HIGH SCHOOL HUBRIS By Axel Conradi (Article)


Axel Conradi

I remember reading a bumper sticker once that said,  “ Hire a teenager while he still knows everything “ . Well, I was a bit like that once and never more so than in Dr. Scammell’s English class. I was reminded of this during the recent 50th anniversary reunion of my Montreal high school graduating class when I walked right into Dr. Scammell’s old classroom.

Like all the classrooms, it was the usual rectangle and quite un-noteworthy except perhaps for the big windows with multiple panes and which, with some effort, you could hoist up and open. But the old school was noteworthy in other ways, particularly in the quality of its teachers. One year my home room and English teacher was Dr. Arthur Scammell, a man of some renown in his home province of Newfoundland as the author of “ The Squid Jiggin’ Grounds “, the closest thing that “ The Rock “ has to a national anthem. But for many of us Dr. Scammell was a figure of fun. His glasses were constantly sliding down his nose and were thick enough to give him a mildly humorous, self-deprecating, owlish quality. He was also impossibly unkempt.  His shirts tails hung out and his belt dangled for being pulled too tight. His unruly balding head of hair was in permanent need of a comb which he didn’t seem to possess. He perspired profusely and on hot steamy days would constantly wipe his brow with a handkerchief tired from overuse. And his suits were rumpled, their underarms stained and salted like a codfish hung out to dry.

To make matters worse, we his students had no appreciation for the rich folk culture of his native soil and its seafaring ways. We were big city boys and Newfies the butt of jokes. And Dr. Scammell was a Newfie who struggled to maintain order in the class. But the failed disciplinarian was a poet at heart and a good soul when given the chance. And so it was that every now and then we would beseech him to sing his beloved national anthem with the catchy tune and chorus that every one of us remembers to this day:

“   So this is the place where the fishermen gather,

     In oil skins and boots and cape-anns battened down “                                                                                              

When he consented to sing he would stand and put on a full throated performance, his shoulders squared and arms raised, swinging from the elbow as a squids’ might do if on a hook. It was an energetic performance and his hair would fall over his face. His eyes would twinkle and for a brief moment he was back home, the sweat stains of his shirt on full orange display. He would be greeted by howls of laughter from his callow young charges and then sit down convinced I hope that he had made us fall in love with that enduring song.   

I’m old enough now to know that I probably don’t know that much. But I do know this. I know of at least one of my fellow students who attribute his love of reading to Dr. Scammell. I know that in his home town of Change Islands there is a school named after him. I know that according to their website Change Islands “ is built along the shores of a long and narrow tickle that separates the two largest islands“ and that it has a nurse practitioner, Medina Foley,  “ who came to the Island with her husband Greg, three kids and her Newfoundland pony Trumpet “ . It sounds like a place I would like to know.

I also know that in 1988 Dr. Scammell was named to the Order of Canada.

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