Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Excluded

Reading the Guardian on Thursday morning brought back to my mind a time when I was excluded. Not from school as such, though it did happen while I was at Primary School, but from the group of friends of which I was normally a part. One morning they announced that they weren’t going to talk with me any more and they weren’t going to go about with me either, I couldn’t be part of their gang.

It hurt. I remember telling our teacher about it when she called me to her and said she’d noticed what was happening. This teacher was very pretty and very approachable. She was someone you could talk to. So when she said she’d seen what was going on, I felt I could tell her about it. I don’t recall that she spoke to the ‘friends’ who’d excluded me but at least I felt glad I’d been able to talk to her about it. Eventually I suppose it blew over. I never discovered what lay behind it though perhaps there was a clue in the fact that, during the period when they weren’t talking to me, my erstwhile friends were calling me Jezebel. This hurt. It all hurt. I was familiar with the name, Jezebel, as that of a woman in the Old Testament who attracted the hatred or scorn of others. At the time, I didn’t know why. Only now, all these years later, have I looked her up in my Biographical Encyclopaedia.

Evidently, Jezebel was a Phoenician princess in the 9th century B.C. Wife of King Ahab of Israel, she introduced Phoenician habits and religion to the capital Samaria. Perhaps this was why she was hated. Certainly it brought her the undying enmity of the prophet Elijah and his successors. Yet after her husband’s death, she became the power behind the throne of her sons until an army coup which led to her being thrown from a window and trampled to death under the chariot of her usurper.

At the time when I was Jezebel, I had no idea who she was, only that she was hated. I also had no idea what had occasioned the hatred my erstwhile friends now appeared to feel for me. I had a dim suspicion that it may have happened because I was always top of the class and also because, as well as talking to my girlfriends, I was also friends with the boys in the class and used to talk to them too. What I do know for certain – for I still remember it clearly – is that one of the country girls, the Welsh-speaking girls in our class who lived in the Preseli area and came into school by bus each day, specifically came to me and said she and her group would be my friends. I found this very moving. It gave me a lifelong sense of the goodness of people who see that something bad is happening and try to make up for it in some way. At the time – and it’s something that has stayed with me – I felt especially aware that this goodness was being shown to me by country children who, I guess, were used to experiencing a tinge of prejudice against them.

So it was a Guardian piece about school exclusions that returned to my mind  this childhood experience of mine. The piece was a story in the news section and behind it was the sense of a need for a thorough-going examination of the whole subject of school exclusion. Who gets excluded and why does it happen? Does it happen to some kinds of children and not others? What if anything is being done to help to remedy the reasons for its happening? Do these include reasons of race?

Being excluded is something that can affect you for life. I think my memory of my own small childhood experience reveals how such an experience can linger. But what I’ve reported of my own experience is simply something that happened among friends and soon came to an end. It had none of the institutional – and often racial – significance of the large number of exclusions that are evidently a fact of life in so many schools today. It’s obviously time for a closer look at why these are happening and what has to happen to bring about change.

PS: My photos this week are of two of the plants that are happily included in my garden’s stock: daffodils (of course) and a lone cowslip. The latter reminds me of a walk down in Wales where I once came upon a whole field of cowslips. Bliss.

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