"Schoolchildren Compare Me to a Goblin"
Letters to the Readership of the Pedestrian
The following letter was received from a reader of the Pedestrian, and asks the readership for advice on a personal and professional matter. I would encourage the reader, if he is of charitable spirit, to leave Mr. Dingle any advice he think proper in the comments below.
I recently left my eighteen year-long career as an accountant to become a teacher of Economics. Having become somewhat stagnant in my position, I was desirous of young minds who might rejuvenate my passion for the subject, shaking out the dusty old ideas and replacing them with innovative new ones.
I was also motivated by a kind of vengeance against my own experience at school. So painful are the memories of my own grammar school education, where I was fed the facts and theories by which I would later exercise my profession, that I was determined to practise a new type of education — one that would put the child at the centre of learning; that is: the education that I would have wanted for myself.
To this purpose I decided to seek employment at a modern Academy school, which I swiftly found, and where my proposal of a new, experimental approach to learning was not only accepted, but thoroughly encouraged, and where I was given free reign to experiment on the class of forty adolescents which were placed under my care.
“Very little has worked for these students, Mr. Dingle,” the director told me. “They have gone through a half a dozen teachers. But I think you may be the first to inspire them.”
With this, he led me into the classroom, and closed the door behind him.
And so I went about laying the foundation of my method. I explained to the children that there would be no right or wrong answers in my class, that there were no right or wrong answers in economics in general, and that they would be graded not on their ability to digest and regurgitate facts and numbers, but on their ingenuity. They should think of me, not as their teacher per se, but as a facilitator of learning.
“Yes, Mr. Gringotts,” said one boy, and I was about to politely correct him when the whole class — for reasons to which I was then ignorant — burst into laughter.
I re-established that my name was Mr. Dingle, or, if they liked, just “Alan”, and that I was quite happy to be referred to as either the one or the other.
“Whatever you say, Mr. Gringotts.”
A different boy this time, and another round of laughter, no less raucous than the last, and no less mysterious to me.
I should mention here my frame and general appearance should any of what follows make any sense to you. I am a short-ish man, though not excessively so, standing at a respectable five-foot two; I am slightly balding, but have coiffed what hair I have conserved around my dome in a handsome, flowing wreath; upon my nose sits a pince-nez — my deceased grandfather’s — which I have fitted with my own prescription, as modern glasses molest the dry skin behind my ears; my gait is slightly hobbled from an accident I had as a young boy, when I was hit by a speeding milk float driven by my uncle.
Strange as it seems to give so detailed an account of my plain appearance, and painful as it is to recount the origin of my limp, I fear that all of these factors have contributed to my unfortunate appellation of “Mr. Gringotts”.
You may or may not be aware (I was not until later) that Gringotts is the name of a bank in the “Harry Potter” fantasy franchise - a bank which is run by a vile-looking race of creatures called goblins, who are the sole operators of said bank. I fear that some aspects of my appearance (above mentioned), grossly exaggerated in the child’s eye — which holds more imagination and creativity than you or I could imagine — may render my appearance comparable to that of these monsters, and make my nickname seem, to them, appropriate.
I would not seek your readership’s advice if I did not fear that this harmless name might interfere with my pedagogy, growing as the image has so present in my students' febrile imagination that they are unable to discover the joys of economics. Invariably, when I present them with, for example, an outline of hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic, and ask them how they would have solved the situation, or when I ask them to make a list (in coloured pen to make it more fun) of what, in their opinion, John Maynard Keynes got right and wrong, they are liable to flap their hands wildly in my face, and to make roaring sounds, in apparent imitation of some treasure-hoarding dragon which occupies my imaginary bank, or either distract themselves in the counting of their lunch money on my desk, eyeing the coins with exaggerated avarice, cooing within my earshot: “Now this is a pretty piece!”.
I have in my more intemperate moments met this behaviour with anger, privately cursing the children for squandering the creative and academic freedom which I have offered them, and for failing to apprehend the good luck they have had in being under the tutelage of a teacher who has attempted to liberate them from traditional education.
Here I check myself, reminding myself that these children only treat me so ill because of the damage which traditional learning has already done them; that they are — innately — good; that it is precisely my methodology which, given time, might release them from this mental prison. I have doubled my efforts, hoping that perhaps one day they will thank me, saying “You were all right, Mr. Dingle. You got it. You were sound.”
But I fear that before this day comes I will be driven from the profession, and never see the fruit of my labour. Worse: I fear that I will, out of exhaustion, become the sort of tyrant that educated me, force-feeding facts, testing and repeating. I appeal now to your readership, many of whom I know feel themselves so maligned by their own education, to advise a man trying to do his damned best by these poor children.
— Alan Dingle
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