Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Mícheál Franklin

Thu 12th Mar 09

I can read Irish with the help of a dictionary, but I can barely speak it. By barely, I mean “with béarlachas”—like English, disregarding gender agreement, inflection, and idiom. This is apparently acceptable behaviour now, but in my youth it was a sin of such magnitude that it rendered our generation mute in this country’s first official language. It is the classic trap of the shibboleth; we know that our first uttered syllable will betray the fact that Irish was not our mother tongue, and rather than stumble hopefully, we refuse to reveal that innocent fact. That is, we refuse to reveal it in Irish, preferring to reveal it in English. A similar reserve may explain the confessed inability of Spaniards to speak Portuguese (though they can surely get the gist) and of Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians to speak each other’s languages, however synoptic those may appear to us.

“Is fearr Gaeilge briste ná Béarla cliste” our teacher Mícheál Franklin used to say:  broken Irish is better than clever English. That only made it worse—the nationalism that demanded we cut ourselves off from our roots.

Mr Franklin had a fearsome aspect. I don’t know whether all secondary teachers still have nicknames, but they did in Mountjoy School in the sixties, and he was always known to us as Puck. His features were puckish: sharp nose and beady eyes. His job was the most unenviable I could imagine, dragging reluctant pupils through a subject they had a great desire not to learn. Having learned it, I found plenty of reason to delight in it, such as having the ability to pronounce and understand place names; but Irish being a compulsory study annulled all other values at the time.

A curious thing happened at the end of my time in the Joy. The school had a creative method for getting the most out of the state exam, the Leaving Certificate: instead of taking two years over it, we sat it at the end of fifth year, receiving not a full Leaving Certificate but a Special Certificate which was acceptable for university entrance. Most boys would then resit the exam in sixth year, but only in those subjects that needed improvement. Smart individuals like me could bypass that second sitting by getting enough marks first time round, and we would have our sixth year free to take university scholarship exams istead.

I started out with three others—Bruce, Fred, and Robin—to study for a maths scholarship to Trinity College. After one term I was taken out of the maths scholarship class; clearly I lacked commitment, being lazy and disruptive and earning distraught harangues from our mild but brilliant teacher, Jack Campbell.

I found myself preparing the Trinity Matriculation exam instead, on my own. I had private classes with Mr Franklin in which I found a habitual enemy revealed as a friend. Having no need of the biting sarcasm with which he could control a restive crowd, he used none. The result was that Irish, always one of my worst subjects, won me an Entrance Exhibition to TCD.

“De na huaisle é, agus scríobh sé do na huaisle” Mícheál Franklin told me, of one of the seventeenth-century poets (Aodhagán Ua Raithile?)—he was from the nobility and he wrote for the nobility. A few idiomatic constructions like that, dropped in suitable places, evidently did the job.

Love teaching

Thu 15th Jan 09

Like a lot of teachers, I fell into the profession. After years of self-doubt I found I was OK at it, and I have increasingly enjoyed teaching music.

I once reassured Nancy Hadden, the baroque flute player, about the importance of music: “Since what-we-humans-are is so greatly determined by our environment, and since the most potent influence in our environment is other people, anything to do with communication between people is of the highest importance.”

Overseeing a productive meeting between pupil and subject is one of the best things you can do in life. Hooray for teachers!


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