Marxist pedagogy 2

Gary Maclennan g.maclennan at
Tue Apr 17 23:29:03 MDT 2001


The following is an excerpt I use in my Marxist Textual Analysis lecture.
Below are some of my comments on the piece.

"A day at the seaside
"A day at the seaside"- what pleasure is in those words- for with them
comes the echo of the *waves lapping* up on the *golden sands* and the
memories of those *thrilling donkey rides*. To children who live in the
smoky towns the experience of a visit to the blue sea is delightful and one
may well notice the eager looks on the faces, pinched and pale, of the slum
children, as they are packed into the railway carriage, bound for the
seaside. Poor little mites, *is it not sad*Comrades the following is a to
think that they have come into this beautiful world to see the lovely
country and seaside once in so long a while? However, after their teacher
[for doubtless they are some little flock belonging to a Sabbath school]
has seen that no one is lost, she points out the shimmering sea; in the
distance and, laughing with glee, they all march joyfully down the path,
perhaps singing some glad refrain... "

a] A Day at the Seaside
[Written by 11 year old and included in William Boyd's Measuring Devices in
Composition, Spelling and Arithmetic, 1924 as a criterion for excellence.]

I read the above aloud.  I have always enjoyed reading aloud.  I was as a
kid the nerd who would put his hand up when the teacher called for
volunteers. Ah how I was hated by my peers.

I usually begin by asking the class who thinks that this is a piece of good
writing.  Almost to a person they vote that it is.  This year however the
class was a lot cannier because they know me by now and they suspect that
if they say it is good I will prove it is bad.  Why would they think that?

I start with the thrilling donkey ride.  I ask the class to imagine sitting
on a donkey.  I go out the front and do it.  I then turn round and ask them
to estimate what their chances are of getting a thrill. That usually cracks
them up.  I next move to the 'golden sands'.  I only have to ask how many
have been to a beach in England to provoke more laughter. It is part of
Australia's cultural capital and heritage that this is the promised land
because we have beaches with sand unlike in the Mother country -
England.   I then talk about waves 'lapping' and ask them what do waves
do?  Do they actually always 'lap'?

Here I have set the seeds of doubt as to the truthfulness of the
passage.  I next put the word cliche on the board and discuss what it
means.  I point out that these are three cliches.  I define cliches here as
'dead language' - language which has no living relationship with the way
the world is.  I generally do not introduce the concept of 'decadence' here
but this is the direction I am trying to shepherd them in.

So from this initial run through the passage I have concluded that the
writing is full of cliches, that is it is divorced from reality or the
lived experience of ordinary people.

I next tackle the question of the Sabbath children.  I relate my own
experiences here as a teacher taking a group of slum children from Belfast
to the seaside.  I talk about their total lack of interest in anything I
showed them. I also talk of the 'glad' refrains they sang on the bus and
point out that they did not come from any hymnal.

I tell the students the honest truth that I was angry with my pup0ils and
thought they were cultural barabarians not to enjoy the trip some of
Ireland's great historical shrines. I also tell the truth that the years
have changed my attitudes here. I ask the class to consider as I now do why
my kids should be grateful for a trip to the seaside - once in a
while.  after the trip I dumped them back in the sums.  what had they to be
grateful about?

I take a look at the question -'Is it not sad..?' and ask the class to
think who is it sad for? the writer?  the reader?  or the children?

What I am asking the class to consider in this case is the differences in
lived experience between the writer - the reader and the slum
children.  What I am trying to suggest is that this is a classic example of
benevolent paternalism.  The conscience of the writer and the reader is
being massaged to feel a little guilt.  A guilt which will not serve to
provoke anyone to do anything substantial about slums and the accompanying
poverty.  No just enough guilt to make the writer and the reader think they
belong to the 'beautiful people'.

It is now time to move out from the text.  I want the class to consider why
this was chosen as a standard.  I ask them to figure out what was happening
in the world beyond the text.  What was it like in Britain in 1924. This is
very hard fro the class because Australian students do very little history
if any.  Certainly they are never taught to think of the past in terms
other than that of the universalistic sepia tinged sentimentality.  They do
not think of the past as the location of struggles based on class.

I point out that there is evidence from the text that there are slums,
orphans and charities run by the churches.  I also empahasise that it does
not seem that the orphan children have a very good time.  I ask them to
think carefully about what attitudes they would have if they were orphans
from the slums, who only got to the seaside once in a while. What emotion
would predominate?   Bitterness or gratitude?  Most plump for bitterness
but realise that the text paints the picture of poor people who seem to be

I then get the class to think hard about this notion of the 'grateful
poor'.  Which class of people would must like to go to bed thinking the
poor are grateful  Here I intended, but was not able to show the hilarious
sequence from the Awful Truth when Michael Moore tried to give Bill Gates a
house warming present.  I would have asked here why Bill Gates needs to be
surrounded by bodyguards.  Is it because not enough poor people are grateful?

I then return to the author of the text an 11 year old child.  I ask the
class to think how or where she got her ideas about life from.  I also ask
them to think about how those same ideas probably ensured her very good
results.  Certainly her work was officially recognised and became the
standard for all children to aim at.  This leads naturally into the
function of education in the reproduction of the class constructed society
but generally I leave it there in the hope that the students will begin to
think about some of those things for themselves.



More information about the Marxism mailing list