by Richard Henley


This story requires a brief account of the teaching ideology that prevailed back in my first term at Luke's ( the fallDickie of 1967). In a nutshell, it was that children have no choice in their actions since they will respond in predictable ways to specific stimuli, and, as teachers, we should take advantage of this, in order to help them learn.

Sir Richard Acland, although a leading member of the College Education Faculty, vehemently disagreed with children being equated with 'Pavlov's Dogs', to the point that, at the end of the first term, he requested the opportunity to give a voluntary attendance 'year lecture' to, as he personally posted it on the main Heavitree notice board, "repudiate most of what you have been taught during the past three months"

There were about 300 students comprising the 'year of 67', but only about 20 were Killertonians. Naturally, having come to know Sir Richard, we were sure that the lecture would be entertaining. The remaining 280 or so of that 67 student intake had heard through the College grapevine that the lecture would be well worth attending, since Sir Richard Acland had the reputation of being a trifle 'eccentric'. All 300 of us crammed into the College theatre and eagerly waited for the 'show' to begin. ---  We were all in for a big surprise !.

Sir Richard began talking as he entered the theatre, continued to talk as he walked down the centre aisle to the stage, paused briefly as he laid a folder of notes, unopened, on the lectern, and then commenced to hold 300 students spellbound for a solid hour. During that hour, which I shall remember until the day I die, he displayed all the public speaking skills of an experienced politician, which of course he was; put forward in precise terms the need for teachers to be superbly Christian men, in which he absolutely believed, and left us in no doubt that we all were in the presence of a unique individual, who's in depth knowledge of philosophy and theology, made us all aware that we still had a great deal to learn about life in general, and teaching in particular.

The core of his arguament was that all human beings, especially children, are inherently blessed by their Creator with the innate ability to know the difference between right and wrong. He referred to this as "The Doctrine of Original Sin", and used all of his immense powers as an orator, to convince us, that, it should be the recognition of this doctrine, as opposed to our recent teachings, that henceforth, would make us worthy custodians of "the valuable, nay precious", youth of England.

At the conclusion of his presentation I witnessed something never seen again at a Luke's year lecture. Spontaneously, the entire audience rose from their seats and put their hands together in a show of respect and admiration.

Sir Richard, clearly overcome with emotion, scooped up his unused note folder from the lectern, and with it under one arm, the other arm held high in a jesture of thanks to the student body, head down,( I think to hide his tears,) with his black gown flowing behind him, he rushed up the centre aisle, and out of the theartre.

Whenever I seriously think back to that occasion,  to this day, the memory often brings tears to my eyes, so, in a few minutes, (when I have stopped crying into this glass of red wine), I will finish the story on a lighter note.

It wasn't difficult to impersonate Sir Richard. All you needed to do was wave around your arms while wearing a pair of horn rimmed specs and a black gown. Providing that you got a few 'Ahhh Gentlemen's' in the script, there was little doubt about which character you were trying to portray. A few of us took the time to memorise Sir Richard's closing remarks from that amazing and unforgetable year lecture, and consequently our performances were always in demand at various Killerton entertainment evenings.

I have just used the adjective 'unforgetable'; it was, and  I'll prove it to you !

"Ahhhh, so Gentlemen, let us look backward, and go forward, and make this Country something better than it used to be, in the days, when it was much worse than it is now"

I've tried to get my head around that sentence for the past forty two years; and I'm still not close. If you think you can explain it to me, feel free!!.