My Surreal sixties book – Chapter 21

I will probably publish this for my own amusement. It is the book that started me off writing – way back in 1970. I’m fond of it. But I don’t know that it will appeal to many people. It is the classic first attempt.

This particular chapter had elements of my first lesson. Boy – was I nervous. I can remember pausing outside that classroom before plucking up courage to go in. It was scary but I learned to love it.

Science for me had been dead. But I was determined to do things in a more interesting way. I wanted to try to make the kids think. I hope I succeeded.

21.

Returning from his travels the first requirement was cash and that required work. Getting by was becoming a drag. He had to find something steadier than an unemployment cheque. After much consideration he settled for a career in teaching – the main enticement being the holidays.

He thought it would be easy. Little did he know.

The closer the day came the more apprehensive he became. What, from a distance, appeared like a simple task became more daunting by the minute.

As he approached the door his stomach turned flips. He gripped the handle and turned it

On entering the classroom he put on a fixed expression and strode purposefully over to the desk, arranged his things and then looked up. A sea of faces were peering back at him, all weighing him up and appearing to not like what they saw. He surveyed the class and they looked him up and down. They had stopped talking and slouching in their chairs and were weighing up the crazy little guy who had just walked in purporting to be their teacher. They studied his every move and expression with seasoned eyes and had already, before he had even opened his mouth, formed their opinions.

Messny, clutching his carefully prepared lesson plan, stood in front of the highly critical assembly and prepared to deliver his first lesson. There was a pregnant pause as he arranged his larynx to articulate a sound and they waited, intrigued to hear what noise might come out.

As he had rehearsed he deliberately moved slowly in order to collect his thoughts and allow his physiology to settle. He knew that the last thing he wanted to project was nervousness. He’d heard how rabid they could be with new teachers. The million rehearsals had gone well. The real thing was a totally different experience. His subconscious was screaming at him – telling him that he was about to be eaten alive and telling him to run.

He conquered that and finally gained control over his wayward vocal cords.

‘Good morning,’ he began in a remarkably calm voice, ‘My name is Messny Krapbutt.’

This was met with a chorus of stifled laughter.

Messny waited for the noise to subside.

‘I will be taking you for Biology this term.’

There was no response.

He tried a smile. ‘It will take me time to get to know you so please forgive my ignorance over the next few weeks.’

The faces remained blank and watchful.

‘Right,’ he said nervously. ‘Let’s get started.’ He stood behind his bench in front of the large blackboard. ‘First of all – a question.’ He reached into his pocket and took out a small ball. ‘We’re here to study Science so let’s start by understanding what Science actually is.’ He held the ball up in the air above the bench. The eyes all followed his hand, waiting to see what he would do.

‘Who can tell me what will happen if I was to let go of this ball?’

He looked around and all the faces were wearing the same uncomprehending expressions. What was the idiot doing? This wasn’t Biology. There had to be a catch. Nobody wanted to be the fool who fell into it.

‘Come on,’ Messny urged as the class stubbornly remained silent, ‘what will happen to the ball if I was to let go?’

One girl plucked up courage to speak. ‘You mean – if you just let go, not throw it or anything?’

‘Yeah,’ Messny said reassuringly, ‘that’s right. If I just let go.’

‘It’ll hit the bench and bounce off,’ she replied with an air of triumph

‘No it won’t,’ Messny replied, cutting her glee dead.

The class shuffled uneasily. They could not see the catch, but they knew there had to be one.

‘If you don’t throw it, it will,’ the girl insisted indignantly. She was not going to be brushed off.

‘No it won’t,’ Messny assured her.

‘What will it do then?’ the girl sneered.

‘If I let go of the ball it will stay hanging in the air for a while,’ Messny explained. ‘Then it will gradually drift off sideways,’ He indicated a sweep with his hand as if following the course of the ball in the air. ‘It will then build up momentum and bounce off the wall.’

A big chuckle passed around the room. The guy was nuts.

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‘No it won’t,’ the girl insisted with a look that said exactly what she thought of him. ‘It will fall straight down and hit the desk.

A wave of laughter went round the room. They were enjoying this.

‘Well,’ Messny said with a raise of eyebrows, ‘why don’t we try it and see?’

Messny held the ball up and let go of it. It fell straight down, hit the bench and bounced up. A roar of laughter rang round.

‘Did you see it hover for a second?’ Messny asked hopefully.

‘Nooo!’ they shouted in chorus.

‘OK,’ he conceded. ‘It did that time. Let’s try it again.’ He retrieved the ball and held it up in the air. He repeated the process a number of times with the same outcome. The class found it highly amusing.

Finally he put the ball back in his pocket. ‘Will it always do that?’ he asked.

‘Yeees!’ they shouted in gleeful unison.

He held his hand up to quieten them. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked with a serious expression. ‘How many times do we have to carry out this experiment before we can definitely say that it will always perform the same way?

There was a silence while they mulled that over.

‘Come on,’ Messny urged. ‘I say that the ball will hang in the air. You say it will drop. But how many times do I have to repeat it before we can say that it will always, definitely, drop – without the slightest shadow of doubt? How many times do I have to do this before I get a fact?’ The class were completely quiet. ‘Ten times? A hundred times? A thousand times? Ten billion times?

There was no response.

‘The answer to my question is that it takes an infinite number of times in order to get a fact. You have to do it every single possible time to be utterly sure that it will always behave in that particular way. Of course we can make mathematical models, use our knowledge of gravity, and predict that it will always behave in a particular way, but it will still not be a fact. A fact is indisputable. There are no facts in Science – only a series of working hypothesis based on experimentation and observation. We predict what will happen and it usually does. But there are no facts. I am not going to teach you any facts at all. Science never got anywhere by believing things. Everything I tell you is a lie.’

There was a pause.

‘Right,’ Messny said, ‘let’s get on.’ With that he launched into the lesson.

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