Saturday, June 21, 2008

School for Scoundrels

Education Minister Naledi Pandor should be going for lessons. While her education system seems fraught with problems such as teacher strikes, violence amongst pupils and teenage pregnancies, there are a number of institutions where conveying information to the students is definitely on the syllabus. Perhaps she needs to ask a few of these successful learning establishments how to put education back into her schools.

Firstly, there is the School for Training Truck Drivers. I don’t know exactly where it’s situated but its teachers are obviously doing their jobs exceptionally well. To a man (and occasionally, to a woman) truck drivers are so well-versed in their code of conduct that there is without doubt a single-minded vision behind their behaviour. You must have noticed. If you haven’t, I suggest a leisurely drive down to Durban on the N3. It is important, however, to have your affairs in order before you leave. One never knows when one’s next of kin might need to locate your will.

Once on the road you’ll soon see the results of successful communal truck driver education. As one, the trucks exhibit the same behaviour. A favourite trick is the way they snail up winding hills right until the very moment you (quite rightly in the fast lane) are about to overtake them. That’s when they morph into formula one drivers swerving out in front of you at the exact second you draw up alongside them. You-Tube extracts of your life flash before your eyes as twenty tonnes of juggernaut grazes your diminished car. If you don’t pass out with fear, you may notice a minuscule orange light ticking on the right side of the gargantuan beast. The truck driver has obeyed the rules of the road. He may have overtaken the truck in the slow lane ahead of him without looking behind. He may have endangered the lives of hundreds of drivers in his wake. But he did have his indicator on.

Another of their skills is evident when trucks manage to take up all three lanes of the motorway at once, usually on a steep uphill, thereby slowing the traffic down to a crawl with a tailback all the way to Van Reenen’s Pass. Their ability to form a phalanx, blocking out any view of the road ahead for a mere Golf, is a tactical exercise worthy of Julius Caesar himself. Their education has certainly made them masters of the road.

Another successful institution imparting single-minded information is the one which teaches certain public servants to treat their clients as non-humans. Their foundation rule is: Never Make Eye Contact. That way they can never be expected to recognise that you are, in fact, a fellow human being. The person who has mastered the art, and who they must call in for demonstrations to beginners, is the man in the traffic licence department. You know the one I mean. He’s in charge of finger printing when he isn’t Heil-Hitlering on the forecourt. His training has taught him to man-handle your, well, hand really, as he extracts a blackened print for your driver’s licence. His disdain for your humanity is blatant as he laughs and talks disparagingly about you to his friend while you try to make polite conversation. His dehumanising skill is immense. And those in Home Affairs can only dream of reaching his disdainful heights.

Education for assistants in expensive jewellery stores has also shown pleasing results. Most jewellery shop assistants have practiced their “You could not possibly afford to buy anything in this shop” look to perfection as they scan your non-designer clothes while you hand over your well-worn watch for a new battery. They are trained to make you feel deeply unworthy. As are the assistants behind beauty counters in chain stores. Years of training have taught them to treat people as if they just aren’t quite beautiful enough.

So Mrs Pandor, your task is simple. Find these secret purveyors of skills and ask them to help your schools. All I need now is to find a school to teach me how to deal with the frustration that threatens to explode whenever I’m forced to deal with a product of the Schools for Scoundrels.

First pubished in The Sunday Independent, 21 September 2008.