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Friday, 16 March 2018

Measured Words

Check twice before you write it down.

The recent (March 14th 2018) death of Stephen Hawking led me to thinking about intelligence and definitions of “smart”.  It’s very confusing to me.  

It was mentioned in the news clips that he was not particularly outstanding as far as school grades. Then there are the words ascribed to a Munich schoolmaster in 1895:  “He will never amount to anything.” Obviously that educator must have had many opportunities to eat those words because he definitely failed to spot the potential in a young Albert Einstein. 

Most educators are wonderful dedicated people but then there are those who need a new prescription for their eyeglasses.  Charlotte Bronte’s teacher might have gained from a pair of insightful (pun intended) spectacles when she opined that Charlotte wrote “indifferently” and “knew nothing of grammar”.

Generally, these scholarly pontificators pass through history unnamed, but not a Mr. Gaddum of Eton.  He is credited with saying in a withering 1949 end-of-term report for John Gurdon “It would be a sheer waste of time for Gurdon to pursue a career in science. He wouldn’t listen, couldn’t learn simple biological facts and, horror of horrors he insisted on doing work in his own way.  In one test, Gurdon scored a miserable two out of 50”.  Amazingly he said this about a guy who was eventually knighted and received a Nobel Prize for his work in “cloning”!

These instances are freely available courtesy of Mr. Google.  But what about the rest of us as we live our lives of Mr. Thoreau’s “quiet desperation”?  What if our young foreheads were stamped with a large “L”?  Personally, I was very lucky to have had encouraging and enthusiastic teachers but one member of our little Covey was not quite as fortunate.

LB struggled with learning, he struggled with reading.  The methods used by the educators of the time did not help.  Constant berating, belittling and put downs by the teachers did not foster a love of or desire for learning.   Nevertheless, LB is and always has been a large character. He has always known what he wanted and how to get it.  As a child he knew he didn’t want to go to school and he had a million ways to achieve that end. A stomach ache was a good starter, but any number of symptoms could be produced when called for: headaches, nausea, tears, were only a small portion of his repertoire.  So, keeping that in mind, perhaps when I tell you this next story you will be kind and find room to forgive the part I played.

Relying on my memory I’d say it was the early 1950s.  LB was about 12 years of age.  I was a very young married woman no longer living with my Covey, but still involved with all the happenings there.  The latest happening was that LB had developed an entirely new and strange set of symptoms: he now complained of lumps and pain in all the joints of his body. 

Amazing!  What would he do next to avoid going to school?  Obviously the old complaints were not working so he’d moved up the ante.

So, you may ask why not let him rest, let him stay home.  Well, you see it wasn’t that easy. Dad worked, Mum worked, LS and LLB had to go to school and I lived elsewhere.  For him to be home and in bed was extremely inconvenient.   My completely unwanted and unasked for advice was to ignore him and make him go to school.

I can happily report that eventually, probably when he developed an extremely high fever, my advice was not taken and he was taken to a hospital where his symptoms:  small, painless nodules under the skin - chest pain - rapid fluttering or pounding chest palpitations - lethargy or fatigue – nosebleeds - stomach pain - painful or sore joints in the wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles - pain in one joint that moves to another joint, were discovered to be rheumatic fever.

This led to an extremely long London hospital and seaside convalescent stay where our would-be-school-truant finally recovered.

The story now jumps forward many, many years and many, many miles to our home in Canada.

It’s pretty obvious by this time that LB has recovered completely and is very healthy and strong, so much so that he has started his own construction business.  Of course like his father he is a renaissance man so he can do anything.  He trained as a baker in England, so he can bake.  However, no one taught him to make fireworks, or how sew himself a suit of clothing, or how to make beautiful guitars or do the million and one things he discovers every day.  He is so smart that if he wanted to fly to the moon I’m sure he would find a way to do it!

I remember a time when computers were just starting to be talked about.  Not bought, just talked about.  I remember my Ex asking “What good are they?  You can’t do anything with them!”  And he was right.  Very little could be done with the first computers that came on the market.  But, if you were LB and have a genuine enquiring mind they were something that needed investigating – so he bought one.  And I for one am glad he did because his purchase affected my later and retirement years.

Eventually, LB moved on from that very primitive beginning computer. He purchased and then taught himself how to use and how to construct computers.  He really was becoming an expert.  All this knowledge was very useful in outfitting the private school that his wife and he owned; it was one of the earliest local schools to make a computer available in every class.

Meantime, I was finally fulfilling my dream of university study and in order to complete assignments decided to purchase the latest computer dummy’s choice: a Macintosh 128k computer.  It couldn’t store anything – storage was done on a 720k disk.

I never really learnt anything with that computer.  My computer education took place after I took LB’s advice and purchased a “clone”.  Clones were the only alternative to an IBM or Apple.  They were the forerunners of today’s Windows O.S. Computers.  My education with computers took place with the student that his teachers said would never be able to achieve anything in life.  How wrong they were!

Sitting by his side I learnt the intricacies of DOS at a time when there was only a very archaic internet. There was no Google, no YouTube, and no Facebook.  There was no colour and no images.  There was just my teacher LB and a huge book on DOS that he was reading. 

Typical Black and White DOS screen at the time
With the knowledge background I obtained I managed to earn a few dollars in my later years teaching others how to use computers. And now, in my late, late years I keep my grey cells alive as I design in Photoshop or write this blog. Of course every now and then I need to refer back to the person whose final report card from Mr. Woods the headmaster of Tennyson Street School said: “This boy will never amount to anything, He will be a labourer all his life.”

Oh Mr. Woods, I wish you were alive to read this now.

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