Home' Teacher : March 2011 Contents 54 TEACHER MARCH 2011
Late in March last year, I was preparing an
address to the Cambridge Society on the
topic of education and schools in 2020. One
of the initial themes I wanted to explore was
the fact that while much has changed over
the last 100 years in education, much has
also remained the same, especially in terms
of the cellular structure of classrooms, the
lockstep chronological advancement of stu-
dents each year, and the structu re of the
To illustrate this, I'd assembled four
sequential images: of my grandfather, taken
in 1916; my uncle, taken in 1946; me, taken
in 1974; and my three sons, taken earlier
Although we were all photographed at
about the same age, we were all living in
very different worlds; we all had contrasting
expectations of life and careers; we all had
varied experiences of education; but, tell-
ingly, all of us had very similar experiences
of schools and their organisation, despite
the fact that our photographs span a period
of 94 years.
My grandfather, I believed, was born in
1895, although I was uncertain of his exact
date of birth. That's the same year that St
Michael's Gram mar School, where I'm head,
was founded, which I thought was a neat
connection to make in my presentation. It
would be better still, I thought, if he'd been
born on 22 April, the date on which the first
student, Dolly Ziebell, started at the school.
My personal assistant has a passion for
and an expertise in genealogy, with access
to a number of online databases. So, late
on a Friday afternoon as I was compiling
the address, rather than attempting to con-
tact any of my relatives in Australia or the
United Kingdom, I asked her whether it was
possible for her to search for my grand-
father's date of birth.
Within a short time, she'd not only dis-
covered my grandfather's date of birth --
30 December 1895 -- but also uncovered the
fact that he'd been married twice and that
my father and his two siblings had an elder
half-sister about whom they'd never know n.
My grandfather had initially married in
1916, but his first wife had died in 1919,
possibly from complications in childbirth.
The daughter of the marriage then disap-
pears from view, although she did marry
The significant thing for me in all of this
is that an obviously closely guarded family
secret was revealed by a quick online search
within a matter of minutes. Aside from
the mystery of this 'other' family -- and an
unknown branch of the Gipson family to
whom I'm related -- I couldn't help but reflect
on the implications revealed by the search.
My grandfather, for whatever reasons,
was clearly at pains to keep his first mar-
riage and child a secret from his second fam-
ily. And during his lifetime -- he died in 1965
-- and up until recently, it was quite easy to
do so. In the 21st century, ease of access to
information via the internet makes it much
more difficult to protect personal privacy
and family secrets.
It got me thinking about what we might
uncover in another 90 years regarding the
public lives of so many who parade per-
sonal details on social networking sites.
The digital images and information that
are recorded online will, I'm sure, have a
life that will long surpass their desired use-
by date. Images posted at age 18 will no
doubt still be accessible on the net, or its
equivalent, at age 48. I don't think many
have considered this possibility.
Free access to information has eroded,
and at times disestablished, former con-
ventional boundaries of privacy. So much
which once used to be shared behind closed
doors, or conveyed in a handwritten letter
sealed in an envelope now has global cur-
rency. We therefore need to recognise this
and, at times, exercise circumspection in
what we publish on the internet. We need
to encourage others also to think carefully
about how they present themselves and their
lives on social networking sites. What seems
appropriate now may, indeed, be a liability
in the future.
As a coda to my grandfather's story, I
phoned my mother after I'd found out about
his first marriage. She confirmed that my
late father never had any idea about his half-
sister, although there had been family suspi-
cion about a previous marriage. This arose
from a posed photograph of my grandfather
as a young man in an army uniform with
another woman. No one in the family other
than my grandfather had ever known who
this mysterious woman was or what her
relationship to him was. Now we do.
Simon Gipson is the Head of St Michael's
Gramm ar School, Melbourne.
Composite image by Ralph Schubele.
MUCH IN EDUCATION HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST 100 YEARS, ALTHOUGH MUCH
HAS ALSO REMAINED THE SAME -- BUT NOT ONLINE, AS SIMON GIPSON DISCOVERS.
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