A Really Good School
by David Gribble
‘This highly original satire of controlled, frequently Swiftian savagery, is a completely gripping and logically impeccable story of mass murder which is often, you’ll be surprised to discover, very funny.’
ISBN 0 9538797 1 2
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Those who are familiar with David Gribble’s non-fiction work, Considering Children – a parents guide to progressive education, and more recently, Real Education - varieties of freedom, will be surprised, even shocked by this book. The non-fiction is full of affection, gentleness, and optimism. His novel, A Really Good School, is a whodunnit (and I challenge you to guess the culprit) exploring, beneath a thin veneer of almost slapstick humour, the deep unconcern and hatred that many teachers and some parents can feel towards their charges. Gribble, after celebrating his years as a teacher at one of our great progressive schools, Dartington Hall, returns to his earlier experiences as a pupil of Eton and perhaps more pertinently as a young teacher at Repton and finds the remembered experience so extreme that only by fiction, by this funny, quirky satire on the public school system, can he express his disgust.
Currently, we make much of children’s welfare, exploring the playground bully, the failing school, abuse and neglect by parents and care-workers. Teachers on the whole are seen as abused, underpaid and overworked but nevertheless noble – and so they often are. What our media, our politicians and our educators have chosen to forget is the long and open history of teacher-violence, encouraged by government, teachers’ unions and the public in general and applied to or witnessed by almost everybody over thirty. ‘It never did me any harm’ is a reference to the stick, the tawse, the cane and their application to palm, thigh and backside and often, though not always, approvingly registered in the punishment book. Available for inspection. We are only a generation, some twenty years, away from those times. A great many of today’s less than perfect parents and educators will have had personal experience of the ‘harmless’ chastisements unleashed upon them and their own children will not necessarily be treated more kindly as a result. The attitudes linger on, re-expressed through new varieties of coercion and punishment – detention, suspension, exclusion, seclusion, the continuing harassment which tries to persuade children to perform and conform.
The sad little murderee and his co-sufferers at Gribble’s preposterous and self-satisfied ‘Optimo School’ are a timely reminder of our continuing hypocrisy and dislike towards children. But Gribble’s Dotheboysngirls Hall is nevertheless comedic - ridiculous as it is reprehensible, laughable as it is loathsome. A Really Good School sounds like a depressing read, but it isn’t, it’s a funny, black, thriller with something to say.
Published by Seven-Ply Yarns in association with Lib Ed