Talk-ED: School turns 100! Looking back on the good old days

Stuart Middleton
EdTalkNZ
7 March 2011

My primary schooling was quite non-Shakespearean and I never recall a day when I was the….

                        …. whining schoolboy, with his satchel,
                        And shining morning face, creeping like snail
                        Unwillingly to school.

I enjoyed primary school I think because I cannot recall any unpleasant experiences, teachers who I didn’t like or other pupils of whom I was afraid – all in all the six years at Frankton Primary School were happy, engaged and unbullied ones. That was typical of those days I think.

Frankton Primary School is to celebrate its centennial soon. My uncles were there on the opening day 100 years ago, my mother went to school there as did my older brothers and my twin brother and I, without thought, I followed in their footsteps. It was the local school and you went to the local school. We walked to school regardless of the weather or the state of the fog generated on a cold morning by the team engines in the railway yards, perhaps a bit over a mile because no-one was driven to school and we didn’t own bikes. We were a driverless walking school bus years before they were thought of and what started as two little fellows leaving home in Greenwood Street would swell to six or seven as we gradually accumulated friends as we passed their houses.

The only day I was picked up by car was when Dad and my uncle were waiting at the school gate to tell us that Grandma had died and in a manner befitting the occasion, drove us home.

Mostly I remember teachers rather than lessons, classrooms rather than activities at lunchtime and a solid education rather than the imprimatur of the badge.

New entrants (I am sure we were not called that) and “primers”. Little blackboards on the wall for the practising of a good writing script, a little “sleep” after lunch on a straw mattress with Miss White’s boot with 5” sole passing perilously close to an eyelid that wasn’t quite shut, regular checks by doctors and nurses who peered and prodded and pronounced us to be healthy and the introduction to school milk.

School milk has become something of a collective memory for our generation in New Zealand. I don’t really recall it being unpleasant as many note when speaking about it and it was a real treat to be the ones who went to the milk stand at the gate and brought back the milk for the class. Actually I am wondering whether this was a later experience, the standards perhaps, because we were little and I doubt my ability to have carried one side of a crate of milk when I was in the primers.

Somewhere along the line in the bigger primers we made little A5 folders for the carrying of our School Journals home for reading practice. Made with an artistic design (for that read uncontrolled scrawl) in crayon on the front and back and then so cleverly coloured with dye with a piece of wide tape down the spine, they served as a useful transport device for those wonderful journals that I am sure have a lot to do with the reading successes of a generation. It was only much later that I came to appreciate that we had been reading writing by some of New Zealand’s best writers – how could we not become great readers?

This might have been later because we cut our reading teeth on Janet and John. Of course we later came to understand that this series was exotic rather the reflective of New Zealand, sexist rather than gender-balanced (Daddy always got to fly in the Viscount), and sociologically biased toward the middle classes (well we were middle class but didn’t have much money as was typical of many at the school). But despite these drawbacks we all learnt to read. And I mean all, failing at something at school was not an option offered to us either at school or at home. Were there students at school in those days who failed? If there were I remained blissfully unaware.

The standards (class levels originally deriving from a set of national standards – isn’t life full of irony!) were more about getting on with arithmetic and writing and Nature Study and learning to draw the flags of many places provided they were coloured red on the map, signalling the great siblinghood of the British Empire. Loyalty to the King was briefly observed then a young Queen took over and saw me through my schooling. The coronation was a highlight of Standard 1with a concertina drawing of the State Coach bearing her to the Abbey to be crowned and the presentation of a medal – I still have both of these.

There being no TV, great events such as the coronation saw us all bussed to a picture theatre in town (i.e. Hamilton) where we saw it all in colour  and were happy little monarchists as we were transported back to school.

Frankton in those days was on the fringes of settlement in the wider Hamilton area and many country kids came to school there. So there was the Calf Day (I don’t why lambs were not accorded titular respect but they were there) when the country kids brought their beasts to school and an extraordinary number of ribbons were awarded it seemed to us townies. As part of the democratisation process the “Calf Day” turned into a “Pets Day”. My brother and I along with a mate took two hens along, towed under netting in a little cart pulled by a tightly-held goat (none of our animals were very willing participants). We did not get a prize which was compensated for when our photos appeared in the Waikato Times – so much for all the flash-harry pets!

World War II was still pretty fresh in the minds of the grown-ups (less so in ours of course) and the school was quite military in that every class lined up at the start of the day and when the battalion of the ignorant was steady they would march off to stirring military tunes to do battle against ignorance, inkwells and inquisitions from teachers about homework. In my last year as the Yellow House Leader I would, along with my fellow girl Leader, stand upstairs at the staffroom window to award points to the quickest platoon to reach parade standard and give the signal for the march to begin – reviewing the fleet had nothing on this.

I could go quite a bit more and probably shall!

They were good days but my schooling was modest in a typically get-on-with-the-job New Zealand school and, looking back, as sound as one could hope for. The only thing Shakespearean about my primary schooling was the motto: “To thy own self be true.”

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