Daily life of the vegetarian #7
THIS GRAPHIC PRETTY much sums up my experience of school in NZ.
I can’t speak for any other generation, and I don’t know what school is like in 2012, but primary, intermediate and high school in Hamilton in the 1970s was brutal.
Of course, someone out there will make a case for that being apt – simply preparation for the brutality of life out in the real world. Why mollycoddle kids until they enter the work force, only to shock the bejesus out of them.
I remember being gobsmacked years later to find that some of the friends I acquired later in life had had a great time at school. Up to that point, I figured the best measure of a person’s credibility was how much they hated school, and rejected the system.
My only memories of primary school in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s are distasteful to me, even now, many years later. Endless marching and parades and vigils for our dead soldiers in the grounds, boring school assemblies, having to sit up dead straight on bone-hard chairs in freezing classrooms, free milk that was lukewarm and sickly to drink, bullies like Arden Fatu (a boxer who would walk up to kids unprovoked and punch them dead hard in the stomach), and Miss Bagley, a teacher who whacked me around the legs with the point of her high heels and pulled me off the ground by my hair, but despite my parents’ complaints, went un-reprimanded (she later appeared in the local paper as a representative for NZ cheese in the UK).
High school was worse. On my first day, the deputy principal took me aside and warned me that I was bad news just like my older brother, and that he’d be watching me. [Note: my older brother’s crime was an altercation over hair length – he’d gone to the barbers to get a regulation cut, but the headmaster had still tried to physically cut his hair shorter]. I was streamlined into a D-class full of attention-deficit troublemakers, and it was impossible to concentrate on lessons with all the commotion and paper darts and chuddy flying around. The kids that got the attention excelled at sport, and the bookworms (of whom I was one) were subject to mild sexual abuse by the leader of the rugby team in the changing rooms. I didn’t even think to complain.
The teachers themselves were either authoritarian bullies or hopeless saps who couldn’t control an unruly class. Most of the lessons were dead boring where, as the accompanying graphic says, intelligence was seen as the ability to remember and repeat, and accurate memory and repetition was rewarded. My maths teacher, who looked like a skeleton and needed a fag break every 15 minutes, and would rap boys hard on the fingers with a ruler if he deemed they weren’t paying attention, wrote on my report that I had ‘no scholastic potential’. Luckily, I had a couple of good teachers who encouraged my reading and researching of topics that none of my classmates knew anything about: Faulkner, Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie, Maurice Shadbolt. My history teacher seemed frustrated that the set lessons were just names of wars and treaties and dates to memorise, and encouraged my reading of material pertaining to recent history, such as the American civil rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
But what’s this all to do with vegetarianism? Quite a lot, actually. I was intellectually curious and a voracious reader of books because my parents – Methodist socialists who prompted me to think for myself, and take responsibility for my actions – taught me to read before I ever attended school. If not for my parents, and then the few teachers at high school who encouraged my curiosity, it’s possible that I would never have discovered vegetarianism.
Back then, as it does now, the idea of not eating meat was innately rebellious, because it goes against the grain, a social order, a way of thinking that the majority of society dictates. If I’d been a perfect A-class student, maybe I would never have been forced to confront the abomination of animal murder; maybe I’d have kept to the set texts, rather than head into esoteric literature like that of Herman Hesse, whose appropriation and reformulation of the essential philosophies of a variety of religions spoke to me, big time.
I hope schools are better now; that they allow children and teenagers to think for themselves. Somehow, though, I doubt it. I see the way companies like McDonald’s are embraced by schools and note the rise of cyber-bullying, which is really just an updated version of what we had at school – maladjusted kids stealing lunches and giving anyone who was just a bit different something (like a few bruises) to remember them by.
But any child or teenager who does feel that school is not serving them well can probably be confident that the very reason they don’t fit the system will build their own character and opinions and lead to an adult that isn’t just part of the herd. GARY STEEL
“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want to learn something, go to a library.”
Frank Zappa (1940 – 1993)
PS, I’d love to hear from readers about their school experiences, and how they influenced their decision to go vegetarian or vegan. Go on, do it!