Delhi, Ontario, Canada
His first school was a secondary modern, located at the end of a long valley in the Yorkshire Woollen District. The students had not passed the eleven-plus IQ test so were destined to leave school at age 14 and enter the work-force as apprentices, trainees, semi-skilled workers, and manual workers. Therefore, the school’s task was to give them three years of a very general, and not too demanding education so that they could graft onto it more specialized skills, predictably in the local woollen mills. Rumours that the school leaving age would be raised to 16 were dismissed by the staff who said they would never be able to handle the students at that age.
Bernie, the son of an engineer, was born in Brighouse in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in the north of England. A few years later in 1936, the family moved to a new house in Huddersfield which provided the novelties of electricity, inside taps, and an inside bathroom.
After attending the local Protestant and the central Catholic elementary schools, Bernie passed the eleven-plus IQ test and wore the uniform of Huddersfield College, a select grammar school, for the next seven years, eventually winning a state scholarship to help finance a university education.
He took an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin, with French (and much table-tennis and soccer) and Teachers’ Training at Liverpool University (and much fencing and Scottish country dancing).
Being qualified in 1953 and unable to delay further, he reported to the Lancashire Fusiliers for his two years of National Service, spending most of it in London teaching soldiers a curriculum of mathematics, English, geography, map reading, and military subjects.
It was while Bernie was teaching there that he had his most motivated class. They were a dozen sergeants and warrant officers, very skilled and professional, who had had “battlefield promotions”, or neglected to seek out courses, and were now approaching retirement. For a full pension and self-esteem, they needed the educational qualifications to confirm their rank, and they came to Bernie for a crash course and early exams.
A measure of their earnestness came on the second day when they took him out to a splendid supper at a posh Indian restaurant in Soho. However, it soon became apparent that despite the important and responsible work they were doing, the world of improper fractions, back-bearings on a compass point, and subordinate clauses was not within their ken. Thus, they started low and worked their way up with very long days and heavy homework. How they WORKED!
Three of the women warrant officers were special cases. They could neither read nor write.
“I can’t teach you in six weeks,” Bernie said solemnly. “Will you give me three months? I can fudge you through the exam, but I want you for six hours a week for another six weeks after that. And I’ll teach you to read and write.”
They had no choice, of course, and that is what teacher and students did. In fact, all but one of the group passed, and Bernie was really proud and impressed that they did so well.
His real reward was realized when one WRAC sergeant-major finally showed him two letters. One was the very first letter she had ever written, badly spelled but clear, to her estranged daughter to whom she had not spoken in years. The other was the reply from her daughter, wanting to meet and rebuild a relationship and she very slowly, but proudly, read the letters to Bernie with tears in her eyes.
After leaving the army in 1955, he taught at a secondary modern school, a comprehensive school, and a grammar school.
In England, then and now, a scientific test at age 11 determines a child’s Intelligence Quotient. The more intelligent children go to a grammar school for a superior education and will take state exams at age 16 and age 18. If they do well enough, they then go to university and specialized employment. These are the cream of the crop. Those who score badly (or fail – this is not a taboo word outside of North America) will have a more general and less demanding education at a secondary modern school until age 16. Those areas where such streaming of schools is not well viewed put ALL the students together in a comprehensive school, which allows the theoretical “late-developers” to develop later and compete on equal terms. The one in which Bernie taught had about ten streams at each level and students moved “up and down” at the end of each year to produce more homogenous, and thus efficient, classes. The notion of having students of different ages, aptitudes, abilities, IQs, and support levels in the same class was considered not to be in the best interests of education.
Then, in 1963 , he took his wife Pat and their two children to Australia where he taught at the secondary level before returning to England in 1967. Because the right appointment in England proved to be elusive, the family (now with three children) moved to Delhi, Ontario, Canada, where he taught Latin, French, and English to grades 9 through 13 until 1986. At that time, he took over a high school library, where he remained until he retired in 1990.
During this period, he also participated in a year’s exchange with a teacher in Quebec, one year in Switzerland, and one year at the University of Western Ontario for a master’s degree in library science (1975).
Australia, like the United Kingdom, judged the IQ to be a useful tool and students were streamed accordingly. Usually, in Bernie’s classes, a list of students ranked by marks coincided very accurately with the IQ marks. Students were streamed in Australia, Switzerland, and Quebec; and there was considerable effort made to achieve high academic standards with external exams, homework, a low emphasis (by Canadian standards) on sport and social life, and the use of the natural competitive spirit among the students. Australian classes were 35 to 40, Quebec around 25 to 30, and Switzerland about 20. Bernie feels that lower class sizes produce better work.
He also took a year’s leave (four-over-five plan) to travel in Europe, Turkey, and India. Because Ontario teachers were well-paid and because a well-travelled teacher and one periodically refreshed teaches better, Bernie’s area came up with a four-over-five scheme. If accepted, one received 80% of one’s salary for five years. The money was invested or banked and the fifth year was spent traveling, studying, researching. Thus, the teacher received four years salary and performed four years work, but took five years about it, the fifth year being spent on other distractions. It was popular with both teachers and board and brought spice to many lives. Bernie and Pat went to England (where he taught for a few weeks), France, Turkey, Nepal, and back to England. He returned refreshed and strong.
His most challenging class was one that he taught during a three-month stint at an exclusive girls’ grammar school in Australia. In its 60 years of existence, Bernie was the first male teacher there. The lowest IQ accepted was 125, and there were three streams. Thus, the top groups really moved along.
One of these also included three girls who had been “sent down” from several other posh schools and were there to play pranks. Each assumed another’s name. When Bernie finally tumbled onto this, he sent them to the headmistress.
“Which of the school rules exactly were they breaking, Mr Crawshaw?” she asked icily.
“The one which says ‘I will always do my best,’ ” he replied hopefully.
However, she was no help and, when the school bell rang at the day’s end, she was always the first off the premises.
As a result, Bernie made his own rule. The three girls read magazines on the floor behind their desks on the front row; and, if he saw or heard them, he tossed a book at them, in the manner of a frisbee. It was aimed to maim. After a few lumps and near misses, they accepted this armed truce and he could work harmoniously with the rest of the class.
It was always the aim of Ontario French teachers to have their students speak French in class. Indeed, Bernie’s room at times was so filled with noisy drills and conversation patterns that he sometimes had to leave. As a result, by Grade 13 there was a real likelihood that the students could express simple ideas in French.
This area of Ontario had five secondary schools. Bernie organized a French Day at a hospitable local museum and the grade 13 students from all five schools arrived. They were divided into twelve teams – to eliminate school chums – and spent the day, with lunch and breaks, in team games, skits, quizzes, lectures, and museum tours. Anyone who spoke English wore the dunce’s cap until he/she found someone else breaking the “rule”. Everyone was pleasantly surprised that their French actually worked. The administrations were pleased, also, as there was no cost to the board.
His largest class was 44 boys (with desks for 40) at the English secondary modern and, in Australia, two mixed grade 9 classes of 42 students.
A student-teacher entering the profession now faces very different students, systems of education, and standards of behaviour from his experience; but the old adage may still work “There’s always a way – if you try them all.”
In the 1980s, the Ontario Teachers’ Union organized two or three teachers to visit Third World countries to instruct their teachers during the summer holidays. Groups went to Cuba, India, Guyana, St. Lucia, and Haiti. Since his children were gone and his wife was in Mississippi for the summer of 1985, Bernie volunteered for five weeks in Haiti, teaching general knowledge to the teachers of Gonnaieves.
So touched was he by the poverty of this country that he became determined to help. In 1987, he opened a used-book store in one room of his house. People would donate books, which he would sell and then send the profits to schools in Haiti.
When he retired in 1990, he moved the books into a former motel which he renovated and still rents. The store is open from 2:00 p.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Christmas. He has ten volunteers, 24,000 used books, and a highway location. The proceeds have helped build a teachers’ college and two schools in Fort-Liberté, in northwest Haiti. Without this grand obsession, retirement would have been very dull. You can find Fernlea Ivix Non-Profit Books Inc on Google Maps Street View.
He and Pat generally take two trips a year to California or Europe, and even further afield on coach tours. She quilts and he paints local landscapes. They also have their clubs and associations, a few rental houses, and, most importantly, their three grown-up offsprings and four grandchildren. What is most important for Bernie is to review the day before he falls asleep and to find that he did something worthwhile.
(This page was updated in October 2012.)