A Note On Pedagogy

A new academic year will begin soon, and all across the land anxious parents will watch as fresh clumps of tinies skip through the school gates for the first time. By now, most places have been allocated. But I am still receiving letters seeking judicious Hooting Yard advice on what type of school is best. Often, my correspondents seem deluded, for they bang on about so-called “faith” schools, or Montessori schools, or even Steiner schools. Please remember that the latter are based on the ideas of a man who believed in invisible gnomes.

There is of course only one type of institution to which the wet-behind-the-ears infant ought to be entrusted, and that is a Dobson school. Named after the titanic twentieth century out of print pamphleteer, these academies use pedagogic methods devised, not by Dobson himself, but by Desdemona Ferncraze, a brilliant bluestocking who was for many years responsible for the instruction of the inmates of Pang Hill Orphanage.

Shortly after her arrival at Pang Hill, Dr Ferncraze, a voracious reader of everything she could lay her hands on, contracted a common ague which led to water on the brain, after which she became convinced that the sum of all human – and inhuman – knowledge was to be found in the pages of Dobson’s pamphlets. Even the pamphleteer himself did not make such a claim, though he came close to doing so in his slim work of 1953 The Death Of Stalin Has Led Me By Dense Entangled Byways To The Unshakeable Conviction That A Complete And Thorough Pedagogic System Can Be Based Entirely Upon My Own Pamphlets (out of print). Curiously, it seems this was one work of Dobson’s which Desdemona Ferncraze never read. She developed her “method” while lying in her sickbed on an upper balcony of Pang Hill Orphanage, having instructed the gruesome brute Pepstow to dispose of her entire library, save for the Dobson items, by shredding the books and feeding them bit by bit to gulls and other scavenging birds. This he did, despite his qualms, for he burned with a secret passion for the stricken bluestocking. Pepstow was at his least gruesome and brutish when in her presence, though such was his yearning that he became tongue-tied and could only grunt at her unintelligibly. Dr Ferncraze herself was utterly oblivious to his blandishments, before and after her ague, a circumstance of such pathos that it has been adapted for the screen under the title Desperate Pang Hill Orphanage Brutes. For dramatic purposes, a fictional rival brute has been inserted into the story, hence the plural.

When sufficient water on her brain had been evaporated using the Gillespie Head-Steaming Procedure, Desdemona Ferncraze leapt from her sickbed and set about drilling the Pang Hill orphans according to her new lights. Out went the wall-friezes of alphabets and numbers and fluffy farmyard animals, out went the Good Citizenship And High Self-Esteem Module Workbooks, and out went the Tuesday morning caterwauling. Instead, each week was devoted to the memorising of the complete text of a Dobson pamphlet. By midnight on Friday, scratching at their slates, every single tiny was expected to be able to write out an accurate copy, including any marginalia that their wild-eyed teacher saw fit to add. Those who failed were handed over to Pepstow, who wreaked his gruesome brutality upon them down at the drainage ditch.

Dr Ferncraze’s astonishing discovery was that a firm grounding in the pamphlets of Dobson, memorised in whatever order, fitted the orphans perfectly for lives as bumbling, distracted polymaths given to lengthy walks along canal towpaths, chucking pebbles at swans, just like the pamphleteer himself. With her boundless energy, she set up a network of similar Dobson schools in and around Pang Hill, in derelict buildings and abandoned campsites. They are still flourishing, if that is the word I am looking for, though it probably isn’t. Such a school is, without a jot of doubt, the perfect place for the progeny of Hooting Yard readers.

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