Anarchy 103/The writing on the wall

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Dear Friends,

  I have devoted my life to the furtherance of freedom in education. If anyone had burst into any of the libertarian establishments in which I have striven to express that ideal, and had daubed on the walls “Discipline: Punishment”, I should have considered them mindless hooligans, and the effect upon me would have been to confirm my prejudice against discipline and punishment.

  Can anyone tell me what in the name of freedom is gained by bursting into Dulwich College and daubing on its walls “Anarchy”? My own opinion is that it does incalculable harm to our cause, and I should be glad to see a reasoned defence of such action. I suggest that those who talk about freedom should consult those of us who have tried to practise it before they indulge in this kind of hooliganism.
Yours sincerely,

The writing
on the wall

Schools are a frequent target for vandalism, and the form it usually takes is monotonously predictable. Apart from overturning cupboards and tables, scattering books and papers around, the despoilers of the school write obscenities on the walls and blackboard, and someone shits on the teacher’s desk. In Jean Vigo’s famous film of a school revolt Zero de Conduite the persecuted boy Tabard turns on his hated teacher in a desperate gesture of defiance and bursts out, “Monsieur le professeur, je vous dis merde!” You do not need to be a social psychologist to interpret the meaning of “meaningless” acts of van­dalism, though it is interesting to learn from our contributor Stan Cohen (who is Lecturer in the Sociology of Deviance at Durham University) that school vandalism “in fact indicates that there is something wrong with the school that is damaged. The highest rates of school vandalism tends to occur in schools with obsolete facilities and equipment, low staff morale and high dissatisfaction and boredom among the pupils.”

  But at Dulwich College the word was not Shit, it was Anarchy, a word of a different complexion and connotation, a word which encapsulates a whole range of ideas—which is why, amongst other things it is the title of this journal—and stands, amongst other things for a diametrically opposite approach to education and social privilege from that of Dulwich College, taking that school as the epitome of the English public school system.

  The South London Schools Action Union marched to Dulwich College on June 21st on the school’s Open Day, which turned out to be Founder’s Day, but they found that the place was certainly not open to them. They were met by the police and were carried out or thrown out, but not before they had left some mark on the school, including the writing on the wall.

  One participant’s account of the encounter says: “It was not all inane chaos. Real communication developed between 40 to 50 Dulwich students and the SAU militants. Subjects ranged over uniform—all these 12-year-olds had been forced into black suits, striped tie and a blue carnation for the Founder’s Day ritual—the purpose of GCE exams, the nature of authority and repression of the individual, co-education. Did they ever think about the millions in this country who didn’t lead their kind of life? (According to one student there, only 15% of the boys come from a working-class background.) There was no hostility but little optimism either. ‘Well, if a teacher hits you, of course you don’t hit back’. Neither would a 12-year-old get his own back on a 13-year-old. Authority simply through age is instilled into kids until they equate age-authority-intelligence. One very sympathetic boy just couldn’t understand why we—several years older than himself—had approached him as an equal. He was opposed to uniform, he was dissatisfied with exams and the values of the college bureaucracy; but as an individual he saw he was powerless. The isolation of the militants inside the college has enabled the authorities to ban a subversive magazine that was started last year; similarly, SAU members there have been ‘disciplined’. Because of this they see the need for a very cohesive organisation inside the college to combat repression from above.”

  Under these circumstances we should perhaps see those who were on the premises long enough to leave their sign on the wall not so much as hooligans but as guerillas, as partisans come down from the hills to leave their message and retire. Not yet strong enough to hold the position, but confident that someone will get the message and continue an underground war within: confident too that the word will tell the holders of power that they will not always have it their own way. I am sure that this is how they regard themselves. The
governors of Dulwich naturally sees them as gorillas rather than guerillas, just as Mr. Wills sees them as hooligans.

  What is the SAU after? It demands an end to corporal punish­ments, to school uniforms, to the prefect system and to examinations in their present form.

  It proposes the formation of School Councils consisting of staff and pupils of all age groups. These councils, it suggests, would supervise discipline, academic standards, programming of homework, and internal school organisation. The Manifesto of the South London Group declares that these councils “would break down the barriers between teachers and pupils” and that once they were set up “most of the present symbols of authority (such as the cane) would disappear as a matter of course”.

  We know that David Wills supports every one of these aims, and put most of them into practice years ago. He is one of the pioneers of the elimination of punishment and a lifelong advocate of “shared responsibility”. The sentence “Authority is shared between children and staff, not delegated as in the prefect system, and Mr. … manages to include all staff, domestic, teaching, and out-of-school educators, without social distinction”, does not come from a description of a utopian school by a member of SAU, nor is it a Maoist proposal for the LSE. It is a description of what Mr. Wills actually did. (See anarchy 15.)

  And you don’t have to be a pioneer like Wills or a schoolboy militant like the members of SAU to advocate these things. Sir Alec Clegg, Chief Education Officer for the West Riding of Yorkshire, declared at the North of England Education Conference at Liverpool on January 3rd, 1968, that we should:

  Discourage prizes and mark lists.

  Encourage work for work’s sake.

  Encourage schools to break “every humiliating regulation” in order to establish a properly integrated school.

  Urge in secondary schools the informality found in the best junior schools.

  Eliminate “O” level and replace it with an internal examination, externally assessed.

  Replace prefects by school councils.

  Abolish beating.

  Encourage teaching that applied the principle of “finding out is better than being told”.

  Sir Alec, who was a member of the committee which produced the Newsom Report, said that if the “change of heart” called for in that report was not brought about, Britain would face social difficulties over the next half century that would make those of the past 50 years look trivial.

  He can say that again!

  But it is one thing for David Wills to put these ideas to work outside the official education system, and it is one thing for Sir Alec Clegg to advocate them at a conference, and quite another for an organisation of pupils, students and teachers to demand them. The members of the SAU, and the organisations which it federates—the Free Schools Campaign, the North London Secondary Schools Union, the Manchester Secondary Schools Union, etc.—have been faced by threats, suspensions, expulsions, and every kind of intimidation. Amusing, no doubt, if you are safely out of school, but pretty serious for the young. And if you think this is an exaggeration, read the newspapers. The Observer reported on December 1st, 1968, that “the reaction of headmasters, accustomed to ruling their kingdoms with
unquestioned authority, has been faintly hysterical”. The Times Educational Supplement for July 25th, 1969, has a headline: “The deskbound revolutionaries hidden in schools have provoked many headmasters to near hysteria” and in the article beneath it, Michael Binyon writes of the “hysterical denunciation” which the SAU has drawn from headmasters.   The SAU members are struggling to establish throughout the ordinary run of schools, the ideas which for years have been taken for granted among progressive educators. They deserve, and need, all the support that the progressive movement can give them.

  Their paper, Vanguard, has been banned in many schools and elaborate precautions are taken to conceal the identity of the authors. Contact with sympathetic staff—something the movement is desperately keen to en­courage—is, it seems, a risky venture for both sides: one master in East London was recently sacked for trying to start a cell.

  “This cloak and dagger farce is forcing the SAU into using extremist tactics,” Michael Lane (Dave to his friends) said. He wanted to emphasize the reasonableness of their demands, to win sympathy from the public. He believed that an industrial trade union rather than the NUS was the right model.

  “If every factory manager made every employee attend morning service, wear a cap and be beaten for trivial things there would soon be a general strike,” he said.

  Allegations of harsh punishments in some South London schools are being made by pupils who are helping compile a dossier of teachers and the penalties they are meting out.

  Organisers of the move claim that cases brought to light are “only the tip of the iceberg”.

  Signed statements from pupils are bing kept by the revolutionary South London Schools Action Union, which has as members a number of young militant teachers and sixth formers from schools south of the Thames.

  They are aiming to spotlight what they call “atrocities” in South London schools. The union says of one well-known school, “According to reports we have received, these incidents are quite numerous.”

  Alleged incidents it cites include:

  1.—Two boys were made to sit on the floor for talking, them Mr. X is said to have struck them on the head with a board rubber and pulled their hair.

  2.—Mr. Y hit a boy about the head and struck him again when he moved off a mark the teacher had made on the floor.

  3.—An alleged campaign by school authorities to remove a boy whose clothes were “revolutionary”.

  4.—Forty pupils threatened with dismissal after a boycott of a com­pulsory discussion group.

  Other punishments listed by the union are extra lessons, detaining classes after lessons, and a swimming ban on pupils with hair considered too long.

  The group alleges in the case of one school that nine masters have “physically assaulted” students—mainly those aged between nine and 13. Of the pupils’ claims, a union spokesman said: “We would be prepared to produce these statements in a court of law.”

  Commenting on the difference between corporal punishment and their claims of brutality, a member of the union said: “Pulling someone up off the floor by his hair is hardly corporal punishment.”

  They will continue to publish “case histories” as they receive them, he added.

  “We have members in a number of schools across South London and they know we are compiling a dossier on victimisation. We are attempting to establish that this kind of thing does go on and is quite prevalent.

  “It seems there is a pattern emerging that most brutality takes place in the first, second and third forms in secondary schools.”

Evening Standard (24.7.69)

  A headmaster, Mr. Roland Collins, lined up twenty boys before the A-level exams began at Harold Malley Grammar School, Solihull, Warwick­shire.

  Razors were laid out. Then Mr. Collins ordered four boys to shave off sideboards and moustaches.

  Two 18-year-olds, David Livingstone and Stephen Hill, refused. They were barred from taking the exams.

Daily Mirror (5.7.69)

  At one o’clock last Friday a small, but not insignificant demonstration took place at the gates of St. Clement Danes school in Shepherd’s Bush, London. Thirteen young people walked, somewhat apprehensively, up to the school and started to distribute a bundle of leaflets. They were wel­comed by an inquisitive crowd of small boys who willingly offered to distribute the small pieces of yellow and white paper. Solidarity, however, broke down when the headmaster, Dr. Badcock (who was alleged recently to have told a sixth-former taking his A-levels to “cut his hair or have his paper torn up”) appeared in person. To shrill cries of “Here comes old - - -” the school yard emptied as if by magic, leaving the 13 members of the Schools Action Union to deposit their letter of protest and retreat.

  Dr. Badcock felt no obligation to read it.

Sunday Times (20.7.69)

  Persecution of long-haired boys continues. On June 10 Andy Anderson appeared before Dartford magistrates on the charge that he “did fail to cause” his son to attend regularly at the Dartford West Secondary Boys School. Again it was a case of hair. Why, oh why is so much made of this issue? What can it possibly matter how long or short a person’s hair is? A sort of insanity seems to be infecting the entire Western World!

  In the particular case under discussion the boy was only eleven, and his hair was not in fact very long by modern standards. But he was subjected to such vicious persecution that it was impossible for him to remain at this school, and for some reason it was impossible to arrange for him to attend another. Hence the prosecution.

Freedom (12.7.69)

  A student teacher has been dismissed because of his work for an underground magazine dedicated to the cause of “pupil power”.

  David Gibson, 19, formerly a pupil at Leeds Grammar School, was dismissed from his temporary post at a primary school in the city.

  The magazine for which he did some work is called HOD—short for “Handful Of Dust”. It has been criticized by head teachers, education officials and parents.

  Mr. John Taylor, chief education officer for Leeds, said: “When this young man was not prepared to give up these activities with HOD, he was given a month’s notice. He was asked not to go back to the school and paid up to the end of June.”

The Times Educational Supplement (13.6.69)

  A leaflet called Batnews caused “unbearable tension” at a grammar school, a headmaster said yesterday.

  It criticised the head, Mr. Christopher Lipscombe, and ran to 150 copies in three issues before police stopped publication.

  Mr. George Carman, defending three former pupils of the school—one a man of 48—said Batnews was something of a juvenile version of Private Eye, the satirical magazine.

  He went on: “It certainly must be unprecedented for boys at any school to appear before a court for saying or publishing things satirical of a headmaster.”

  There was no incitement to violence in Batnews, said Mr. Carman. Its message was: “Is Mr. Lipscombe a good headmaster or a bad one? Are his policies good or bad?”

  The three ex-pupils denied circulating leaflets containing offensive words and calculated to cause a breach of the peace.

Daily Mirror (1.7.69)

  The difference between student destroyers and student regen­erators does not lie in their diagnosis of the existing society, characterized by the “drab, exploited, meaningless lives of so many people”. There is ample agreement on what is wrong. The difference lies in the remedy sought. Destruction is the course of those who adopt formulas prepared by other men. Particularized investigation of the possibilities of rebuilding is the choice of men with imagination.
Manas (USA) commenting on anarchy 97