The Travels of a Journey-Man Teacher

Author(s) Henry Pluckrose
Publisher Olympia Publishers
Published 2007
Pages 220
Price £9.99
ISBN 9781905513314
Reviewed by Mrs Paula Stone
Canterbury Christ Church University-Education
Review published 27 March 2008

Henry Pluckrose worked as a Primary School Teacher from 1954 -1986 in Inner London. From 1969 onwards he served on a number of education committees, and was awarded and Hon. FCP for services to education and a worked M.Phil by London University in 1987. This book is a travel book with a difference as it charts the personal reflections of Henry Pluckrose as he travels the world between 1966 and 1992, promoting his education philosophy of an ‘open school’ in which the child is at the centre of learning, and the arts sit at the heart of the school curriculum.

My expectation of this book was that it would provide an autobiographical account of travels from a teacher’s perspective, with a particular focus on the education systems of the countries visited. However, in fact what one gets is a rather charming recount of places, people and events that Henry was fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to encounter on his travels.

As we travel the globe with Henry, starting in 1978 in Scandinavia, the book tells of the countries he visited, and the cultural, historical and political strands which shape them. The book is punctuated with humorous anecdotes of the people, some ordinary and many influential, including Margaret Thatcher, whom he met on the way, supported by detailed and lavish descriptions of the places Henry found himself in. Through these descriptions and anecdotes, which are touched with sensitivity and affection, the book enables the reader to discover the people and their culture in each society through three decades. I enjoyed travelling with Henry, who ran the gamut from light and frivolous to serious and thoughtful.

If you are an education professional, and were hoping for a book that provides an account of the education systems, the cultural, historical and political strands which shape schools across the world, I am afraid that you will be disappointed. In-depth discussion of the education systems appears to be merely incidental to the rather Michael Pallin travel–log style narrative of Henry’s travels, which as stated above is an appealing read in its own right. However, it emerges that the education system is merely the hook onto which Henry hangs this account of his travels, and one never really benefits from Henry’s specific insights and wisdom as a head teacher and educator. Henry does describe the differences in the social, economic, cultural and political values of many of the countries he visits in detail, but one only gets a rare glimpse of the educational systems that were in place, often only in terms of being introduced to a description of a school, some idiosyncratic people or random events. Thus, the description of the educational systems and ideologies is rather overwhelmed with the rest of the narrative.

Some chapters offer brief sojourns into the educational systems and include greater insight and the benefit of an educator’s perspective. For example in chapter one, we learn that Henry’s book ‘Open School’ greatly influenced the Swedish Education system but we never really find out how. Chapters three and five were, for me, the most enlightening chapters in terms of finding out about the education systems of the world. In chapter three we get a rare and in-depth description of the best and the worst of the education systems in New York in the 1970’s. Henry draws the parallels with the current systems in city centre schools in the UK. Chapter five describes how the strong influence of the Marxist ideology of the Communist Party, influenced the education system in Serbia in 1979, in both a positive and negative sense. There are stories which illustrate how state control supported the rigid curriculum of the elementary (primary) schools including the importance of politics and emphasis on sport, and how the state met provision for child care for pre-school children to encourage parents to work. In addition to this there is a short and amusing description of a meeting, in 1979, between Henry and Mrs Thatcher which highlights the contrast between Henry’s own educational philosophy and that of the recently elected Prime Minister. Finally, chapter 8 charts the period of political and social economic change from Communist state control to a period of liberation in Bulgaria through the reflections of two of Henry’s close colleagues in their quest to find a model school system. In this chapter we gain a small insight into Henry’s wisdom and experience in developing a child-centred approach to learning.

This book moves across time and location quickly, through rich description and anecdote, which makes it a thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone interested in reading a travel-log style account of a head teacher, in the latter part of the twentieth century. However, I feel that the author of this book has missed an opportunity to share his wealth of experience of education in the UK with other professionals, by failing to give an insight to the variety of education systems witnessed and experienced on his travels. The occasional glimpses lack detail leaving the professional reader feeling a little unsatisfied and one never really gets any sense of improved insight. Overall this book is an unusual and interesting read, but does not provide the insight into education one expected.