a different colour”.
“Have barbecues on Wednesdays”.
“Profiteroles, lots more profiteroles, oh yeah, and peace as well”.
Twelve year olds were hardly likely to be able to articulate thoughts on being subversive, but it was probably those who gave the absurd answers, answers that might appear in some student rag magazine, who will go on to ask the most searching questions.
It was George Bernard Shaw, that troublesome questioner from former times who is quoted as saying, “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”
Being absurd brings with it a sense of identity, a sense of freedom, a feeling of individuality, of challenging convention of kicking back at established thinking. Such subversiveness needs to be taught in schools.