Education Museum I

Sometimes it is the smaller, less advertised museums that can be the most fun.

My paint set in school had the same colours, but we didn't use shells as paint boxes.

My paint set in school had the same colours, but we didn’t use shells as paint boxes.

In 2009, when I first visited Ypres, Belgium, I went to the In Flanders Fields Museum (and returned there this year). Included with the admission fee for that museum was admission to a couple of other smaller institutions in Ypres. I think the idea was that the smaller museums don’t have the same appeal, but people might visit if there is no extra charge. In my case anyway, they were right. I spent the day in Ypres and checked most of them out.

This year it was the same deal, and instead of one day in Ypres we had three, which meant we could take our time and not try to cram everything into one day. Since my wife, Vivian, is a teacher, it made sense for us to make sure we checked out the Municipal Museum of Education.

It was a fun visit. I went in with appropriate expectations – this isn’t an institution that covers the history of education world-wide, but rather looks at education in the Flanders area from the Middle Ages to the present, not a subject I really care about all that much, since I am not an educator. But I am naturally curious about just about everything, which is why I took in the museum again this year as well, rather than just telling Vivian to see it while I did something else.

A re-creation of a typical Flanders school room from the 18th century.

A re-creation of a typical Flanders school room from the 18th century.

I would say that school is pretty much school, no matter where you are. There is a teacher, students and information is imparted. Methods have changed over the years, but it all looked pretty familiar. Teaching school in Ypres in 1917, for example, was probably just about the same as in small-town Ontario at that time, except the language of instruction was Flemish, not English. Oh, and there was a war going on

I have told my children repeatedly that education is important, that you need knowledge if you want to get ahead in the world. Apparently they believed me, as both have gone on to post-graduate studies. Not that education is a cure-all, but it does have definite advantages.

My father was the middle child of three, all boys. Our family was from what in small towns was referred to as “the wrong side of the tracks.” I didn’t realize that until I was an adult, but I had grown up knowing that the family had been very poor in my father’s childhood and teen years.

My teachers used to warn us about all sorts of things, but  we never had to worry about the dangers of picking up unexploded munitions. This is still a problem in Belgium today, almost a century after the end of the First World War.

My teachers used to warn us about all sorts of things, but we never had to worry about the dangers of picking up unexploded munitions. This is still a problem in Belgium today, almost a century after the end of the First World War.

The three boys had three different educational experiences. His eldest brother received a university education (probably the first in family history) and became a successful lawyer. My father went to secretarial school (this was back in the days when men made up most of the workforce) and learned about business. He had a moderately successful career in middle management. There was no money for his younger brother to receive an education, and he became a mechanic of sorts. I’m not sure if it was through an apprenticeship program or if he was naturally gifted. Perhaps both. He was less than successful; I don’t think he and his wife ever moved out his mother’s house, they had an apartment on the second floor. Alcohol was an issue for them.

Three different educational levels, three different outcomes. My perceptions of my uncles may be wrong, but I would say that of the three brothers my father was the one who was happiest with his lot in life, even though he wasn’t the one with the greatest educational opportunity. As important as education is, knowledge alone won’t make you happy. My father understood that. I don’t know if his brothers did.

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