I’m ill in bed reading Dave Eggers’ “A heartbreaking Work of staggering Genius”. Right now he is in a bar, having left his 9 year old brother with a male babysitter. He is having a conversation with an old school friend who mentions that he has just seen a ‘Job Counselor’. I am instantly transported back to my old school and the Job Counselor we had there. Then I remember an incident I had with her over a job placement in our ‘Transitional Year’.
I went to a school in Blackrock, Dublin, called Newpark Comprehensive. It was part of an originally private, Protestant school called “Avoca and Kingstown” where I had originally attended Middle School.
We had just moved from Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny, to Dublin, after the separation of my parents and my father, being an atheist, chose this school. I had been educated in a convent prior to this. I imagine he wanted us to have the best education in a non-traditional, and non-religious setting. And what better way to assert his independence from his very Catholic parents than to send us to a Protestant school!
That lovely red-brick building above was our middle school. It was founded in 1891 and merged with Kingstown Grammar school in 1968, four years before I went there. The original heads of the school developed innovative teaching programs and introduced sex education and nature study. I can vividly remember the nature study but cannot remember the Sex education until we were in Newpark! The school became a centre of Educational innovation.
I can remember, at the age of nearly twelve, sitting in our classroom at the front of the building, behind one of those lovely bay windows in the above photo. The very modern building of Newpark had just been built in front of the old building, on its lovely gardens. It was a horrible, one-story building, completely out of character with the lovely red-brick building which it faced. One of the entrances was right in front of my window and I saw a young man come out and stand in front of the door. He was dressed in a tweed suit and was probably about 16 or 17. Its hard to judge when you’re twelve! He took a pipe out of his pocket and lit it and stood there, calmly smoking. I was amazed that a student should be allowed to smoke, in school! But that pretty much summed up the School for me. It was all about freedom, freedom of expression, of development.
When I was twelve I moved to Spain for two years with my mother and two of my sisters. We went to a Spanish Catholic school on the outskirts of Torremolinos for a year and then to a modern school up in the woods behind the old village of El Calvario. I think I probably attended for at least two weeks. Sorry Mum!
When the two years were finished we moved back to Dublin and went back to Newpark, but this time I was so far behind, educationally, that I had to go down a year. All of the friends I had been in school with in Avoca were now a year ahead of me so I had to start all over again.
Fourth Year in Newpark meant Transition year where you learned about life outside school! i.e. WORK. TAXES etc. Terrifying stuff! As part of this experience we had to choose three work placements to try out jobs we might like to do in the future. For my first one I chose a bookshop in Dublin, as I loved books. That was OK but all I spent the week doing was adding books to shelves. I was more interested in reading the books than stacking them!
The next job placement was in Pelican House, the blood transfusion service. I had always wanted to be a surgeon when I was a child so this might give me an idea of how it might be in reality! This is where our Job/Career counselor came in! My friend Sarah and I had chosen to do this placement together and we were instructed, by our career counselor, not to spend the week filing, which is how Pelican House had gotten most of its filing done in the past, by using students in Transition year. She told us that we were to get a much experience as possible in all departmental within the service. No problem, we thought!
We planned well together for this placement. By this we mean that we plaited our hair in tiny plaits so that in the morning it would look frizzy! (I had very long hair!) We chose our headwear, in my case a baseball cap and in Sarah’s a black Trilby! I don’t remember what we wore, as clothes were never very important to me, but I’m pretty sure it involved jeans and shirts! It was the 70’s and the era of Grand-daddy shirts. All in all the perfect ensemble for working in the adult world of a blood transfusion service!
For the first two days we spent our time doing…? Yep…filing! Halfway through the second day we were asked how we liked the job so far so I said exactly what my Career counselor had said to us, albeit a little more politely, I thought! I said that the school had told us that we were not to do filing all week but were to experience as much as we could about all aspects of the work. The woman disappeared and we continued filing!
The following morning we got into work and were there for an hour before the same woman appeared and told us that we were to return to school at once! What? We got our stuff together and got a bus into Blackrock. All the way to school we tried to figure out why we were being called back. Had someone died? My younger sister had died the previous year so anything was possible! Had someone in Sarah’s family died? Had an accident? All the way we panicked and conjectured. Drove ourselves nuts!
Once we arrived in school we raced to the Career advisors room but she was waiting out in the main corridor. I walked quickly up to her. “What’s happened? What’s wrong? Why did you bring us back?” She stared at me, angry. “Do not be so rude Ann Murphy”. I was shocked. I wasn’t being rude. I was scared! I did not understand what was going on. We just stood there, speechless. She continued ” I received a call from Pelican house this morning. They told me that you refused to do filing!!!” Refused?? CONfused! “You have completely embarrassed the school and Pelicon house are considering dropping us from the Transition year placement program”
Hang on a minute, I thought. I did exactly what you said to do! “But you told us that we were not to do filing and that was all we were doing.” I responded. Her answer was to deny saying it in quite that way and that the woman had said I was extremely rude and that if we wished to continue our placement there we would have to go back in and apologize to the Director! I was flabbergasted. Apologize? For what? Telling the truth? Doing what we were told?
But she wasn’t finished. “And on top of that you wore clothes totally inappropriate to the job.” OK, that we did! There was no denying that! But apologizing to the director? To say we were shocked was an understatement! I was really angry but also nervous. Now we would have to return to Pelican house and look like idiots for following instructions by adults who should have dealt with it themselves. Why didn’t they organize the placement properly instead of leaving it up to us to do their communicating for them?
So the following morning I found myself on the bus into Dublin…alone…going to apologize to the bloody director!!! Sarah had managed to get out of it and had a ‘sick note’ so I had to face the humiliation by myself!! Thanks Sarah!
The end of that week proved quite interesting though and I got to experience how it was to work in a blood transfusion service! But these experiences taught me that the adult world could not be trusted and I wanted no part in its subterfuges and machinations! I was going to live in a commune, be self sufficient and make my own rules!!!
At least I knew what I was doing!
I have never left that experience and continue to this day to live outside of societies ‘norms. To me I might as well be dead as living a life like that where I cannot speak the truth for fear of upsetting other people’s apple carts. If you don’t want me to do something then don’t tell me to do it! Simple! But I have learned to accept that other people do not necessarily tell the truth, that they are unable to. They can’t even see it! My daughters too have learned this from me and always call a spade a spade, even if it hurts, which it often does. But I appreciate that its their truth so even if I don’t like it, I accept it. After all..its what I taught them to do…
Oh…and if you have actually read the whole blog without getting bored and are interested to know what my third and final placement was…it was harvesting sweetcorn for my father. One penny per cob and all we could eat! Pretty good really! Until I had to spend my Christmas Holidays in hospital being treated for lumbago, the result of pulling large plastic boxes filled with corn on the cob, by a rope, through row after row of maize stalks! The upside of that? I learned how to weave and make basket chairs as part of my recreational therapy!
Who needs school?