Tony Lawler started at Carlton le Willows in 1957.  He suffered from a disability which was not then understood but which later came to be called ‘dyslexia’.   As you will see,  without knowing he had a ‘problem’,   he found his own strategies for dealing with his condition and went on to become a teacher.  To me, that seems a huge triumph:  he’s clearly,  and rightly,  proud of it too.






‘Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be’
- and for me and the philosophers amongst us it really isn’t.


My view of the past, particularly my schooldays, is like looking down a telescope the wrong way round;  everything is clearer, smaller but even further away.  Also what I was can be only be judged against what I am now.


This contribution was prompted by my re-reading Paul Wood’s contribution (to our Members’ Newsletter,  Salix) whilst waiting for my computer to re-install its operating system and thus having an hour when I could do nothing but sit and wait for it to ping at me. His memories were both poignant yet were frighteningly true to my memories. They caused me to ponder what a frail and delicate thing the past is,  yet with the power to transport us back the best part of 50 years.


For me 50 years ago the divine Muriel Kent decided, in her wisdom, that it was vital that we know the proportions of carved Roman alphabet characters (capital letters only - the Romans fortunately never got to lower case). And so we devised rhymes and a mnemonic to help us regurgitate them all when tested. (If you doubt this ask John Luff).  Last week I was asked to carve the word ‘onions’ in Spanish onto a chopping board …

… and back it all came:  CDGMOQW, AVHUNTXYZ and BEFJKLPRS. Where did that come from?


Wasn’t it all like this? More often than not, it was about getting our heads around bizarre and distant stuff that it was vital that we came to terms with – for use in a vague and misty future. For me it was made even more vague as I turned out to be “BD” (Before Dyslexia) so that I was gifted with the ability to invert images and letters:  this means I can write backwards and upside down but find sentences and logical sequences really difficult.  Quite recently I was asked whether,  when I wrote a sentence,  I knew ‘where it was going?’.  And I had to confess that in most cases I didn’t.  For me a letter was much like a drawing:  you kind of start somewhere and with a bit of planning and wobbling about,  you sort of work it out as you go along. (Try doing a drawing by starting top left and finishing bottom right).  So I was described as ‘bright but can’t write’ or just a bit ‘thick’. Some time later, too late for me and secondary schooling,  they devised a name for it.


The biggest nightmares for me were languages:  English, French and Latin!  What! There was this wonderful system, which in a different time would be called ‘aversion therapy’,  where each homework piece seemed to be marked out of 100, with one mark taken off for each mistake.  I rarely got more than 10 out of 100.  So I developed a strategy (though I was never usually that premeditated) of making the homeworks as short as possible,  or avoiding them whenever I could (a string of pathetic excuses - my dog ate it, my granddad used it to clean his bike,  etc.).


Just like others around me, I set out to create a situation where I could be successful  (that’s sociology speak for ‘I messed about and caused as much disruption to the lessons as possible’). Generally I did all I could to disguise the fact that I was ‘rubbish’ at language-based subjects.  So I became a class clown,  witty,  relatively popular,  but a real pain in the backside for the less than charismatic teachers.   I didn’t realise that there was a simple solution or even that there was a problem,  but to be honest,  neither did my teachers.  My ‘condition’,  to my knowledge,  wasn’t yet identifiable.


So my discomfort with what was essentially an ‘academic’ curriculum and a ‘going on to university’ ethos,  was exaggerated by the fact that I was essentially a part of the ‘artisan’ class  -  that is,  I made things.  Essentially I learned by doing (through the ends of my fingers).  None of this has ever caused me to have any need to attribute blame or regret.  Secondary school wasn’t ‘wonderful’,  but neither was anything else (I think the concept was beyond me for some time after that.)  I emerged with a ‘bag of beans’ (GCE O levels)  that got me onto the next level, and 5 attempts later one of them became English Language.


Looking down the telescope, still the wrong way round,  I’m struck that whilst we were all so very different,  by today’s standards we were so incredibly alike in many ways.  If only Ian Reddish could have been black and Muslim as well as the only posh vegetarian ‘in the village’ he could have represented more cultural diversity in one person than there was in the rest of the school (at least as far as I was aware - apologies to anyone else I didn’t notice).


We were all part of an emerging ‘educated’ class.  Most,  it seems,  for the first time in our families’ histories.   And because I didn’t follow in my ancestors’ footsteps to become a sheep stealer,  a miner,  an engine driver or a police constable,  I guess it worked.   I have a lot to thank the school for and as those grim years called adolescence (yet another relatively new term for our generation) had to be spent somewhere,  there could have been,  for me,  nowhere better than Carlton le Willows.


Like Paul Wood I eventually became a person with no first name (a teacher - Mister Lawler),  but only teaching things I was good at:  design and technology    teckie and arty stuff.   This gave me the opportunity to use my disruptive talents to entertain and mess with the heads of several generations of other people’s children,  with the best of intentions and the benefit of 40 years of educational and psychological research.   At least I could use my own experience to try to recognize those,  like me,  with deviant learning styles,  in a more informed way.


Although nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, it is all I’ve got to remember it by.

And so onwards into the future looking backwards…


Tony Lawler