The History Boys by Alan Bennett

THBWe liked this so much that we voted it our book of the year.

Those of us with teaching experience recognized all to well how true it is about modern education.

The teacher who wants a journalistic side to answering an examination question – that’s going for the wrong end of the stick and is more attention-grabbing than a less unconventional approach, however balanced. Nobody had ever tutored me in examination techniques or conceded that such techniques existed, this omission I suspect to be put down to sheer snobbery or the notion (here ascribed to Hector) that all such considerations were practically indecent.

I did at least try and teach my pupils the technique of answering essay questions a

The school was based on Lawnswood in Leeds, which has since been demolished.

I am reminded of Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy, where people are educated out of the working class roots ut don’t fit in comfortable with the middle class.


They weren’t sure what a First was.
‘Does it mean you’ve come top?’ asked my mother, not particularly surprised, as from their point of view that’s what I’d always done ever since elementary school.
I went back to pushing the barrels around, hardly able to believe my luck. It was one of the great days of my life, but it was luck. I was right: I hadn’t done well in the viva, but another candidate had and with approximately the same results as mine had been put in the first class so I had to be included too. It was a narrow squeak.
With a First, a research grant was a formality, so I stayed on at Oxford and for a time even convinced myself I was a scholar,

But I was more a copyist than a scholar, since that was all I did, copying Out medieval records with no notion what to do with them, and the longer I did it — for five years after taking my degree — the more dissatisfied with myself and the bigger fraud I felt. The truth was not in me,
Hector I thought that after last year we were settling for the less lustrous institutions. . . Derby, Leicester, Nottingham. Even my own dear Sheffield. Scripps. You believe in God. Believe also in me: forget Oxford and Cambridge.
That’s hardly surprising. I count examinations, even for Oxford and Cambridge, as the enemy of education. Which is not to say that I don’t regard education as the enemy of education, too.
Codes, spells, runes — call them what you like, but do not call them gobbets. …….Oh, it would be useful. . . every answer a Christmas tree hung with the appropriate gobbets. Except that they’re learned by heart. And that is where they belong and like the other components of the heart not to be defiled by being trotted out to order.

Headmaster I would call it grooming did not that have overtones of the monkey house.  ‘Presentation’ might be the word.

Strange how even the most tragic turns of events generally resolve themselves into questions about the timetable

 Scripps Have a heart. He’s only five minutes older than we are.

Drugs they were prepared for, but not Matins

Irwin  so far as he Cenotaph and the Last Post and all that stuff is concerned, there’s no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.

And as for the truth, Scripps, which you were worrying about: truth is no more at issue in an examination than thirst at a wine-tasting or fashion at a striptease.

The wrong end of the stick is the right one. A question has a front door and a back door. Go in the back, ……It’s entertainment. And if it isn’t, make it so.

I’m a Jew.  I’m small.  I’m homosexual.  And I live in Sheffield. I’m fucked.
Dakin The more you read, though, the more you see that literature is actually about losers. …. It’s consolation. All literature is consolation.

I talked to Irwin about it. He didn’t correct me. He let me call him Kneeshaw. He’ll think I’m a right fool.  Shit.

Mrs Lintott One thing you will learn if you plan to stay in this benighted profession is that the chief enemy of  culture in any school is always the Headmaster

Headmaster A hand on a boy’s genitals at fifty miles an hour, and you call it nothing?
Hector The transmission of knowledge is in itself an erotic act. In the Renaissance.

Headmaster Fuck the Renaissance. And fuck literature md Plato and Michaelangelo and Oscar Wilde and all he other shrunken violets you people line up. This is a school and it isn’t normal.
Hector But how can you teach the Holocaust?
Irwin Well, that would do as a question. Can you… should you. . . teach the Holocaust? Anybody?
Akthar It has origins. It has consequences. It’s a subject like any other.
….Hector They go on school trips nowadays, don’t they? Auschwitz. Dachau. What has always concerned me is where do they eat their sandwiches? Drink their coke?
Crowther The visitors’ centre. It’s like anywhere else.
Hector Do they take pictures of each other there? Are they smiling? Do they hold hands? Nothing is appropriate. Just as questions on an examination paper are inappropriate. How can the boys scribble down an answer that doesn’t demean the suffering involved? And putting it well demeans it as much as putting it badly.
Dakin We were having a discussion, sir, as to whether you are disingenuous or meretricious.
Irwin I’m flattered.
Dakin Disingenuous is insincere, not candid, having secret motives.
Meretricious is showy and falsely attractive. We decided, sir, you were meretricious but not disingenuous.
Irwin Thank you.

Irwin I was telling them that there were ways of discussing it that went beyond mere lamentation. The risk the historian
Headmaster Mr Irwin. Fuck the historian. I have two angry Jewish parents threatening to complain to the school governors.


Hector I didn’t actually do anything. It was a laying-on of hands, I don’t deny that, but more in benediction than gratification or anything else.
Mrs Lintott Hector, darling, love you as I do, that is the most colossal balls.
Hector Is it?
Mrs Lintott A grope is a grope. It is not the Annunciation.


Irwin I never got in. I was at Bristol. I did go to Oxford, but it was just to do a
Rudge …was I related to Bill Rudge who’d been a scout on Staircase 7 in the 1950s. So I said he was my dad and they said I was just the kind of candidate they were looking for,i college servant’s son, now an undergraduate, evidence of how far they had come, wheel come full circle and that.
Mind you, I did all the other stuff like Stalin was a sweetie and Wilfred Owen was a wuss. They said I was plainly someone who thought for himself and just what the college rugger team needed.

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