Monday, February 01, 2010


Probably the best teacher that I have ever had was Mr. Goes at the Openbare Lagere School (public grammar school) in Valkenswaard.
There were less than a hundred students at the school, grades one through six. Most children in North-Brabant went either to Catholic schools or strict Protestant schools. Non-denominational education was still seen as the breeding ground of vice, depravities, and heresy in that part of the world.
The majority of local children attended Catholic schools, and felt vastly superior to us heathens. The children of the local pornography merchants were at strict Calvinist schools - contact with Papists and other streams of belief might pollute the little dears.

Jews, communists, free-thinkers, engineers, and foreigners all sent their kids to the Openbare Lagere School.

Where mijnheer Goes taught grades four, five, and six.

When I was in fourth grade (1970), he was already in his sixties. He was a fixture in the town, much disliked by the local Catholic hierarchy, who despised him for not turning us all into obedient little Catholics. He himself was a Catholic, and still had faith - surely he should've made us all hate our families and backgrounds, for the benefit of the church and the salvation of our immortal souls?
What on earth was wrong with him?

A large part of what was wrong with him was the result of the strict Catholic teachers seminary he had attended.

Showers once a week. Cold water. A monk walking up and down the row of stalls, peering in through a hole in the door to make certain that the young men bathing there were not touching their privates, and were in fact wearing the special underpants while bathing.

A cigar allowance for the senior students. Because smoking cigars shows stability and good values. It is also beneficial to the temperament, and lends gravitas. Cigar smoking is a darn good habit, all civilized men should smoke cigars, especially people in the teaching profession.
That's just the way it is.

Severe punishment for students whose shoes had scuff marks. Future schoolteachers do not, under ANY circumstances, run. Ever.
It's undignified, and people might suspect criminality.

An obligatory fifteen minute amble around the quad after meals. At the same time, the lavatories would be locked down, because ONLY heathens (Protestants) go to the loo after eating. Everyone knows this. It's bad for the digestion.

Expulsion for associating with unsupervised younger persons of the opposite gender, reading unapproved newspapers, or smoking cigarettes. All of which led directly to hell, were moral failings of the highest order, and were best left to Protestants and sailors.

[A posting as a teacher after graduation, however, was expedited if the young man married. Preferably a young lady of impeccable background, to whom he would have been introduced by someone respectable. No holding hands or unchaperoned socializing before marriage.]

One can well imagine that four years of that regimen left mr. Goes with something approaching distaste for institutionalized Catholicism. Hence his accepting a posting in the hinterlands (!) at a public school (!!) to teach little heathens (!!!).

His mentoring left many students with a lively skepticism about officially sanctioned textbooks (ours did not tell us what the Dutch and Belgians had been up to in their colonies, but he filled in the gaps), an intense dislike for the obedient little sheep at respectable schools, and a keen appreciation for the delicious aroma of cheap cigars (two such in the morning while lecturing, two in the afternoon while enforcing quiet study or teaching drawing class, one while teaching music to private students after school).

He taught by telling stories.

I still vividly remember admiral Michiel De Ruyter storming up the channel scattering the enemy fleets on either side, Charlemagne's meeting with Elegast in the forest, and Moses blowing his top and whacking the Egyptian.

The assassination of William the Taciturn exposed the ruthless traitors supporting Philip of Spain, the lynching of grand-pensionary Jan de Witt was a disaster from which the nation never recovered; it marked the end of Dutch achievement, and the twilight slide into the corrupt and decadent periwig period.

The empire in the east, from which American perfidy expelled the Dutch in the post-war period, was Holland's greatest triumph, but also her darkest page. And what the Americans had done to the Indians in North-America paled somewhat in comparison to what the Dutch had done in South Africa, in Ceylon, in Aceh, in Java, in Bali...... but both the Dutch and the Americans were mere amateurs compared to the Spanish and Portuguese, who were devils in human form, bloodthirsty, tyrannical, and cruel. A pox upon them.

Once he mentioned the Spanish, it was only a matter of time before, good Catholic that he was, he would curse the church, damn the southern Catholic nations without mercy, and excoriate King Philip and the Duke of Alva as unregenerate swine burning in the hottest fires of hell.

All of which he expressed with splendid eloquence.

While gently smoking his cigar down to the last inch, the lengthening ash never falling off. A mesmerizing performance.

It was thus that history and geography came alive for us.

He was also pretty good at teaching grammar and mathematics.

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Tzipporah said...


Perhaps you can start your own school to which we can send the little Goobs, when he's ready.

But no cigars. They're uncouth.

The back of the hill said...

Tzipporah, this comment I posted on underneath is also directed at you.

"Jonathan, thanks for the compliment.

I've noticed that the memoir posts get more reaction, and more favourable reaction, from precisely the people whose reactions I value.

All blogging is a like a whiny kid demanding attention - look at me, look at me! - but it's worthwhile to be selective about whose attention, and what kind of attention (though not ALWAYS, of course - sometimes I really enjoy irritating the spit out of certain people).

And note: the people out of whom I enjoy irritating the spit are largely the dreary ideological mafia here in the Bay Area, and their fellow-travelers. You know, the Barbara Lubins, Paul Larudees, and Dick Beckers of the world.

The back of the hill said...

But no cigars. They're uncouth.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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