By S. K. Russell
IA.M an assistant teacher in a Catholic Elementary School in Manchester. My age, twenty-two. I have been there two years. It is rather a large school of the oldfashioned type (built about 1870), and serves a large, rather rough, parish, in a highly industrialised area of the city. Most of the children came from poor working-class homes. Many of the
_houses and streets are a direct result of the industrial revolution; row upon row, " two up and two down," interspersed with mills, chemical works, factories, railway goods yards, a colliery, a gas-works, etc.
Many of the fathers are unemployed. Consumption and kindred diseases are prevalent. The local police-station, a large one, is fully occupied. The swarm of pubs do good business. Morality. especially as regards private property, is fairly low.
Fight for Life
The children mature early. They have to. If they want to live, they have to fight, and they do. If they want happiness—we all do—they have to find it and fight for it as best they can. They are hard.
Generally speaking, from the age of ten they fend for themselves. Some sell papers, night and morning, all the year round: others run errands: others obtain casual employment in various directions. There was one boy actually employed as " chucker-out " at a local cinema!
If they are ill, they attend the clinic for treatment, or the local hospital, which is shockingly situated, badly overworked, and glorious in its service. Scars, bruises, wounds, they attend to themselves if not serious or noticeable to the teachers.
No False Pride
Offers of help in any way they accept readily, in a curiously matter-of-fact way. They are expert "scroungers." Anything free or cheap, they're on. Entertainment or amusement of any form they greedily seize, roughly and readily. If questioned on any matter they can lie without a tremor, without any apparent sense of discomfort or shame. When discovered or proved guilty they take their punishment with the same casual, almost fatalistic, air.
The Good in Them And yet, with all their faults, there is good stuff in them. Despite their home conditions, their companions, their general squalid environment, they have a fundamental sound appreciation of good things. When their interest is aroused they produce an enthusiasm always surprising, some
times disconcerting in its strength. The "St. Joseph's Penny " collection, for instance, realises a splendid sum, in halfpennies and pennies. The " Holy Souls" collection is similar. CopPers earned hardly in their spare time are cheerfully contributed for a deserving cause, and they take a simple and justifiable pride in their efforts.
They will take as much as they can get, but they will give. They are a strange, but extremely interesting, mixture of good and bad. It is amusing, and rather pitiful, to see boys with the characteristics of adults. This is the effect, I think, of a process which at first sight seems hardly possible but which on further reflection is trernen
The process is the fusion of their religious life with the superimposed external existence. For these boys there is a continual struggle.
One hour they are young hooligans, the next, young saints. Their priests alternate between praise and harsh condemnation. It is a remarkable thing to hear a huge congregation of children commended for a really inspiring attendance at Communion, and, next Sunday, " slated " good and hard for vandalism.
When they leave school, many drift away. The " leakage" question needs radical treatment, heroic labour, infinite patience. The topic has been hammered threadbare. All I can say is that these boys are worth having. They are hard and difficult material, but that makes the task all the more satisfying.
To handle them in school is difficult, but it is interesting work, satisfying work, valuable work. I am happy to do it. Every day I travel thirty miles to work among them; every evening thirty miles home. I have been doing this for two years and will probably do the same for a long time.
A Happy Schoolmaster
I am really happy. I am happy for many reasons, some peculiar and private, some for general reasons.
7 -.I C.— _ _ _1 •rn_, •
mendous tonic, a powerful aid to life and sanity, this thought. I often wonder why the name of God is so very rarely mentioned in ordinary conversation, even among Catholics. Modern society seems to have forgotten not only God, but life. To live, as it seems to me, is our most difficult, and at the same time, our most enjoyable job: simply to live, although it is not simple. There is a choking lack of life. I am puzzled when I feel a certain core of frenzy, an atmosphere of dry rot. " We are dying, there is not time to live" —this is the unspoken attitude.
Every morning I am puzzled. I sit in the corner of a crowded work train and watch the sunshine spreading over ploughed fields (which alas! seem to be dwindling under the ravenous bites of ghastly yellow and red squadrons), and lovely woods, and green meadows. I lean back. and watch a thousand new things, colours, shapes, pictures, people. and thank God for a summer's morning and a pair of eyes.
Then the conversations butt in : cinema stars, football coupons, scandal, golf scores, cards, petrol consumption, speed, births, deaths, marriages, divorce, and murder.
The avalanche of material trivialities is staggering. And I wonder why. Because the sky is much more interesting, instructive and comforting.
When the train clanks to a stop, there is something awe-inspiring in the grim purposive rush. for the ticket barrier. There is a " get-out-of-the-way-I've-no-time-tolose " expression on almost every face.
Again I wonder. I listen to talk, I engage people in conversation, to discover the reason. I can gather only one. They want money. And why do they want money? Because they want pleasure, " a good time " (a mystifying phrase), " some fun in life " (again inexplicable) and why this?
Mind and Matter
It is a very pitiful thing to see a man of undoubted intelligence marshalling the divinely infused forces of his soul to cornbat some material foe of his happiness, or to produce some material aid, through prodigious labour and expense, to his happiness. Still more horrifying is to see groups of "intelligent " men, backed by a mountain of money and clouds of popular encouragement, labouring at the demolition or construction, of some material mole-hill.
The horror, however, reaches supernatural proportions. when one sees a whole generation so occupied. and, ineffable and ultimate horror, training future generations in the same ideas.
There have been educational " martyrs," such as Socrates and St. Thomas More. I wish one of them had thought of Marie Antoinette's famous last words: " Education, what crimes are committed in thy name! A cry to rock down the ages and which rings in our ears more stridently than ever before. As one directly involved in the tragedy again I stand in wonder. What is " education " but to impart a knowledge of, and attempt a training in the practice of, the Moral Law? What diverges more from this than our present " state education," our sublime " universal education system "?
Why does it increasingly tend to operate on the twofold principle that there is no original sin and nothing after death? Why does it aim at the production of an efficient money-earner and money-spender, a perfection of sense pleasure appreciation, and an entirely pagan glorification of the body? Why are the fundamentals of Natural and Divine Law discarded and obliterated by an amazing welter of material embellishments?
to be cautionsly introduced and furtively
tackled? Why, after attending "educational meetings. lectures and exhibitions, should there be left the poignant thought that "in spite of all this we manage to do real work?"
Schoolteachers' Enjoyable Work
By " we" I refer to Catholic teachers. Working generally under sub-normal, sometimes sub-human, conditions, I think the Catholic teachers in this country are doing fine and glorious work.
The attitude of the average non-Catholic teacher to religion sends shivers down the spine. They regard "Scripture," or " R.K." as a kind of fairy story disguised in white robes and harps, to be taught(?) with an ill-concealed air of amused tolerance. They simply cannot see the tremendous pure fact that education is one aspect of religion: that we must render God His due before the H.M.I. is considered; that religion cannot be departmentalised in a watertight compartment.
To a large extent it seems to me that the future of our English civilisation depends on the strength and zeal of Catholic education. Dangerous, and even stormy, times are likely to confront us in the very near future. We have many things to help us in the fight : things, thank God, infinitely more true and powerful in essence than the obstacles.
We have our Faith, our prayers (surely Our Lady has heard the prayer for the conversion of England by now!) and Christ's promise of help.
Finally, let a man consider the fines' buildings in the British Isles, the mediaeval cathedrals, and think why whr.r, n,,iL_