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Self motivation and independent learning


Beaten, bullied and strangled
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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School teachers… the… the ones I remember positively is, first of all, Mrs McCartney – the owner of this kindergarten. I remember her. I remember my teacher Miss Stein, from when I first went to the public school, standard… when I was in standard II and for the rest of them… I mean, I have memories of them as being just a completely bunch of cruel… there was a… they were really awful people in my high school who were… for example they… the boys had… there was a man called Mr Cooij [sic], who said we all had to wear ties – I think from this period stems my total dislike of ties – and if you came to his class without a tie, then what he would do is he would take the… the cords from the skylights, the fan lights, the windows and he would tie this around your neck in such a way that your feet were about a quarter of an inch off the ground, so you either strangled or stood on tiptoe all through the class, so every boy who didn't get a tie was strung up there. So, you know, such things of... like cruelty were pretty standard. I remember my English teacher who didn't like the way I recited the only poetry that I remembered, which was from King Lear, and is this wonderful speech where Edmund decries the fact that he's a bastard and it's full of words like base, vile, bastard, bastard, which of course was wonderful to enunciate in public and… with the correct tone of voice, and all the boys that crossed his… that crossed him, we would have to crawl into the class and stand – I mean, it's just ridiculous – and be like dogs there, kneel by our chairs until we got permission to sit there. So school wasn't a very stimulating environment and one just…

[Q] Were you beaten?

Yes, we were; we were beaten. We were extremely bullied as well. It was a school with… and all schools there were… and since I was small and two to three years younger than everybody else, I simply grew up to be a professional coward; it's the only thing… that is, I would agree to everything not to get bullied. So, you know… so that is… that is also something that helps you to withdraw and then have fantasies how you can get your revenge on all of these people, but that was the thing… so, in a way, going to university was a tremendous liberation.

South African Sydney Brenner (1927-2019) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. His joint discovery of messenger RNA, and, in more recent years, his development of gene cloning, sequencing and manipulation techniques along with his work for the Human Genome Project have led to his standing as a pioneer in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Listeners: Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.



Listen to Lewis Wolpert at Web of Stories



Tags: King Lear

Duration: 3 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008