Friday, March 1, 2013

The academic impact of an apprenticeship with the North Western Gas Board

The important point in writing about learning to use a hand held mouth blow lamp at the North Western Gas Board is the unexpected impact it had on my life. Throughout my schooling I got on well with my teachers and was generally regarded as “very intelligent” according to my school reports. But, for some inexplicable reason I did not do very well in school either in tests or essays. Therefore, my teachers concluded that I was “easily distracted" and did "not pay attention." 

Yet the reality was that I did pay attention and worked very hard for poor results. Yet when it came to verbalizing things I could easily ace the exams in most subjects. The only problem was we were never give verbal exams and when it came to writing I fared very badly.

Consequently, following my 11th birthday I took the English "eleven-plus" examination and promptly failed it. Therefore, to the great disappointment of my family I went to the local secondary modern school like 95% of the population. This meant, however, that I automatically left school at 15 and had no chance of going to university.

After some months work with the Gas Board my writing and other academic skills showed fairly dramatic improvements and I began to do very well in my exams. In fact, over the next six years I became a top student. At the time this was attributed to my "growing up" and was seen as quite normal.

In the foreground is Bass Mutch with whom I served most of my apprenticeship

Years later my own son, Jeremy, experienced similar problems in school. But, although we sent him for numerous tests I tended to assume that he too would simply grow out of his inability to read and write well given time. Unfortunately, this never happened. Then, fortunately when he was almost seventeen, a family friend who worked as a speech therapist heard about some new eye tests and made the connection with Jeremy's condition.

As a result he underwent a battery of tests before it was determined that his eyes failed to focus correctly when the type of eye movement used to read was involved. This discovery led to extensive eye exercises which were carried out every day for several years. At the end of this time he could read and write normally because for the first time he could actually see what he was supposed to see.

Helping administer these eye exercises, which were designed to be done with two people, caused me to remember my time in the Gas Board’s training school because the required eye movements were almost identical to what we had to do with our blow lamps and solider to make pipe joints. The main difference was that while he had to do these exercises for half an hour a day I had done similar exercises for four hours a day for almost eight months.

Suddenly I realized why my academic work improved dramatically while I was in my first year of apprentice training. It had nothing to do with "growing up." Rather my eyes were trained to focus correctly and everything else fell in place.