Saturday, 23 May 2009

Hitting the books

Bleah, I am studying again after a break of nearly 20 years. I'm not back at Uni or doing an MBA or anything silly like that - I've done a work related course, and now have to prepare for an exam. I sat a few short trial exams, and was bloody hopeless! I managed to score between 50 and 60%, but the pass mark is higher than that. Must do better.

So I'm back to using the same technique that got me through school and uni - reading the text book, then re-reading it and marking up the important bits, then re-reading it again and writing out those important bits in a condensed note form. I'll then go back through my notes and write them out again, condensing them even further.

I've got 12 chapters to wade through - 300 pages or so. I'm trying to crack a chapter per day, which takes 2-3 hours. Yesterday was tricky - I had to look after the kids at the same time, so I sat at the dining table and had Mr Squishy sitting in his high chair next to me playing with bits of paper, and Monkey at the other end of the table chopping things up with his safety scissors and drawing pictures. I'd be interrupted every few minutes by Mr Squishy dropping his paper on the floor and demanding it back, or Monkey wanting help with peeling a sticker off its backing sheet. Even with those distractions, I still managed to plow through the chapter and do a good job on my notes. I'm good at shutting out external influences and simply concentrating utterly on the task at hand.

I'm a bit notorious for losing myself in books. I can be sitting in a room with 10 other people, and they can be talking and carrying on, and I won't hear a word that they've said for hours. If they want me to respond to something, they need to give me a poke in the ribs to get my head out of the book.

This sort of hard slog through the books seems to be passe these days as a teaching method. Too much hard work I guess. At school, I'd put in 6 or so hours of study per day from year 10 onwards. I'd mix that in with playing cricket and footy with the other boarders, or going to the swimming pool, or going for a run or a ride. I wasn't a complete swot, but as we had very limited TV viewing time (half an hour or so per day), and no computers or computer games, we had a tremendous amount of time for study. Plus we had no commute to worry about - I guess that gave us an extra 2 hours per day to study.

I did quite well by the way. All that skull sweat paid off. Then I utterly bludged through uni, doing the absolute minimum work required to scrape a pass.

Here's how things have changed since our time.

We played footy and cricket indoors and out. A rubbish bin, tatty old cricket bat with no tape on the handle and half a dozen tennis balls were all that was required to start a game of backyard cricket with up to 30 fielders. Hitting a ball into the headmaster's garden was a good way to get out automatically. One hand, one bounce. Tip and run.

If it was wet, we'd play inside the boarding house - fast bowlers would start their run up in one room, come charging through a doorway and hurl a thunderbolt across the rec room. If we played in a dorm, they had to run in through a door in the side of the room, do a 90 degree turn between the beds and then bowl.

If we couldn't find a tennis ball, we'd use the pool balls from the pool table. Ever faced a pool ball from a fast bowler? I don't recommend it, especially as we never wore pads. We smashed a lot of light fittings and windows, and the odd pool ball was smashed through the thin plywood doors that our boarding house was dotted with.

Footy was the same - we'd play kick to kick (aussie rules style) and that involved some heavy duty ruck work at both ends. Again, if it was wet, we'd kick the footy in the dorms (we slept 14-18 in open dorms). Plenty of light fittings met their end that way, and the ceiling in every dorm was covered end to end in the red scuff marks left by footies that went too high. We became good at kicking the footy in a fast, flat trajectory. Most of the time. The lights were all fluorescent tubes - if you kicked a footy into one, the tube would dislodge and come crashing down. I'd say we were all full of mercury by the time we left school. We broke a lot of tubes.

As for swimming - we had a 50m pool at school (unfenced). The rule was that it could only open if you had two life savers on duty. I did the life saving course, and along with quite a few others, could open the pool from age 15 onwards. On a hot weekend, someone would walk through the boarding house yelling for a life saver to get off their bum and open the pool. I'd put down the books, grab a towel and open the pool (opening the pool simply meant I'd walk down to the pool and declare it open). Discipline was strong enough that kids didn't just walk down to the pool and jump in without it being properly opened.

Some life savers were bastards - if you jumped in before they had done their "inspection" and made their declaration, they'd boot you out of the pool. Again, discipline was strong enough that if a 15 year old kid told a younger kid that they were banned for the day, they took the ban and left the pool. To do otherwise, or answer back, was to risk nasty retribution. Closing the pool was also easy. You'd simply stand up and yell, "Pool closed!", and that was it. 100 or more kids would get out of the pool and troop back to their respective boarding houses.

Imagine giving kids that sort of responsibility these days. Our boarding houses pretty much ran themselves without an adult in sight for days at a time. We sometimes only saw our house master once a week - on pocket money day (he was the only one authorised to dish it out). If you saw him more than once a week, it meant you had been sent to him to be caned (an experience you never wanted to go through more than once).

You wouldn't be escorted to see him - a prefect would simply tell you to go and see the house master and explain that you had been sent down to be caned, and what you had done. He would then decide how many strokes to give you. He'd then send you back to the prefect, who would check that you had in fact fronted for punishment.

These days, they lock the kids in after dark and wrap them in cotton wool (the external doors on our boarding houses lacked locks - and even then, the doors were only ever closed during really wet and stormy days). Nothing was locked. We had lockers, and most had keys, but they were rarely used - lockers were simply left open. To be caught thieving didn't bear thinking about.

We had enormous potential to run amok (and we did from time to time), but that was tempered by the knowledge that the consequences could be particularly nasty and painful.

When I describe these things to Junior, he looks at me like I am mad. He can't fathom such a world. He thinks I am making it up. Boy, have things changed in just one generation.

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