Friday, April 12, 2013

Arthritic Stigmata

My historical disdain for education has amused me over the years, particularly the irony of ending up working in legal education, if I could go back in time to explain this to my 14 yr old self, he would stare at me in slack jaw wonderment. Why? Because in my formative years I held a strong distaste for both education and lawyers. I'll come to the lawyer bit in a moment, but let's first zero in on the education bit.

Today I was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in my my big toe, initially it made me feel old beyond my years and then I fixated on the injury that had led to this. My doctor explained that arthritis in someone as "young" as me was likely the result of a childhood injury, had I broken my big toe in childhood?

Bang! I was instantly taken back to the incident with 12 yr old me, we had been instructed by our teacher to move some antiquated school desks in our classroom. Believe it or not, in the mid eighties I was working on a wooden desk with an ink well from the Victorian era. As we moved the desks, somehow mine toppled over and landed on my toe. 

Crack! What followed was excruciating pain, I remember crying in agony. My teacher then proceeded to taunt me about being in pain, deriding me in front of the class about not being able to handle it. I asked to see the nurse and he denied that of me and subsequently made me hop the 2 miles home after sitting for 3hrs in excruciating pain. Other old school friends have confirmed this memory today, along with a list of other atrocities (putting a metalwork ruler across a fellow students knuckles and then sitting on it), just so I know that I have not exaggerated this. 

When my mother complained to the school about the teachers behaviour it was rigorously denied. That was the moment that I lost faith in education, the moment I realised it wasn't about learning. I just switched off and spent more time taunting teachers who seemed intent on constantly telling who and what I was. It's been at the back of my mind ever since and now I have a constant throbbing in my toe to remind me on a daily basis, an aggravation of sorts. 

A short time later I had an after school job which was essentially a posher version of a paper round, I was a post boy for a small solicitors office. 
I disliked them with a passion too. Until I worked in that office, I never had any idea the level of contempt people could have for another fellow human being. Rude, obnoxious and vile. 

It was the first time I was hyper aware of the class divide, I was Ronnie Corbett to John Cleese in that famous class sketch.They weren't just rude to me, they were as bad to their clients, immensely patronising and demeaning. The nail in the coffin was when one day I had been held up because they hadn't signed some documents that had to be at the DX office within 10 minutes and it was a bike across town.

I sped along down the hill, slipped on the pedal, caught my foot in the wheel and went over the handlebars. Crack! Smashed my collarbone on the kerb and knocked myself out. I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and came to as they wheeled me in.

When we got home there was a message on the answer machine from the firm stating that they had heard I'd been in an accident and it was imperative to know - did I get the post to the DX? No enquiry at all as to my well being.

I was particularly proud of my mum's Tuckeresque tirade of abuse in response the next day and I was fired with immediate effect.  Which was a shame as I still had the keys to their DX box, the only ones apparently. I'm both slightly ashamed, but also proud of my 15 year old self at depositing the keys off a bridge into the River Wensum. Another broken bone, another dislike chalked up on the board. 

So by the age of  15 I had a formative assessment of the legal industry and education as two equal levels of Dante's Inferno that were both seemingly underpinned by high levels of arrogant patronising attitudes.

So how on earth did I end up here?

This is the rather strange flip side to the coin. I realised in my career that whilst I despised the machine of education,  I loved learning, it was a wondrous life affirming thing and I also discovered a favourable leaning to copyright law and contract law in a geeky way.

I didn't realise I loved learning until I eventually scraped my way to University and aligned my passions with an excellent learning environment. We called my Uni - "a rubber roomed environment" - meaning somewhere we tried, we failed and we practiced until we became skilled. A course designed by a Disney imagineer who was years ahead of others in education. As I studied broadcasting I became fascinated in the business side which enveloped a vast array of commercial contracting and I discovered a great book: Art of the Deal by Dorothy Viljoen which opened my eyes to the beauty of commercial law.

By the time I ended up in legal education I had overcome my initial dislike of law and education and found a new glimmer of inspiration, that said I saw a lot of echoes of my original dislikes around and thus have set about trying to disrupt and change where I can, I like the term my Oxford mentor gave me "positive deviant". 

So as I sit here contemplating my aching toe and wondering if my collar bone will go the same way, I reflect on the bizarre nature of having this arthritic stigmata that spurns me on to change legal education wherever and however I can.

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