The Non-Eating of Beetroot as a Political Act

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I ask the questions of myself, fully aware that memory plays tricks on us, and that reality is changed by events before and after, so that an incident fits more readily with our self image……
I embroider both figuratively and literally.

Was I always subversive?
Did I always challenge authority?
I like to think so, so perhaps I remember the scenes from my past that reinforce this, rather than the scenes which show me conforming and being “a good girl”?
I have also perhaps, come to see subversion as a positive, not a negative.
Maybe that’s why, as a teacher of sorts, that line of “naughty boys” (usually boys) outside the head teacher’s office was often comprised of my favourite characters.
Self image comes into this too. I don’t think I’m a very feminine woman if there is a spectrum of such things? I think I’m down the boys’ end of the line. I have brothers and I have sons, and I spend most of my social time with men rather than women. I think many of my personality traits are quite masculine. I think the expectations of girls to behave in a certain demure way, means that much of my behaviour would have either been ignored or even lauded if I was a boy.
I think I was often a naughty girl… At least I didn’t just do things because I was told to. I was contrary and stubborn. And I remember (or do I?) those words being used often. Maybe I should ask my brother?
There was an incident early in my school life, I think I was about 5 or 6 when a teacher slapped my legs because I wouldn’t eat beetroot. The slaps were so hard, the handprints were still on my legs when my mum met me off the school bus. Had such an expression existed fifty years ago, I would have described her reaction as “going ape-shit”. Stern words were had. The power hierarchy in my head shifted. I had power. My mum had power. Teachers are afforded power and respect, but they must handle it carefully, and with equal respect to those who give it to them.

This teacher crops up in my memories on several occasions. I remember her looking at me and almost snarling at me if I said anything out of place. I can remember smiling at her, knowing she had to be careful where I was concerned. (Mwah hahaaa!)
There was another incident, at this small catholic school, in which the same teacher had whispered menacingly in my ear that every time I sinned, a black mark was made on my soul, and that my soul would be like a lump of coal if I didn’t behave. A very visual image for an imaginative eight year old… Forward-wind a couple of years to the visit by the archbishop or some such dignitary, questioning the children about their sins and confession and contrition… I told him the lump of coal story… He looked horrified, and the dramatic, embroidering part of me imagines a group sharp intake of breath as he asked “who told you that my dear?” And I turned on my heels, arm outstretched, chin in the air, and pointed at that teacher…. Come-uppance!

I think, had I managed to stay in my job, and not resigned, I would certainly by now have been sacked for constant disobedience of a set of stupid pointless rules. The incoming headteacher did not approve of my mode of dress. Converse shoes, and flowery trousers and baggy t shirts were not the thing to be wearing in the new regime. Suits. Court shoes with heels were bound to be insisted upon, I could feel it coming.
I am made aware, through a facebook conversation, that many teachers, including art teachers are now expected to wear “business attire”. Business Attire. Think about those two words for a while.

Education is not a business.
Art cannot be done effectively (by that I mean using a broad range of methods and materials and techniques) in a business suit. Or a tie. It isn’t safe, it doesn’t make economic sense, and it isn’t right. You can’t do P.E. in a suit either.

Part of being a teacher is modelling behaviour. But this isn’t just about wearing the correct uniform in the right way, it is also about being appropriate, and also about modelling how to be an independent free thinking, responsible adult. Some rules are for safety, some rules are for the smooth running of society, for the benefit and safety of the majority. Some rules are there to exert power and establish a hierarchy. These are the ones to be challenged. These are the rules we should be teaching our children to challenge, not just accept blindly because someone on a higher salary with more expensive clothes says so. Ask why. Keep asking why, or why not, and if there isn’t a satisfactory answer. Do what you think is right.

My consistent non-eating of beetroot is now a political act, not just a taste issue.
My gradual abandonment of the Catholic Church has its roots in that black coal moment.
My problems with the current education system is to do with the new order. Uniform should be subverted, shirts hoiked up, blazer sleeves rolled, ties undone and stripped of coloured thread that identifies your house, socks should be odd, pink and stripy, hair can be orange. Have a uniform by all means, but turn a blind eye to its subversion, until it becomes a different sort of problem. Or just get rid of the uniform. It isn’t important. Kindness is important, thinking about others is important, generosity, humour, love and creativity… Fuck the uniform, (for pupils or staff) the shiny shoes, the right tie, the regimental lining up, the formulaic planning, one-size fits no-one…..
We should be teaching our children about the important rules, and how to identify them, we should be teaching them to look after each other. Rules should not keep children in Calais sleeping rough without their parents, rules should be enabling them to be returned without question to their families or the closest thing to family that can be found for them. Right now.
Growing a generation of children that wear the uniform properly and follow blindly can only result in global disaster.

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