Thick skulls

1895-Dictionary-Phrenolog7.35AM, Monday morning, JG Zuma Primary School, KwaZulu-Natal.

“Good morning, staff.”

“Good morning, Headmaster.”

“Right. Before we start, let’s address the elephant in the room.”

“Headmaster, I must protest. You know how sensitive I am about my weight and – ”

“Not you, Mr Dlamini. I am referring, of course, to the report in the Sunday Times about our MEC, Neliswa Nkonyeni, who is being pilloried.”

“Wasn’t she pilloried before when she was MEC for health and was hawking herbal what-whats for – ”

“Miss Mkhize, do you like working here?”

“Yes, Headmaster.”

“Then you will refrain from coming with those historical tendencies. What is the motto of this school?”

“‘In case of fire, break glass.'”

“Above that. Next to the portrait of President Zuma. No, the other portrait of President Zuma. Above the middle one. ‘Deniability Is The Mother Of Redeployment.’ Never forget it, people.

“Right. As you all probably know, when our province’s matric results were fabrica – er, I mean, announced, MEC Nkonyeni delivered a moving speech in which she revealed her dream of an ideal education system. The first pillar of her educational utopia was that children should be taught to play chess to improve their maths skills. The – ”

“Sorry, Headmaster. We don’t call it ‘maths’ any more because it frightens the teachers and reeks of counter-revolutionary acts like being able to count up to 250 million. We call it ‘plussing and minusing’, and teach the children that there’s only one number they need to know: Number One.”

“And long may his face beam down upon us, sir. Where was I? Ah yes, the second pillar of MEC Nkonyeni’s vision: philosophy to help build critical thinking. I believe our guidance counsellors are already helping our more disturbed children by implementing the techniques of a doctor of philosophy.”

“Dr Phil, Headmaster.”

“Phil-osophy. I like it. ‘Cogito ergo sum’, or, in the words of the philosopher McGraw, ‘Girl, whut were you thanking?’ Powerful. But I digress. Chess and philosophy thrilled me, but the final two pillars of her vision made me realise that Ms Nkony eni is operating on a level few of us can understand. The first of these? Graphologists! Yes! ‘Experts analysing the handwriting of our learners to understand them better!”


“What is it, Ms Mkhize?”

“Well, sir, it’s just, I mean . Shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to write before we start trying to analyse their handwriting?”

“Staff, I will ignore Ms Mkhize’s defeatist barb and simply ask you to look at the shape of her head. It seems normal, does it not? Until, that is, we measure it with these calipers! No, Ms Mkhize, don’t struggle, it will mess up the measurements!”

“What the hell, you medieval freak?!”

“And there we have it! See? The rear of the cranium is 2 millimetres larger than usual, suggesting disobedience, rashness, possible psychotic tendencies and a latent sinister desire to remain unmarried! Which brings me to MEC Nkonyeni’s most exciting vision: phrenologists! An army of skull-measuring, calliper-wielding mages, helping us stream our children according to the shape of their heads! Welcome to education in KwaZulu-Natal in 2015, people!”

“Viva discredited racist 19th-century pseudo-science, viva!”

“Thank you, colleagues, thank you. It’s all very exciting. And now, in line with Ms Nkonyeni’s vision, I would like to announce that in future, all children with learning disabilities, behavioural problems, personal strife at home or funny-looking faces will be referred to the school nurse, who will do a diagnostic measurement of their heads with a tape measure before recommending treatment. Nurse, over to you.”

“Thank you, Headmaster. Staff, I’m particularly worried about little Siyabonga in Grade 2. I fear he is 3 millimetres away from becoming a serial killer. How else can we explain his refusal to do his homework? However, with your permission I would like to extract a tincture of newt and administer a poultice to his head that might reduce the bone density on the affected area.”

“Sounds like a plan, Nurse. And what of little Nomalanga in Grade 4 who keeps falling asleep during plussing and minusing?” A curious case, to be sure. Her penmanship suggests demon-possession, but it might be nothing more than an attack of the humours. I would recommend bleeding with leeches, twice a week, to draw out the humours.”

“Thank you, Nurse. Staff, that is all. As you go to your classrooms be of good cheer: the fate of the 2million schoolchildren in this province is sealed. Thanks to people like our MEC, their future is as bright as a pyre of burning witches. That is all. Now let’s go fill some oddly shaped skulls!”


First published in The Times and TimesLive

Published by Tom Eaton

Tom Eaton is a columnist, satirist, screenwriter and sometime-novelist.

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