One of the ghosts I needed to lay to rest was my own memories of school. I was born in Kenya and I can only think of my early schooling as terribly unhappy (although I'm sure they weren't - after all my best friend from those days, is still one of my oldest and dearest friends). Maybe it was the system of education which had only one end in mind: To equip the students to pass the 11+ examination to permit them to go on to schooling in England.
I was doomed to boarding school in England (although a steady diet of Enid Blyton did rather lend a rosy glow to this prospect), only seeing my parents for the long summer holidays. Then fate rolled the dice and my parents decided to go in the opposite direction and moved us to Australia and I discovered school was not a place of terror. It could be fun! I attended a wonderful girls' school in Melbourne from Grade 5 to Year 12 and I am happy to report that apart from being a complete failure in the Maths department, my later school memories are only happy ones.
So what made my early schooling in Kenya so miserable? Corporal punishment for starters - one teacher had a cream and blue painted ruler with which she would strike the errant pupil over the knuckles. I remember teachers who were bullies, inedible school lunches... Ah! Do you think I might have used THE GOLDMINER'S SISTER to exorcise some of my ghosts? Although quite why Eliza has a passion for calculus is yet to be explained!
Thankfully, as grey as my own memories are, at least I didn't go to school in the nineteenth century (think Jane Eyre's Lowood School). I'm not sure when Eliza Penrose told me she was a schoolmistress but once we had settled on her occupation I realised I needed to do some work!
So I took myself off to Sovereign Hill... a living goldfields museum in Ballarat where there are a number of different types of schools set up, complete with teachers and, if it is a school day, pupils. It is a popular outing for schools and the kids get dressed up in clothes of the day. What struck me watching several sessions in progress, how the children fell into the role playing. No talking in class, no cheeking the teacher. They basically did what they were told. Of course the presence of a long birch cane in the teacher's hand was probably a psychological deterrent.
Armed with the visual knowledge of schools on goldfields I returned home, only to find that in 1873 (the year THE GOLDMINER'S SISTER is set), the entire system of education in Victoria changed. The 1872 Education Act established a proper Education Department, removed funding from non government schools and effectively established a secular, compulsory education "For the first time in this colony, the young will now have an opportunity of acquiring the rudiments of education unmixed with the leaven of sectarianism, and every child, no matter what its parents' circumstances may be, will receive at the hands of the state that key which, rightly used, unlocks whole stores of knowledge, from whose ample treasures the patient and industrious may freely help themselves. If due effect be given to the compulsory clauses, none will grow up in that gross ignorance which is such a fruitful mother of crime, which fills our gaols, and yearly robs honest industry of a large portion of its reward." (The Argus December 1872).
Into the bin went all my notes on education on the goldfields, but what I did have was the 1872 Act and its regulations which gave me the entire structure of the education system, from the classification and licensing of teachers (including the assistant 'pupil' teachers which were older children, paid to assist in the classroom with the younger children), the establishment of the local Boards of Advice, pay scales and... pure gold... the curriculum and yes it did include Military Drills so beloved of Flora Donald.
And on the subject of Flora Donald... the tawse. This peculiarly Scottish modification of a belt or a cane sounds absolutely dreadful. Made of heavy leather split into two at one end, it must have instilled terror into a schoolroom. In this BBC article "The Lochgelly Tawse was made by cutting 2ft long strips of leather from pre-tanned and pre-curried hides. The leather would then be dressed and cut halfway up the middle to form the tails. The particular design of the tails provided the searing nip when it struck the student's hand. However, the Lochgelly method was preferable in that the tails were "edged" in order to prevent drawing blood." It was still being used right up until the late 1980s. It makes my teacher's blue and cream ruler look tame, but I can still remember the terror of anticipation as she raised her hand to strike.
So what are your memories of school days...?