When I was a kid, children were supposed to be seen and not heard.
For a child of inquisitive nature, such as myself, this was a very difficult status to maintain.
I was a good listener…possibly too good at times…and what I heard often sent a rush of questions cascading through my mind. I wondered about things. I pondered unusual place names. I considered interesting words. I contemplated actions. Well, you get the idea. My mind was always racing…still is…and the questions would boil over at the most inconvenient times.
At school asking questions was discouraged. One was supposed to answer questions, not pose new ones. I spent a lot of time on the verandah outside the classroom, having been sent from the room for talking. When this occurred, it was usually because I had posed an interesting question to the person next to me or to the teacher. It was not done to be disobedient. I genuinely wanted to know the answers. Perhaps my teachers didn’t want to be interrupted mid lesson or perhaps they didn’t know the answers to my questions. Whatever the case, they chose to eject me rather than deal with my curiosity.
Luckily for me, our headmaster, Mr Murray, had time for the little girl with the busy mind. Along the verandahs of the school he would stride, tapping his cane on the side of his leg as he went in search of miscreants. He was a very tall man, six feet six inches which, to a child, looked like eight feet eleven inches.
“Not you again, Coppernob,” he would greet me.
“What did you do?”
“Well, I wanted to know who Weller was, and why they named a hill after him.”
He would nod sagely and take me along the verandah to the library, point out the appropriate shelf and tell me to come to his office when I had found the answer. He never told me the answers to my questions, just how and where to find them. How much more valuable a learning experience was that?
When I became a teacher myself, I always carried with me the image of Mr Murray. His wisdom in encouraging inquiry in children became the inspiration for my teaching practice. Giving my students the tools for learning through which they would acquire knowledge and understanding of the subject matter became more important to me than merely filling their heads with facts.
Thanks Mr Murray. To me you will always be eight feet eleven inches tall.