Paddy Crosbie was a famous teacher, broadcaster and presenter of the long-running "Schools Around the Corner" series on RTE radio and television from 1954 into the 1970s. He went to St Paul's Christian Brothers School in North Brunswick St in the 1920s and later spent decades teaching there - until the 1970s. In three articles each with a title beginning "The Past Is Another Country", I include extracts from his 1981 book "Your Dinner's Poured Out" subtitled "Boyhood in the Twenties in a Dublin that has Disappeared". (St Pauls was the original "School Around the Corner").
In his introduction to Paddy Crosbie's book, James Plunkett wrote:
"No better company in which to contemplate that world than that of Paddy Crosbie. And to wonder afterwards how it could have slipped away so utterly and so entirely, yet so quietly that it had gone before we noticed. Gone physically that is. The ghosts are innumerable."
Paddy Crosbie retired from teaching in 1978. He was honoured by Pope John Paul II with the Papal decoration Benemerenti in 1979. He died in 1982.
The following incident is not included in the book and I recount it from memory. It occurred on The Late Late Show sometime in the 1970s in the course of a discussion about corporal punishment in schools. Paddy Crosbie was pitted against Doctor Cyril Daly who saw corporal punishment as a barbaric practise. The exchange went something like this:
Paddy Crosbie: "Suppose little Johnny strikes a match in class and holds the flame against the bare leg of the boy in front. What would you do?"
Cyril Daly: "I would say; 'Johnny what did you hope to achieve by that action'."
Paddy Crosbie: "Man, you don't even speak their language!"
A week before corporal punishment was banned in 1982, Dr. Daly, (or one of his friends?) had a letter published in the Irish Times. It stated that teachers who practised that form of discipline "have seven days to turn yourselves into decent human beings". I can't vouch for the exact words but that was certainly the sense of it.
Paddy Crosbie retired from teaching in 1978 when he was 65. (He could have retired 4 years earlier after 40 years service.) Great changes were occurring in Irish society - not so much building and improving on what had gone before as repudiating it. There was a marked increase in violent crime, drug abuse started to become a significant problem and criminal gangs began to make their mark. The worst hit areas were in the north inner city including the area served by St. Paul's CBS - aka "The Brunner" or "The School Around The Corner".
I believe that The Late Late Show exchange between Paddy Crosbie and Dr. Daly was significant. I am quite prepared to concede that the traditionalist approach to teaching may have become outdated. The problem is that "reformers" like Cyril Daly were sanctimonious prigs who knew nothing about the working class. They believed that punishment was wrong, and that the main thing was to remove "repressive" practises. After that the pupils creativity would flow and the Brave New World would appear. This approach may have had some validity in middle class areas but in the north inner city it was a disaster. Teachers like Paddy Crosbie recognised this but they were getting old, the religious orders including the Christian Brothers were declining and there was no one to pass on the torch to. It was impossible to dialogue with idiots like Cyril Daly whose "liberal" dogmatism exceeded anything to be found in the Catholic Church. (The Christian Brothers were highly PRAGMATIC teachers.)
Societies normally progress when the old pass on their experience to the young who accept the gift but also change and develop it. There was a great break in Irish society in the 1970s. A new generation despised and repudiated the past and we are still living with the consequences of their behaviour.
24 February 2011