noun: a person who is slow at learning; a stupid person: he was baffled by arithmetic and they called him a dunce at school

Origin: early 16th century: originally an epithet for a follower of John Duns Scotus (see Duns Scotus, John), whose followers were ridiculed by 16th-century humanists and reformers as enemies of learning.


It’s been a couple of weeks of ups and downs in real ‘roller coaster’ fashion for me.  I think that I have finally worked out a few things about myself and other people that will make life a bit easier for me at HPSS.  One of the aspects that we have covered as a part of restorative practice is the impact that ‘shame’ has on people.  I believe that shaming never has a positive outcome and that there is no longer a place for it in education.  Traditionally, a ‘well-used’ tool in education, shaming has an unbelievable power to manipulate and control thought processes and supress the human spirit.

At HPSS we currently have a ‘secret buddy’ scheme running until Christmas where each staff member is assigned an anonymous secret buddy who will buy little gifts for their assigned person.  From my buddy I received a copy of a Pink Floyd documentary.  While viewing the video I remembered a particular scene from the movie ‘The Wall’.

In Pink Floyd’s song ‘The Happiest Days of our Lives’, Waters sums up exactly how shame was used as a mechanism to destroy a students dream and shame is in fact a major theme of this movie.  This small clip and selection of lyrics has always made me ache, uncomfortably, and now I know why.  I watch this clip with even more distain for traditionalism than ever, as scenes like this were very real in my schooling, in a system that sought to emulate the imperial model as set in the movie ‘The Wall’.


When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would
 hurt the children in any way they could.  By pouring their derision upon anything we did
 and exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kids…….” (Waters 1979)


Unusually, either quite deliberately or serendipitously, we see clearly the gross affect of shame outplayed here in quite a graphic manner.  Even though I know that this is a movie I can’t help but feel the pain that this nasty teacher inflicts, but this scene also allows us an unusual insight into the teachers own shame.  If this is what education was or is like it is no wonder that we had a few generations screaming out the lyrics “We don’t need no education”.  As a point of interest I rate the guitar lead break in this song as my favourite of all time and Comfortably Numb is rated one of the best ever.


In a model called ‘(Mis-)Managing shame’ presented to us by Margaret Thorsborn, it explains the places that we go in our emotions,feelings and in our actions when we experience shame.

1) Attack others.   2) Withdrawal.   3)Avoidance.    4)Attack self

The model developed by (Nathanson), 1992 shows us these four compass points which all have degrees of severity from minor to extreme behaviours that are driven by the feelings created when we experience shame.

When I look at this in relation to my own life, it is surprising that I even made it out alive. When I view the lives of others that I have come to know I can now understand so much more about the what, the how, the when and particularly the why of their actions.

I think that understanding the impact of shame on this aspect of human nature and it’s impact on things such as learning and relationships allows me to have a new insight that empowers me to respond with this new understanding instead of reacting out of anger or confusion.