In your response ensure that you:
– Use quotation and close analysis of dramatic technique to support your ideas.
– Show some awareness of biographical, cultural or historical context.
The initial presentation of Irwin is clearly negative. In the opening scene of the play Bennett presents to us a clever but cynical historian, advising MPs how to sell a nasty bill that would restrict trial by jury. Utilising his experience as a TV historian, recommending an “amused tolerance” when faced with cameras. We learn further on in the play that Irwin was a school teacher, employed to aid students with their entrance exams to Oxbridge, and throughout the play Bennett conveys Irwin as a liar, maybe slightly manipulative, and questionable sexuality.
Throughout the play, some of Irwin’s speech is comparable to the likes of certain revisionist TV historians, such as Andrew Roberts as the nineteen-eighties was the birth of TV historians:
“Life only comes alive when contemplating its toilet arrangements.”
This statement made by Irwin when he is recording his TV show.
One could argue that revisionist historians should not be allowed to corrupt the mind of young children because they are assuming that history as it has been traditionally told may not be entirely accurate.
During the introduction of the play Bennett states that the play is “about two sorts of teaching-or two teachers anyway (characters always more important than themes).” Evidently Irwin is one teacher and Hector is the other. Irwin is younger more energetic, possibly less wise, faulting the students (and their work) for being non-excitable and dull.
He appears to be modern, or have modernistic ideas on how to produce work. Hector is an older, wiser man, encouraging the boys to think from the heart and quoting them aphoristic snippets of Auden or Hardy.
Bennett states that “there [is] a journalistic side to answering an examination question; that going for the wrong end of the stick [is] more attention-grabbing than a less conventional approach, however balanced.” He tells us how this aspect of exam technique was neglected from his childhood by various teachers, due to “sheer snobbery or the notion (here ascribed to Hector) that all such considerations were practically indecent.” This sheer snobbery could refer to the current government in power, Thatcher’s Conservative Party. Primarily Bennett is referring to the work of revisionist historians, maybe conveying the style of media as manipulative but nevertheless an effective teaching method. Here Irwin is clearly perceived as a desired teacher by Bennett:
“A question is about what you know, not about what you don’t know. A question about Rembrandt, for instance may prompt an answer about Francis Bacon.”
Here Bennett presents Irwin as a teacher he would have liked to have when he was growing up. Contrasting this are the connotations to Hector, showing his as being “above” this type of teaching. Further on Bennett discusses how once he had the fundamental basics of “turning a question on its head” technique he started enjoying writing even though he knew that “it was [his] only hope.”
Bennett discusses various books he studied “The uses of Literacy” specifically “Education and the working class.” The book studies “sixth form boys who had made it to university but had not done well there, the conclusion being that the effort of getting to university often took so much out of working class boys that once there they were exhausted.” This relates to Posner’s story:
“All the effort went into getting there and then I had nothing left. I thought I’d got somewhere, then I found I had to go on.”
Here, effectively we learn that Irwin overworked Posner. He tried to teach him so much, tried to change him and affect his life. Due to this Posner thought Irwin was preparing him for real life but when he finally reached Oxford it was just the same; teachers; exams etc. This effectively conveys Irwin as a teacher whose interests have been focused on only getting through exams. This could be perceived as a positive attribute; however it lacks the development of the boys’ social skills. Schools can be defined as educational institutions, but it could be argued that they are also used to allow pupils to gain sufficient knowledge (non-academic) to successfully integrate into society, when they grow up.
Another fundamental idea is what other people say about Irwin and Hector. The headmaster describes Hector’s results as “unpredictable and unquantifiable.” This directly notates to his teaching techniques not being effective. Although the headmaster is possibly correct about Hector in the sense of exams, he could be slightly naive as Hector contributes to the boys learning in other ways. For example, Hector has given the boys part of his personality. On numerous occasions the boys behave like Hector, and have the same tone as him. The headmaster’s only real focus is results. The headmaster talks to Irwin frankly explaining how he doesn’t want him to “fuck up”. He does not talk about Irwin behind his back, this could be because he is a new addition to the school or because he feels no need to try and find out information about Irwin because he feels that Irwin is doing a good job. The play is set in the eighties, the land of the league tables, where good grades seemed to be the only thing worth living for. As I have previously mentioned, Irwin begins the play conversing with MPs. In his speech Thatcher is perceived as anti-working class, anti-society and obsessed with money. In some ways the headmaster is similar to this.
Mrs Lintott’s role is interesting. Her first view of Irwin is a “clever” man; this soon develops when she discusses him with Rudge and questions whether she “missed” something. During the play she has a chance to look at both male teachers closely, and decide who the better teacher is. After she finds out about Hector’s early retirement, brought about subsequently by his paedophilic habits with the boys, she refers to the headmaster as a “twat” and then a “condescending cunt”. She then goes on to explain how Hector could be compared to a myth at a previous post:
“Droves of the half-educated left school with the notion that art or some form or self-realisation was a viable option.”
She is perhaps describing Hector as a “not very bright” man because he does not realise the boys’ intellectual talent. He encourages them to learn quotes by heart which is perhaps a waste of their ability. This portrays him as a teacher who does not know his pupils as well as he should because he does not realise that the boys are far from needing “self-realisation” as an alternative option.
The boys’ view on both teachers is important. The fact that the boys do not report Hector to the headmaster or their parents shows that they must like him. The fact that Hector has been at the school for longer than Irwin gives him the advantage of knowing the boys far better than Irwin. During his lessons the boys are talkative and constantly going off topic. Amos Bronson Alcott once stated:
“The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-distrust. He guides his eyes to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciple.”
The boys can be seen as Hector’s disciples because they behave like him, and quote his “gobbets.” Hector has not really inspired the boys; he has encouraged them to be like him. Inspiring is urging on or filling with revolutionary ideas. This is where Irwin succeeds Hector; he tries to teach them how to take an idea and turn it on its head, how to be more unique rather than just stating the facts. Put simply Hector encourages the boys to copy him; Irwin encourages the boys to think for themselves and be original.
To conclude I think Irwin is the better teacher. This is my opinion for numerous reasons. Firstly he is the most inspirational teacher out of the two. Dakin states that he’s “never wanted to please anybody the way [he does]” Irwin.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” This quote by William Arthur Ward describes Irwin perfectly in my opinion. Secondly Irwin teaches, he does not use the boys for any other purpose, even if he is homosexual he does not act out his desires with the boys, which shows a greater level of respect and decent behaviour to the boys. Finally even though it could be said that he was a liar, maybe even a cheat, he does manage to get all the boys to Oxbridge, proving that he is a good teacher and he gets results. I think part of his success of his views on exams. Hector feels they are “the enemy of education,” although Irwin sympathises with this opinion he accepts that they are a part of life and adapts to them.