Murphy listened with interest to the school headmaster. The man told of his plans for introduction of inclusive education strategies into his school. Many considered Murphy something of an expert on the subject. Murphy didn’t like that label. He had been lucky enough to work with many so-called disadvantaged people. It was just that he could understand them. Understand their needs. That was all.
He had been to many such meetings. Some, he recognised as a grab for money. Others, he did not see the commitment to the marginalised. Often, the desire to appear to be doing something good was greater than the capability of doing it. Murphy thought this was true with most school managers, or administrators, or whatever they called themselves. Why couldn’t they just be satisfied with the title of headmaster?
Murphy thought back to a story he had heard many years ago. It was a story that had inspired him to leave the comforts of city life, and travel to the outback of Australia. Later, it took him to villages in the East and South East of Asia. The story had convinced him that the marginalised in society often had great potential to change the world, but little or no opportunity to do so. He recounted the story in his head, the story of The Commoner and the Nobleman:
Once, there was a commoner, out gathering wood to keep his family warm. He came across a nobleman, up to his neck in a mud quire, and still sinking. The commoner threw him a rope, and had his donkey pull the nobleman out of the mud.
The nobleman was so happy that he told the commoner “I will give you half of all my wealth, for without you, I would now be dead.” The commoner told him there was no need. He was happy just to have saved his lord, and hoped his Lordship would continue being the kind, generous leader that he had always been, for many, many years to come.
The nobleman, moved by this, said to the commoner “I know that you have a son, who you love very much. I would like to send your son to the finest schools, and give him the best education in all England.” The commoner agreed to this, knowing it would give his son a chance at a better life than he, himself, could give. Everybody was happy.
Many years later, the commoner’s son had become a famous doctor, known all over the world. One day, the nobleman’s son became very ill. All the doctors told the nobleman they could not save his son, and he would soon die. The nobleman called for the commoner’s son, and asked if he could save his own son. The commoner’s son said he would try, and used a new medicine he had discovered. The nobleman’s son lived, and lived a very long life.
The nobleman was Sir Randolph Churchill, and his son went on to become Sir Winston Churchill. The commoner’s son was Howard Florey, and the medicine was penicillin.
He had been listening to the headmaster with interest. He prided himself on being able to judge a person well. He judged this man as genuine, and decided he would give his time to help this school. The commitment was also there, but Murphy doubted the capability was. True, the staff here were genuine in their dedication, but inclusive education required extra training than just the teaching degree. It also required a more specialised approach to communication. One way was communicating without words. He thought of how he had achieved this once, in a way that had been very special to him:
He had lived on an Aboriginal community and used a piano keyboard to teach the high school kids how to read. An Aboriginal teacher’s aide that worked in the school prepared his lesson notes. Her name was Anna. She was one hundred per cent deaf. She watched as the kids learnt how to play tunes on the keyboard, and decided she wanted to play too.
The other teachers tried to dissuade her, thinking failure would upset her, but she was determined. So was Murphy. He started teaching her to play. She placed her left hand on the left built-in speaker of the keyboard, and indicated that Murphy should play. Murphy saw what she wanted, and played the first four bars of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
She watched where his fingers went on the keyboard. The letters A through G, written on the notes of the keyboard, corresponded to the same letters on a separate sheet of paper. These letters, written above each syllable of the words of the song, indicated which key on the piano to play. This acted as an alternate way of communicating the musical language.
Anna watched Murphy, and then sat at the keyboard. She kept her left hand on the speaker, to feel the vibrations, and make sure they were the same as when Murphy played. Using her right hand, she played the melody as exact as she could. It took almost a week, but she learnt the whole song, and could play it without assistance.
She told her mother to come to the school, because she had a surprise for her. Her mother came to the school, and Anna started playing Twinkle Twinkle. Others in the room stopped and looked at her, many with open mouthed astonishment on their faces. She played it note perfect, and everyone clapped.
Anna’s face wore the biggest smile Murphy could remember seeing. Her mother’s tears of joy, running down her cheeks, almost brought similar tears to Murphy’s own eyes. He felt a sense of being part of something special, having helped her overcome three big barriers. The main commendation was to her, and the inner strength she had showed to all. The same inner strength Murphy believed existed in all people.
Murphy came back to the present. He considered what the headmaster was saying. He believed that this man would provide the leadership needed to make the introduction of the program a success.
Anna’s achievements in the face of adversity served as a constant inspiration to Murphy. Her achievements wouldn’t change the world with such dramatic impact as Florey’s accomplishments. The true measure of success with Anna lay in the inspiration she created within the community in which she lived. He hoped the same would happen in this community.
The headmaster smiled when Murphy spoke to him. He had been nervous inviting Murphy here, because he knew that Murphy tended not to become involved.
“I’d like to be part of your project,” Murphy said. He rose with the headmaster, shook his hand, smiled, and walked away.
Original story published in Big Issue magazine 2006