This Side of the Pond – Aug. 29

By Sarah Pridgeon

The schools of Sundance are bustling with activity and I, for one, am envious of the younglings. My time as a student has long since passed, but I can’t help wondering how I would have fared in an American school system.
Before I had chance to prowl the halls, ostensibly to cover news stories but really on a personal quest for knowledge, I had a somewhat warped view of U.S. education thanks, as usual, to my television screen.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer told me to expect vampires and ghouls, for example, but I have yet to see a single one. And according to Glee and Grease, there ought to be a lot more people spontaneously breaking into song.
This inspired me to embark on a scientific investigation into the differences between Crook County’s schools and my own almae matres. The conclusion of which was that I quite fancied signing up for classes.
The compulsion was born at the elementary school, where I fell head over heels for the enticing atmosphere, bright classrooms and friendly teachers. I was discovered, several hours later, lurking at the back of a classroom in an attempt to blend in with Fourth Grade.
They gently expelled me from the building with the promise that I could return any time I liked, but not to enroll. This displeased me.
I tried the high school next, but the students were even less fooled by my disguise. Wearing my husband’s old football jacket did not cause the jocks to instantly accept me and my haircut is not interesting enough to pose as a mean girl. These, according to my television, were my only options.
Foiled and disappointed, I returned to being an adult. I shelved my dreams of emulating Ferris Bueller and accepted that my British-made education will have to suffice.
At elementary school, I filled the role of confused rebel. I was usually in trouble for something or other, but seldom aware of what exactly it was I’d done wrong.
On an excursion to a working Victorian farm, for example, I stole a chicken’s egg straight from the nest. I did this not to cause trouble for the teachers, but to see if I could hatch it and grow my own poultry.
The same year, my friends and I devised a cunning plan to rear snails. We gathered a sizeable batch, placed them on piles of leaves in our desks and watched affectionately as they covered our text books with residue.
This time, my bad behavior was born of curiosity about the natural world and certainly not, as my teacher later implied, an interest in the mechanics of cleaning snail trails from the inside of a wooden desk. We would probably have kept our new pets until we graduated had one of us not been caught with a juice box and, lacking any deception skills whatsoever, explained that her snails were getting thirsty.
The final straw for that poor teacher came when, on the last day of school, I realized I had forgotten to buy her a gift. Rooting through my box of Special Things, I came across a manicure set that my father had presented to me upon his return from a business trip. I decided it would do.
I was not to know that my dear dad had been motivated by an identical last-minute panic, but I still feel it was churlish to complain to my parents about the gift – even if it did consist of just two cotton wool balls and a piece of wood.
My classmates were no better; my fellows were known for accidentally embedding their teeth in one another’s heads while running where they weren’t supposed to be running and stabbing their own noses with a compass in an effort to be excused from math.
If rumor is to be believed, and it seldom is, that teacher suffered a nervous breakdown shortly after we graduated. Not without merit, she is said to have blamed her sufferings entirely on my class.
My high school experience was meanwhile very much like St. Trinian’s. I won a scholarship to one of the country’s most renowned private schools and it turned out to be a blazers and hockey sticks affair, with very little opportunity for snail-rearing.
It was also exclusively for girls, so was a teeming hive of teenage female hormones. There was more backstabbing and bickering in those classrooms than in the entire back catalog of Days of Our Lives.
We wore strictly administered uniforms with our socks pulled up to our knees and were overseen by an assortment of oddball teachers with IQs high enough to have pushed any social awareness straight out of their ears. We were expected to behave properly at all times and raised on a strict diet of Shakespeare and Latin.
We were also expected to be able to converse in fluent French. This was exposed as a futile hope when a group of us were sent to Normandy as ambassadors for our country and failed to indulge in a single meaningful conversation. We had no trouble, however, buying “une glace fraise.”
On a later trip, my skiing instructor developed such a passionate hatred for our combined ignorance that, when drawing up my certificate to prove I’d reached the base of at least one slope without crashing into it, she manipulated the ascenders on my name to make it read as “Satan” instead of “Sarah.”
While writing this column, I have grown increasingly suspicious that the principals of Sundance’s schools have access to my records. Perhaps they are aware of my educational history and would prefer I was not given chance to repeat it. It is comforting to realize that, as it turns out, they have a perfectly valid reason to keep me from darkening their halls.