Saturday, June 21, 2014

Why I love the UK Part II

It is always interesting to step into another culture (not all of them however), to see if you can adjust, learn something, and be able to look back with good memories.

The biggest challenge for me was to teach in a system in which I did not grow up.  Sometime I will go into the teaching experience itself, but first. . .

Winchester College--I always wanted to see what the public schools were like in England, Eaton, Harrow and Winchester are the top three, and as the headmaster said while he showed me around, "Mrs., R., when one goes to Winchester College, his future is assured."  

One sunny Saturday morning, I walked to Winchester College, where I had been given an invitation to "observe," thanks to my professors at King Alfred's college where I had been staying as a student teacher. 

Winchester College was created by William of Wykehan, Bishop of Winchester in 1323.  "Amazing" I thought, as I stepped through the gate and was greeted by the headmaster. What follows is from my handwritten journal entry of that day as I was taken to the classroom, introduced to the teacher, while taking in the historic atmosphere all around.  

Saturday, 7th of November.

The class, a British history class, taught by a Mr. Peter Roberts, was a delight.  Fifteen eager, intelligent, 13-year-old boys, (two were scholars and wore their black robes, the others wore jackets and ties) studying history in a creative and independent way using primary sources to write short research papers and write speeches.  The speeches were the best part for me, as I was able to watch these future M.P's (?) give their presentations: "You are a native tribal chieftain in Britain during the Roman occupation--argue against the occupation."  Argue they did with logic and much passion.  Fellow "chieftains" questioned the speaker after each speech.

Mr. Roberts asked two of the boys to show me their notebooks which they did as they courteously explained their work.

Additional note:  Roberts is also this class's religion teacher.  An assignment that left the class thinking about if they should have any spare time was: " How do you find Joseph a human character?"

Yes, I understand that what I saw was an elitist system, boys only, at that time.  And very expensive for the parents, except for the scholarship boys who had their education paid for by the college.  And add the class system in the UK. But I am appalled by our congressmen sometimes at their inability to argue coherently, to speak with clarity, to be persuasive without name-calling.  Not just our congressmen, by the way.  And of course this post could lead into our educational system here in this country, politics, political correctness, etc.  But I wanted to share this memory I had of a special time in my life.  If you connect to the website, you can read the College's history and especially the religious foundation it had and why.

And again, thank you to my husband who made my experience in the United Kingdom possible.


  1. "Learning from an other culture shows that one is open minded and has magnanimity at the same time" these were the words of our gardener, who always told us that we should not limit ourselves to only our communities. By appreciating British culture you have learned a lot and enriched others as well.
    We learned a lot in England during the two years we lived there.

    1. I only stayed in Winchester for three months, not really enough time to see everything as I was teaching as well and trying to do the very best I could in the classes. How many years would it take to really understand a culture? Not three months, but I was appreciative of the time I had.there. Did you ever write a series of posts about your time there, Munir?

  2. Unfortunately not all the politicians in England are educated at Eton, Harrow or Winchester and I am sure if you attended a session in the Houses of Parliament you would see that clearly demonstrated. As a product of both private schools and government schools, I got to see both sides and despite being elitist (maybe) they taught me more in a private school than I ever learned being shoved in with a gaggle of between 20 and 30 other girls with teachers who hadn't time to get to know us let alone ensure we were absorbing the lesson being taught.

  3. I am a believer in the public schools here, the idea of them, but now there are so many problems. Public meaning open to all. And what is interesting now, is that if parents have enough money here in the US they send their children to private school, many times with a religious base (Catholic). And so many kids don't value education and neither do their parents. Parents do not support the teachers so the discipline problems are always there. I think we live in turbulent times. And I do understand that not everyone in politics is educated in Public Schools in the UK. I just remember, as a fledgling teacher from the US, and someone who always loved school, I enjoyed seeing the little glimpse I had of a Public School in the UK.

  4. That's a very interesting, yet revealing, look at a single aspect of the UK. I think one can build a better picture by focusing on specific individual elements as you have done here. Those schools are just as important and influential today as they were then. Part III please!
    CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

  5. All I need is a little encouragement, Bazza. So, I will share a few of my stories and impressions. Thank you!

  6. Quite an interesting post. I'm not educated on schools in the UK, but I do know students of both public and private in the US. I can't put either in a certain class, because if I do, some unique student is going to come along and shatter my beliefs anyway. :-)

  7. I think part of the success of the public school system in the U.K. is that there are much smaller sizes of pupils taught in each class than in state schools. Whenever, I have had the opportunity to teach just half of my U.K. primary state school class (15 pupils rather than my normal 30) the amount of work we can get through and the higher levels of discussions we have seem to come naturally from having more time spent directly with the teacher even though I have a mix of abilities and certainly children from the very poorest of backgrounds.

  8. Hi Nat - sorry I'm way behind .. fascinating that you had so many positives, which stand out in the excerpt you've given us. I was educated in a private (public here) school .. but have no idea about how to argue and develop those ideas passionately ... perhaps I question more now than I used to - yes I definitely do that!

    Yes - please give us more .. and you were lucky your hubby supported your time over here - to experience another part of the world, though I understand you've known a few ...

    My grandfather on my mother's side went to Winchester ... sadly he died in 1922 in a motorbike accident - reminds me of TE Lawrence ...

    It's remembering that we pay for public schools here, and don't pay for Government ones ...

    Cheers and great post - loved reading about your time here ... Hilary

  9. What is best? A democratic system or a private one? In some way, a student has to feel that his school is special and he/she is proud to go there. This can happen in both schools.

  10. Hi Nat - to add a note .. but first answer your 'What is Best' .. I think it depends on the child, the parents and their encouragement, the school and the teachers -- plenty of people have come out of our government system and there are scholarships ... it's being recognised and then taking the opportunities that are offered to that child ...

    Sometimes they go off the rails - the gang/bully culture that abounds today - then they realise their error of judgement and cross back over the line - and often move into that area of work and social development ... to help others being dragged into crime or drugs ...

    I happened to pick up Roald Dahl's book "Boy" ... he wrote about his childhood - "Funny, irreverent and sometimes sad, the story of early lie of one of our most successful writers" ... I related to some of it - even though I was at a girls' school and it had daygirls as the school was in Oxford ...

    It's a quick read ... and relative to your post here ... perhaps deserves a 2nd read ...

    I'm way behind once again ... cheers and enjoy that break ... Hilary

  11. A mixture of both .. some educate their kids to 16 and then take them out and send them to a local school ... and as you say it can happen at both .. good teachers, good school and also a good student and thus parents ... all backing each other up ...

    Also out of school mentors help - other projects ...

    Cheers Hilary