Friday, May 28, 2010

Education then and now

The Crepeaus in 1927ish. My mother is the little girl.

I've been doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that lately, at the temperatures soared and I prepare for my father in law to return home after his stroke.

In June, I start my online course at Arthasbasca, Heritage Studies, intro to Heritage, and the readings have been interesting. I'm also listening to Nana on the Internet. And to a series about the Invention of Childhood on BBC radio seven, which is a repeat from a few years ago.

Michael Morpurgo, a children's author wrote this series and it is interesting, indeed, it's essential listening (or reading) if one is to gain perspective on our own 'family values' whatever they may be. It is unlikely that they spun out of limbo - or that anything about them is original.

In the episode I just listened to, it is explained how as men left home to work raising family became a female thing and motherhood was elevated to idealized status, except that too much "mother" was deemed no good for boys past 5 so Public schools were invented to fill the gap. Masculinity was then defined, and holding in emotions and being good at sport was the measure of manhood.

Well, as I wrote in my story Looking for Mrs. Peel, my father was public school educated, at St. Bees in Durham. He was a special case (or sorts) as he was born in Malaya to colonials and sent away at 5 to England where he didn't even see his parents at vacation time. My father told me this story: at school, where he did excell at sports and was captain of all the teams, another boy came up to him in admiration and said, "I wish I were you." He thought this odd, as he was MISERABLE.

Mothers didn't like to do this, apparently, send their sons away, but they did it anyway, because, it seems, we tend to throw our instincts out the window when socializing our kids. We do what society says. (I guess it is safer this way.)

In the case of (and I am writing a book on this blog called Flo in the City based on the letters on the website from 1910 era) we're talking Scots here, Isle of Lewis Scots. Education was important to them, but public schools (which is to say private schools) were out of the question for their only son, Herb. It didn't really matter as the public school in Richmond, St. Francis Academy, was open to girls and boys and was a fine institution, one of the best, which had been affiliated with McGill university up until 1900.

My mother, at top, attended College Marguerite Bourgeoys, a private school set up to give classical educations to the female children of rich French Canadians. She also attended Sacred Heart. She was sent away to school, as well, if only to Pine Avenue from Sherbrooke Street West. She said her father often visited her, but her mother never. She had to talk on the phone to her.

My mother's education was aimed at making her the wife of a rich man, so she did not have the coping skills to be middle class. She had no idea how to save money. But her excellent education helped when she had to go to work, as a bilingual legal secretary.