I remember my education being quite boring.
It started with my preschool year. I was 5 years old and sent off to a school where the class size was approximately 30 little kids.
As I was already able to read and write and was now made to cut and paste, do very simple embroidery and play in the dolls’ corner with no access to books or anything remotely educational. I hated every minute of it.
One of my strongest memories involved having to put your head on your desk and “sleep” for one whole hour so the teachers could have their lunch or whatever. Even now at the age of 64, I find sleeping during the day impossible. My mind barely lets me sleep at night let alone in daylight. So you can imagine for my 5-year-old energetic self it was an impossibility and it felt like torture. One day when the teacher had to reprimand me once more to sit still and “sleep”‘, they, while I was dutifully putting my head on the table with my eyes closed, thought it was hilarious to secretly tie the bowstrings of my dress to the back of the chair. When they finally gave the go-ahead for us to get up I couldn’t, being hampered by the chair, while they were screeching with laughter. Being a very proud child I was mortified.
The only good thing that came out of that was, that when I told my dad about it ,he took me from that hell hole and I could spend the rest of the year before primary education reading and making my elder brother’s home work with him. This first introduction to institutionalized learning did put me off going to school for a long time. But luckily not off learning new things.
The next phase was a primary school. Still living in Curaçao I was starting school in a class with mainly local children many of whom had never spoken Dutch before they came to school. So you can imagine how fast that was going. When I complained to my dad, who did not believe in putting me a year forward as I was a tiny little thing already with my birthday at the end of the school year, he asked the teacher to put me in the back row with a pile of books so she would not be bothered by me, And so she did.
Being precocious and already having a best friend at home, who was attending another school, I never made any real friends. But somehow that never did bother me.
The first three years our teachers were quite nice ladies. But my last three years I had male teachers who except for the one I had in year 4 were all psycho’s if you ask me. In fifth grade, we had a very cranky guy with a very short fuse. As this was the sixties and Curaçao being rather backwards he felt it his duty to use corporal punishment at the slightest disobedience. I think he was one of those strict Christians who do not believe in sparing the rod when it comes to raising children.
Once one of my fellow pupils refused to leave the classroom feeling he was being treated unfairly. The teacher went completely ballistic, kicked him of his chair and kicked him some more out of the classroom. We were all frozen in terror. When I told my dad about this little episode he made me promise that if I would ever be in that situation I would immediately leave the school and come home. He, being a teacher himself, always felt you let yourself down as an adult when you physically hurt a child. A shame he never could convince my mum of this. Remember the carpet beater?
During that year I kept my head down and came through that year without any damage.
The last year of Primary school though was a completely other story. Our teacher was Headmaster as well as a teacher of form 6 and was already advanced in years. We all knew he loved to whack children on the head or lash out with his ruler. He used to creep up on you from behind if you were not paying attention and suddenly hit you on the side of your head so your ears were ringing.
One time he did the same to me as I was chatting with my neighbour while he was standing in the back of the class reading some story. Remembering my father’s advice I took my school bag with my stuff and went for the door. I can still remember him shouting:’If you leave through that door you will never come back in!!”, foaming around the mouth. I left anyway and got myself home. My father went to have a little talk with him and the week after I was allowed back in class. Knowing my dad he threatened to do to him some serious harm if he ever touched me again. My dad was not exactly known for diplomacy. I got that from him.
Sometime after, apparently not having learnt his lesson, he was sneaking up on another pupil, a local boy, who did not have the benefit of a violent dad and the disadvantage of not being the right colour and was going to give him the usual wallop on the side of his head. But this boy, frightened as he was, held up his metal dip pen and it went completely into the hand of our teacher. You could hear a pin drop in class while we were waiting for the fury to unleash on this poor chap. And it did.
My last school report with this teacher was the best of the class but he still put in his comment that I was all ready to go to the MMS which equals going to a poli-technic to become a housewife or secretary. I don’t need to tell you my dad did not follow that advice.
Much much later I heard that teacher died of a very nasty cancer and you know I sort of thought: “There is some divine justice after all.”
So as you can see still no real incentive for me to start to like going to school.
Looking at the school picture above instantly some strange memories pop up. One of those little guys in it used to put a small mirror on the top of his shoe to look under girls skirts!
On the second row from below, third from the left sits our brave dip pen guy. I hope he went and had a great life.
On the first row third from the left sits a boy called Tonnie, who with his brother we always referred to as Joshie and Tonnie, sons of the redoubtable tante Gladys. They lived quite close to us and we loved to spend time at their house as they had a donkey we were allowed to ride. Sometimes my brother and I were allowed a sleepover. Which though it was a feast was a bit scary too. Tante Gladys when she was fed up with us not going to sleep but fooling around would storm into our bedroom with her belt and walloped us without discerning between her own brood or their guests.
But the donkey made it worth it.
They say the older you get the clearer the old memories get and the hazier what you did an hour ago. It is true.
So next came my Secondary school years which in my case were split between three years at the Gymnasium in Curaçao and three in the Netherlands in ‘s Hertogenbosch. Which for a teenager isn’t easy as you make your friends usually at the beginning of this period. When I had to restart socializing in the Netherlands it was a bit of a disaster. Can barely remember the girls of the class of those last three years.
After living in boredom mixed with terror during the first years of my education, the secondary school came as a very pleasant surprise. We were finally learning interesting things that I had not heard of before. Especially Maths was an amazing subject for me in those years.
I still was reading voraciously so homework was never my strong suit and it resulted in me finishing high school with rather poor marks.
Besides my first job application, no one has ever inquired about them so I feel I chose the right way in learning through reading copious amounts of books instead of wasting it on learning by rote for school.
My first three years were in a school called piously Maria Immaculata and was run by nuns. As their head Convent was in France some of the Soeurs were of French extraction and made us start every school day reciting the Hail Mary in French after we had all cleaned our desks from the soot of the neighbouring Oil refinery. No Health and Safety in those days.
The nuns also insisted after we got a male Gym teacher hallelujah, that we wore a rather strange kind of breeches with a short skirt over it during our physical education lessons. All in the school’s dreary aubergine tartan material. And all those layers in 40-degree centigrade in the shade. Just in case the teacher would get naughty thought of seeing the shape of our crotch.
The second-year we got secular management and were allowed to wear our own clothes but still NO trousers for the girls in school.
I can proudly say I was one of the organizers of our protest march to school all dressed in trousers. We were duly all expelled and called the newspaper- we only had one- who reported on the event and helped us stop the discrimination between the boys, now allowed in, and us girls.
It was probably one of the few times I actually enjoyed going to school. Being a cynic and a rebel did not make those years easy on my poor teachers. Though I think a sense of humour would have helped them a long way. For example, once our Dutch language teacher who thought himself a great actor was reading a long and dreary poem to us in a very theatrical over the top way. I suddenly took my handkerchief out of my bag ( we all still had those on our person) and threw my face in it making loud sobbing sounds. “Lowik what is wrong with you? “he said, impatient to get back to his Oscar-winning performance. “Sir “, I sobbed semi overwhelmed by emotions, ” I am so touched. I can’t help myself”. The whole class was roaring with laughter, but I was immediately sent to the Headmaster for ridiculing Art with a capital A. The Headmaster, after it was my turn to go in, could not understand what the fuss was all about as you would have to have been there to feel how funny it had been. I came off lightly that time.
Do children still have to sit lined up in front of a Headmaster’s office waiting for a green light to go on to go in? In my school, we actually had three colours. Red was busy, Orange was getting your story ready and Green was entering.
In the Netherlands school life was far more liberal and relaxed and I spent most of those three years catching up with the one year I was behind and pining after my latest crush, be it a boy from the boy’s wing of our school – we had segregation- or a teacher who that year caught my fancy. Homework was still not much of a priority. But thanks to some great teachers and a headmistress with a sense of humour I had a good time and still learned a lot of things that were actually useful in later life.
After all that education, I went for one year to University studying Tropical agriculture- I wanted to turn the deserts green again. I flunked most of my subjects and my dad then sent me to my next educational challenge: becoming a Radiographer. More about that later.
This is me looking very fashionable on a visit with my student group to Das Deutsches Röntgen-Museum in Germany, obligatory for all Radiographer students.