When I was a teenager I was a day student at a private boarding college, but midway through Grade Ten (we called it 'Junior'), I opted to switch to a State School, specifically, Kedron S.H.S., just down the road from my parents store on Lutwyche Road Windsor. It was certainly an 'eye-opener' for me.
I had a background in strict discipline of the 'corporal punishment' kind, so it was rather a shock to enter the public domain of what appeared to be rebellious freedom.
I remember the time a big burly footballer got sent to the headmaster's office and came back crying. Students were aghast at the punishment dished out by the headmaster, and I, I was shell-shocked. I could not even begin to imagine what the poor boy had suffered so as to reduce him to tears. You can imagine my reaction when it was discovered that he had been given 'three cuts' of the cane to his right hand. I could believe neither my eyes nor my ears. 'Three' cuts? Only 'three'? And he is crying? Hell! We got that much just for not wearing our hats on parade at the other school. I lost all respect, or is that fear, that I had previously had for the boy.
I have only a few 'notable' memories of my 12 years at school, paramount of which was the last exam of my 12th year. I handed in my paper, went to the back of the hall, picked up my bag and walked home. I was finally free! I had waited for that moment for 12 years. "I hated school!" All 12 years of it! I hated school so much that even though I was the first one in my family to win a full university scholarship, I turned it down and went to work.
But that said, there were some days and some people who left a positive indelible mark on my soul, and one of those people was our Ancient History teacher, Mrs. FitzGerald. Although I liked her class and even though she occasionally came into my parents store on the corner of Norman Avenue, my memory of her is confined to just one single solitary moment in time. It had nothing to do with what she was teaching, and absolutely nothing to do with what she said, for she said nothing. She just looked at me and smiled. And I have never forgotten it.
How often is it do you think, that a teacher, walking around the classroom while talking about the Roman Empire, will sneak up behind a student, and, looking down at the page that student is reading, say nothing at all when they realize that the student is quite literally on a different page.
I was so engrossed in reading about the Egyptian Empire that I hadn't even noticed by the volume of her voice, that she was getting closer and closer. It was not until she was standing right over me, that I realized she was there -- and it was just too late to do anything.
Mrs. FitzGerald never missed a beat. She continued her narrative on the Roman Empire as she turned slightly and bent down a little to see exactly what I was reading, and as she stood up she just smiled at me, and continued on her way.
It's funny how little things like that stick in your mind. What's even funnier is how for the last 20 years, my life has been focused on the history of Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Israel, Syria, and a few other smaller places. When I commenced my research, I was merely trying to understand the chronology of Ancient Israel. I never thought I would have to learn so much Ancient History.
In High School, I also studied Modern History. Marion Westaway was my rather gorgeous teacher whose 'presence and demeanor' always fascinated me. She prepped us all for the final exams with the most frequently asked questions of the previous 15 years. Our test required that we write on 5 of the 7 topics provided, and unfortunately for my classmates, 2 of those 7 questions had never been covered in class. I was lucky. My parents had an Encyclopaedia Britannica set that entitled us to send in 'research' questions not specifically covered in the books and having sent off a couple of requests, I ended up being able to choose which 2 questions on my test paper to ignore. I must have been the only student in my class to do a paper on 'American involvement in the Pacific'.
If there is one point at which both Ancient and Modern History meet, it is at this quote from George Santayana in "Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense", (Scribner's, 1905, page 284)
- "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it"
Those who have studied Ancient History know that every nation, once it reaches its zenith1 , begins its fall. Sometimes that fall takes a very long time, and sometimes it happens overnight.
The Ancient nations of Egypt, Assyria (Iraq), Babylon (Iran), Syria, and Israel, have in the last 100 years been 'born again'. Ancient History is now not so ancient. Even China, that country in which I live, work and sit this pre-dawn morning to write, has weathered the continuing cycles of destruction and rebirth. China has been spared so much of that fate which befell other ancient nations, but it too looks down -- and justifiably so -- on the newcomers on the world stage.
The Ancient Roman and Greek Empires are now but ruins. The British Empire which began to bud with Elizabeth I Rex and came into full bloom in the reign of Queen Victoria, is now reduced to just a 'Commonwealth of Nations'. And the Empire of the United States of America?
The U.S. is only 400 years old (depending on how you define 'U.S.') whilst England is 1000 years old. Americans would hardly define themselves (at least as far as world politics goes) as an 'Imperial State' or an empire, but if one did, then surely that too would be very young, perhaps no more than 100 years.
I thank Mrs. FitzGerald and M/s Westaway for inspiring my interest in world events both modern and past but I sometimes wonder if all those 'powers that be' -- read 'politicians', ever bothered to study history as a series of sociological events.
I've never been to America, and nor do I have any desire to go, and in fact if I must be honest I would have to say that I don't usually get along very well with Americans -- but then again I am a 60 year old 4th generation Aussie (through my Maternal Grandfather / 3rd generation through my Paternal Grandmother) of pioneering stock who has lived and worked beyond the 'black stump'; who has mustered sheep and cattle on horseback; who has known the 'Boarding School Educated' Station Bosses and their equally educated English Accented Wives. I grew up with the Aussie 'lingo' and its ditties, songs and stories.
Who am I to criticize or comment on what the United States of America is or is not? But when I read modern history, and by modern I mean events as they have unfolded in the last 20 years and particularly in the last 4 years in the USA, I can't help but wonder if the USA has already reached its zenith and is currently although imperceptibly, falling back down.2 My only question is: 'If so, how long will it take to crash?'
If it is now free-falling, I hope it will take a cue from the Chinese, and like the Phoenix, will quickly rise again from its own ashes.
The past may be gone, but the cycle of history continues, and those who have not learned from the lessons history has to teach, will probably have to learn them the hard way. One never sees the end coming until just before it does 1 .
1 'Zenith' by definition, is the highest point reached by an object like a star, directly above an observer. Being directly above, it takes time to determine if that moving object is still on its way up, or already on its way down.
2 "The Department of Defense (DoD) is facing more challenges today than I have seen in my lifetime. If sequestration goes into effect, we are facing the smallest Army since 1950 and the smallest Navy since 1915. While I believe that every single government agency has room to cut wasteful spending, I agree with current DoD Secretary Panetta that an across the board cut to defense spending will prove 'devastating,'" Franks stated. (Colin Powell praises Hagel nomination to head Defense Department by Jim Kouri.)
R.P.BenDedek (pseudonym) is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (http://www.kingscalendar.com ), and is a guest columnist and stand-in Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. He is also the Editor of the 'Writers Journal' at Kingscalendar.com. An Australian, he has been teaching Conversational English in China since 2003.
Writers Journal Kingscalendar
"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls.