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Tuesday 3 September 2013


Education is a practice that rings in my ear like a cracked bell. Out of tune, arid theory. Sour grapes too. Money was spent fruitlessly on my "education" and my father grew angrier.

For the fifth time I watched Etre et Avoir, a 2003 French documentary about a one-room school in the Auvergne where a single teacher nourished the lives of children aged 4 to 11. It won awards and made money, leading, alas, to a sad squabble I prefer to ignore.

I cannot accept that the movie depicted education - that hollow abstraction doesn't fit. In guiding faltering infantile hands to write better numerals, gently sifting through the reasons for a falling-out in the playground, persuading Jojo to finish his painting, and comforting Julien whose father faced surgery to remove his larynx, M. Lopez seemed only to be encouraging growth. A benign insistent force impelling his charges towards more effective versions of themselves. At the end a large percentage left for the summer holidays and then for middle school in Issoire. M. Lopez himself was due to retire. Emotional kisses were exchanged and it was clear that the children, having gained something, were also losing something.

I tried to imagine the circumstances under which I would even have shaken hands with any of my educators. My imagination failed me just as my so-called education had.

WIP Second Hand (31,364 words).

TO UNDRESS behind screens, put on an ill-fitting nightdress and to be at the beck and call of nurses was to cross the boundary of authority. Others clothed in suits and differing uniforms moved around purposefully into and out of the ward, jobs to do. Francine lay on her bed, trying to read a paperback, making no contribution, unable to identify her sense of unease.


  1. Now I am up to date here!

    Have heard of this film but not seen it, will look out for it.

  2. Lucy: Just the cost of the postage, I swear.

  3. A touching film. Memories of education can indeed be painful. But not all of them. There are I think few good teachers and those of us who have been lucky enough to encounter one from time to time can consider ourselves foutunate.

  4. Yes, Etre et Avoir is a marvellous, brilliant film. I'd probably be a different person if I 'd had the good fortune to attend a school like that. (Not that I'm complaining about the person I am). But my schooldays in America taught me absolutely nothing apart from the certainty that I didn't fit in. Are you familiar with the writings of Ivan Illich on education (De-schooling society). He goes overboard in the other direction but on the whole I agree with him.

  5. Natalie: Illich? Nah. Re-read my first two sentences.

    I, on the other hand, do complain about the person I am. I wanna be handsomer, wittier, more at home in casual clothes, able to leap tall buildings, bring down tyrants, able to re-read Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften without feeling any apprehensions. Damnit, someone paid for my education. I feel I was short-changed.