Friday, September 11, 2009

Jenny Diski's "The Sixties"

Jenny Diski was born in 1947 in London, where she has lived most of her life. She is the author of eight novels and two books of travel/memoir, two collections of essays and a volume of short stories. Her journalism has appeared in the Mail on Sunday, the Observer and the London Review of Books, among other publications.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Sixties, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Sixties looks like a pretty reasonable precis of the whole. It certainly describes the engagement and the innocence (we were young, it turns out) of the time. I started a free school over a weekend to prevent a family of 9 children being taken into care for truanting and generally being the local criminal element. It was a practical solution arising out of theoretical reading and the fact that it seemed, back then, and now, that teaching the young was the most important thing to do. The question was how and in what conditions. It was an small adventure (we were bourgeois adventurers) that had no effect on the direness of how we teach our kids. The state of education now is if anything worse than in the early 1970's. But the kids stayed out of care and had an experience of attention (for better and worse) that was new for them.

From page 99:

A friend in California offered us $100 dollars a month to keep us going with outings, equipment and lunches while we sorted out funding, and my flat was available, as was the virtually derelict basement of the family council house the kids lived in just off Camden Square. Getting the basement ready, and planning, shopping-for and preparing lunch every day were part of the curriculum (Home Economics), so was attending meetings to discuss the running of the school (Current Events - citizenship, we’d call it now). The day started at 10.30, giving the virtually unparented, bedtime-less kids a chance to get up — after I had battled with the total-freedom fraction of the by-now sizeable Free School Committee for any start time at all. At least, I insisted, the kids would be able to practice getting up if any of them ever wanted to hold down a job. Autocrat, they murmured. How many of them were committing time to the free school, aside from coming to meetings, I asked. Fascist, they muttered, but almost all of them faded away their time almost entirely devoted to political meetings of one sort or another. Roger had just discovered that the editorial board of Children’s Rights, which consisted of a Reichian analyst and several of his patients, was more interested in the encouragement of active childhood sexuality than rights as such. He resigned, went on the dole (that, again) and became the school’s first full-time teacher.
Learn more about the book and author at Jenny Diski's website.

--Marshal Zeringue