Grrr. Why did it take me 15 minutes to check my email on the “high speed internet” this morning? I want my gratification instantly, damn it!
Back when I was in grade 7, I attended Earl Grey Sr. Public School in Toronto, land of bullies, miscreants, an ill-placed doughnut factory next door, and an odd assortment of bizarre students and teachers. This was back in 1979, ancient history for some of the people reading this, I know.
The place was so unkempt and anti-intellectual that I cherish a particular memory. This was back in the days when Pink Floyd ruled the airwaves, and Another Brick In The Wall was every pre-teen’s anthem. I was tickled pink (pun intended) to find one day spray-painted across the wall of one of the teaching portables:
“We don’t need no euduction” [sic]
I wish I’d taken a photo.
There were two teachers in particular that I will discuss today. They were both named “Jewell”. She was a delicate Australian music teacher and her husband was a gruff, old-fashioned two-fisted beast of a man who taught Gym, Science, English and History –because in Ontario, all those subjects are pretty much interchangeable. Back in my day, the school was so unruly and dominated by bullies and thugs that the more idiotic students would terrorize classmates and teachers alike, spitting in teachers’ coffee and throwing desks at the black board. Really.
The delicate music teacher, bless her heart, tried to ply us with relevance, teaching us the intricacies of the music of the day (Kiss, David Bowie, Led Zepelin, etc.) For her efforts, she was oft rewarded with, you guessed it, boogers in her coffee and desks aimed at her head. That’s when she would call down to one of the portables, from whence her manly husband would charge into the music room, howling thunderous terror to any and all in his path.
One day, Mrs Jewell foolishly tried to teach us a medieval English folk song from the 13trh century. It was called “Summer Is A-Comin’ In“, and you can hear a 1928 recording of it here. The lyrics, as you can read here, include the line, “Groweth seed and Bloweth mead.”
That’s right. She let a bunch of 12 year old thugs sing the line, “Bloweth mead”. Not one of her brightest moments.
But I was reminded of one of her shining moments last night during a long drive from Ottawa to Toronto, during which I was listening to a Neil Young marathon. Mrs. Jewell was the one who introduced us to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, Ohio, which was about the Kent State shootings of 1970. The song has never left my head since hearing it that first time in her class in 1979. And with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how groundbreaking, courageous and valuable Mrs. Jewell’s educational approach was: the Kent State shootings were only 9 years old when we learned of them –not in history class, but in music class– and the power of contemporary art to reflect the relevant happenings of the day was demonstrated to us in a very real, poignant fashion.
I have described Mr Jewell as a gruff fellow. That’s not fair. I really enjoyed his teaching style. In a school of thugs, it was nice to look forward to a class that was guaranteed to be in control, as his were. He publicly encouraged my love for science fiction, which is no small thing. He also made the mistake of once announcing to the class that everyone should be more well-behaved like me, embarrassing me to no end. Thus, it was my duty to act up in that particular class, earning me an exile into the hallway. Dude, I was on your side; no need to brand me as uncool!
I hear rumours that Mr Jewell has since passed on. I don’t know if that is true. I have no idea whatever happened to Mrs Jewell, or indeed if in this age of transient marriages if she even remained Mrs Jewell. It is sad, though, that it has taken be almost 3 decades to full appreciate the very subtle value of her courageous music classes.