I finally finished teaching today after nearly 41 years. The last five weeks have been very strange as all teaching has been done “remotely” which basically means sitting in front of a computer uploading work onto a website and sending out hundreds of emails. This hasn’t been quite as much fun as being in a classroom with lots of intelligent, highly motivated students explaining ‘A’ level Maths and engaging in banter. I have been very lucky to spend the final 8 years of my career in a Sixth Form College. I thought I had retired last July but I was offered the chance to work for three months covering a maternity leave. I have been offered four further months from September – January but I have declined.
So this afternoon was the occasion of my last lesson and as I was walking the dog round the fields earlier this morning, I was thinking about the five Schools/Colleges I have worked at and what relevant music I could write about. For some reason I started thinking about a school disco at Netteswell at Christmas 1979 at a time when the Number One single in the charts was “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)”. It’s a great song which I have always liked. The lyrics are “We don’t need no education/We don’t need no thought control/No dark sarcasm in the classroom/Teachers leave them kids alone/Hey! Teachers! Leave us kids alone!/All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.” These words are sung twice, the second time by children from Islington Green School. The video is sensational. At the Netteswell disco, at one point, I can clearly remember 40 or 50 children, in a perfectly good natured way, chanting the song and pointing at the teachers whilst singing “Hey! Teachers! Leave us kids alone”. It was very funny.
This song is probably the most widely distributed anti-education cultural composition in Western Society. Thinking about this reminded me that whilst I was at Worcester College between 1975 and 1976, I became quite interested in the works of Ivan Illich and John Holt.
In “Deschooling Society”, Illich claims that a good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known. He claims that meeting these aims in a school is not feasible.
In “How Children Fail”, John Holt states that children love to learn but hate to be taught. His experiences in classrooms as a teacher brought him to conclude that every child is intelligent. However, children become unintelligent because they are accustomed by teachers to strive only for teacher approval and the “right” answers and consequently forget everything else. Children see value not in thinking, discovery, and understanding but only in playing the power game of school.
It wasn’t necessarily a great couple of books to read before I started teaching in 1976 and it probably wasn’t a good idea to come back to them after 41 years today. I guess my rationale over my career has been to help children cope with school rather than to embrace the underlying concept behind a compulsory formal education. One of the chapters in another of John Holt’s books (“The Underachieving School”) was called “Teachers Talk Too Much” and having met a lot of teachers over the last 41 years, I can confirm that this is true.
Astonishingly, this morning, while I was walking the dog and after I had decided what to blog about, I was listening to a podcast (“The Word”) by David Hepworth and Mark Ellen and they started to talk about this album. “Dark Side Of The Moon”, “Wish You Were Here” and “Animals” had been hugely successful prior to 1979 and Pink Floyd made a lot of money. They were encouraged to invest their money in the Norton Warburg group in order to avoid paying a huge tax bill. When the investments failed, the members of Pink Floyd were in financial difficulties. They knew they had to make another hit record and Roger Waters had been exploring the idea of a concept album which he turned into “The Wall”.
“The Wall” is a rock opera that explores abandonment and isolation, symbolized by a wall. The songs create an approximate storyline of events in the life of the protagonist, Pink, whose father was killed during WWII. Pink starts to build a metaphorical wall around himself. During live performances of the album, a cardboard wall was built between the group and the audience which was later knocked down as Pink broke free from his isolation.
In order to help them produce a money making record, Pink Floyd hired Bob Ezrin as producer. He had previously produced “Schools Out” by Alice Cooper and “Berlin” by Lou Reed amongst many other records. In the Alice Cooper hit school children sing “No more pencils/No more books/No more teacher’s/Dirty looks”. This song is probably the second most widely distributed anti-education cultural composition in Western Society. In “The Kids” from “Berlin” by Lou Reed, Bob Ezrin used his own kids, David and Josh, for the sounds of the children crying and shouting for their mom. Urban legend has it that Ezrin told the boys their mother had died to get them so upset, but that seems cruel and unlikely. A more believable story is that he went home and told his seven-year-old son David that he was doing a play in the studio and he needed some kids’ voices to sound scared because their mom was being taken away. It seems that Bob Ezrin was no stranger to using children’s voices to enhance some songs. In “The Word” podcast that I listened to this morning, it was pointed out that children on singles produced Christmas Number Ones. In 1979 it was “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)” and in 1980 it was “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” by The St Winifred’s School choir. This song is probably the most widely distributed sentimental crappy cultural composition in Western Society. Anyway, Bob Ezrin was right to encourage Pink Floyd to use children on their single as it sold over 4 million copies world wide.
I have a CD copy of this album. I don’t know it very well. I’m playing it now and I can’t say that I like it particularly. The only songs that I would choose to play are “Another Brick In The Wall (parts 1-3)” and “Comfortably Numb” which I came across by accident on Spotify some years ago. The phrase “I have become comfortably numb” is great and resonated with me at a time when middle age was drawing to a close. It’s got brilliant guitar work from Dave Gilmour. Apparently the song was inspired by Roger Waters’ use of a muscle relaxant to overcome hepatitis. Whatever that means. Is that an approved remedy?
So that’s it then. Retirement beckons for the second time but this time there’s no going back. Lockdown has forced me into appreciating the contentment I can get from reading, writing, walking, talking, puzzling, watching, learning and above all listening. The future’s so bright I’ve got to wear shades.