What was Wrong at WHS? xx:xx Chris Snuggs - November 2023  

ALMOST NOTHING; All the following were as near perfect as one could hope for:

xxthe location & facilities xxthe lessons xxthe music xxthe food
xxthe teachers & ancillary staff xxthe sport xxthe clubs xxthe accommodation
xxhealthcare xxthe drama xxthe trips xxthe results

re the above:
  • Of course, we did lack a gym and swimming-pool to match the standard of the rest, but what we had did well enough at the time.
  • There were some bad apples among the teachers over the four decades, but very few; the vast majority were dedicated and professional and a good many were simply awesome.
  • I would never have complained about the accommodation or catering: we were all healthy and fit - and never hungry as I recall.
  • We had lessons in Nissen huts, but I don't remember ever feeling cold.

So it WAS all perfect then? Well, NO - there are some things that I would have wished to be different. SOME of these I realized at the time, but others I thought of in hindsight, after more experience of life and indeed the teaching profession, which I entered.

A) RELIGION: There was never any doubt that one was supposed to be "Christian". John Smitherman was proud to announce in the very first "Janus" that the school had adopted the motto: "Nisi Dominus Vanum". We were told that this meant: "Without the Lord all is in vain,", but as far as I can see it does NOT mean that exactly - even if it is supposed to do so. It is apparently a reference to the 127th Psalm, and a more precise motto expressing the sentiment would have been: "Nisi Dominus Frustra". He wrote this:

"We have taken as our school motto "Nisi Dominus Vanum". Let this be an inspiration to us all in our work for the School. Too few people today put any faith in anything; too few people are willing to acknowledge the place of religion in their lives. Without our faith and trust in God, without His help, all our work here will indeed be in vain."

Unfortunately, the motto is intellectual and philosophical nonsense. I am an atheist, and have been so since very young. I think it was since a little girl who lived near us was killed on a zebra crossing. I was only 6 or 7, but I could not understand even then why if "God" was all-powerful and loving he would allow a child to be killed. Later we learned about "Original Sin", which to me just seemed - and still does - utter BS. If Adam did wrong then let Adam suffer - not a little girl thousands of year later.

"Without the Lord all is in vain."? So, if I as an atheist do something to help someone - even save their life - it is "in vain" since I have presumably done it without "God"? I was always uneasy about this motto at school, but I went along with it all. I do think that Jesus existed, that his message was beautiful and that he was a "perfect human", unlike the Satanic sub-human who had a vision on a mountain in the 6th century. I liked assemblies. I found the hymns uplifting. Prayer seems to be something that comes naturally to humans whatever their faith. I could go along with the basic message, but accepting there is an extraterrestrial being controlling everything? And if he, she or it IS controlling everything then they are not doing a very good job of it, are they.

But there was no questioning this at school. My memories are hazy to say the least, but I don't recall in R.I. any discussions about atheism or even other religions: no Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism or whatever - yet there are thousands of alternatives to Christianity. Education should be about teaching children HOW to think, not WHAT to think. That was not done at WHS as far s religion was concerned.

One problem with "Without the Lord All is in Vain." is that as throughout the Middle ages (and still in ISLAM today) it comes with this idea that any action of a non-believer (and thus the non-believer himself) is worthless - which of course is a quite repulsive idea. I was watching a rugby match on Church Field one day (can't remember what match - possibly a housematch as I would normally have been playing myself if on a school match-day.) For some reason I never knew or ever will know Jim Hyde started chatting to me. I think was in the 5th form at the time and knew him pretty well, though he had never been my housemaster. Somehow we got onto the subject of Christianity, and he lamented to me how he could never be a headmaster because he would not be prepared to lead religious services. He actually said (and I agreed) that he felt he could have made a fine Head - but his atheism ruled him out completely. That I found even then very unfair.
B) SEX EDUCATION: there was none. I am less interested in the mechanics (which could have been covered very quickly) than in the psychology of it all: the etiquette, the courtesies, how to behave, what to expect - and other general advice. Many would say: "It's more fun to find these things out for yourself.", but that is not an approach taken with ANY OTHER learning.

C) WOOLVERSTONE HALL and THE BERNERS FAMILY: I don't remember anyone ever telling us anything much about the magnificent place we lived in. Most of what I know I only found out years later. I think we should have had a more formal introduction to both the Hall and family. The same applies to the surroundings. For example, I only learned about Coade Stone, Freston Tower and Flatford and the John Constable connection after leaving school.

D) HISTORY and WWII: As with many early pupils (in my case 58 to 65) my parents had lived through the war. My father was in the army, though as he explained "always three days behind the fighting" as he had been in logistics. Many of our teachers, too, had served. For example, I believe that Bob Rowland and Ben Turner were both fighter pilots and Stretch a tank commander. There was always a rumour that Taffy had served on convoys to Russia, but I could never get confirmation of that - and he never talked about it. I would like in History to have learned more about the Second World War - it was so close. And around 1960 some boys were passing round a copy of "Five Chimneys" by Olga Lengyel about her experiences in Auschwitz-Birkenau. I never got to read it but the Holocaust was so close and important that we should have been taught about it - but weren't.

E) THE CURRICULUM: It is of course very difficult to fit everything in that one would wish to teach, Seriously missing was philosophy - especially LOGIC - but it was not an exam subject and was therefore ignored. The other thing I was upset about even at the time was that at the end of year 2 (1960 in my case) one had to choose ONE subject from Chemistry, German or Greek. As my best subject was French I naturally chose German - but to abandon the study of basic knowledge about the universe and our bodies and every substance we come in contact with seemed to me wrong even then. Surely a way could have been found to continue SOME chemistry teaching. A combined biology/chemistry course would perhaps have been better, but once again we were I imagine constrained by the exam system.

F) CAREERS ADVICE: ... was rudimentary to say the least. I had no idea what kinds of career I might be able to pursue. One's parents should be able to provide such information and advice, but for various reasons mine couldn't and didn't.

G) COUNSELLING: As far as I remember, no teacher EVER sat down with me to have a 15 minute chat about how things were going. Time constraints again, and nobody could argue that teachers did not already give up a lot of their free time in one way or another. But though I enjoyed school I always felt somehow alone - that nobody was really following my life and progress personally.

H) BULLYING: I did not personally suffer from it (or dish it out!), but there were boys who did both, and I am not sure the staff in general picked up on it enough. Of course, it is not easy; bullies invariably do their work clandestinely. But I do know of boys who were bullied and never got protection or justice.

I) AND FINALLY - MATHS! I wasn't "good at maths", but managed to get a '2' in the end by doing loads of past papers in 5A with three other boys while the rest prepared for Additional Maths. One can't be good at everything, but what irritated me then and now is that Mr Girling NEVER EXPLAINED to me what the POINT of simultaneous equations was - let alone quadratic ones, and WHY are there none with THREE BITS? I like to see the practical USE of things. Working out the area of a triangle - fine, and I have actually LIVED in a triangular room - but the practical use of some of the maths we did escaped me. It was EXACTLY the same with calculus! He should have related that stuff to REAL LIFE! Yes, I should have ASKED, but I never had much to say in those days, and of course one does not like to look stupid .....

WHS was a quite extraordinary and uplifting experience, and the above points A) to I) are
a personal reflection not intended to denigrate that experience - only to serve in the pursuit of Truth.

What was Wrong at WHS?