Commentary on N D O'Halloran's obituary of J. C. Ring by Gerard Guiton.
I wish to add a few comments on the memoire on your website of the late Br. John Ring who, much to my surprise (actually shock), ended up as headmaster of my old school, St. Ambrose College, in Hale Barns outside Altrincham in Cheshire where I attended from 1959 to 1964. When visiting my old school with my wife in the summer of 1979 we learned from a caretaker that Ring had recently died (I believe in Gibraltar). I thanked the man for the information and, out of his earshot, turned to my wife with the comment, "Dead but hardly missed."
I say 'surprised' because as a former teacher myself the best headteachers with whom I served were those with a deep and demonstrated regard for the pupils under their charge. Ring could never, never be in that league.
So unless he had adopted a different attitude to boys by the time he became head, I cannot believe Ring was a good or effective leader of both staff and pupils.
True, he was not one to regularly beat boys like many of his colleagues but he had no need to. Ring resorted to psychological abuse of the most cowardly kind. For a start, he addressed us all as "scum" as he entered the classroom. "Good morning, scum", he would say, 'greeting' us all. "Sit down, scum", he would continue after we had displayed the courtesy of standing for him. He may have thought that funny, of course, but I have no recollection of him smiling. I cannot remember anybody else smiling either but do remember thinking, 'I am not scum.' On first hearing his insult I actually couldn't take him seriously. But I was lucky . . .
He would then proceed with his geography lesson and the first thing he did on a regular basis was the ask 'Doormouse' to stand up. 'Doormouse' was one John Hargreaves, a small, polite boy who offended nobody. But this was not good enough for Ring. He would 'invite' John to the map hanging from the blackboard and would direct him to point to Derby or another city. John, understandably nervous, would aim for Derby but his shaking hand would point elsewhere. The stress on John was etched on his face; it was an appallingly embarrassing spectacle to watch, very disturbing indeed. It appealed only to the brutish among us who would guffaw at 'Doormouse's' 'idiocy'. Ring never stopped them; in fact, his silence only encouraged them. I can remember thinking how cruel it was. Meanwhile, at John's apparent foolishness he would ostentatiously lift his eyes to the ceiling and, using a variety of insults ('fool', 'stupid', 'dunderhead') would proceed to systematically humiliate him. This happened on such a regular basis I can only conclude that Ring planned and enjoyed it.
This happened in the first term of my first year at the school, September to December 1959. The cruelty continued into the second term. By the third term the Hargreaves's had decided to take their son out of the school. I was sad to see a friend go, but understood completely. During the following year I bumped into John on Piccadilly station in Manchester. He was a lot happier.
I wonder how many other boys Ring humiliated in public. The fact that I can remember his treatment of John Hargreaves in great detail speaks volumes. I will not be alone, believe me. Ring's behaviour, therefore, was also psychologically harmful to the other boys. That kind of treatment is insidiously powerful and it spreads; that is its evil.
We could never have a decent and healthy teacher-pupil relationship with the man. And he was not the worst cleric to enact 'discipline'; others were downright sadistic. But that's another story.
Nor was he a good geography teacher. His lessons were crashingly boring and as I look back professionally I can see how his methodology (if I may used such an exalted term to describe it) was a disgrace. If he had been a member of any one of my departments, I would have had him sent off for re-training after which he would have undergone close oversight.
He clearly does not deserved the glorious hagiography he received.
According to his friend/colleague's memoire, John Ring had psychological problems and that, around the time he taught us (1959/60), he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. My heart goes out to anybody in such a situation and many others will also have compassion. If indeed that terrible experience changed him, as the memoire suggests, then let us be thankful to God and recognise, too, the personal and spiritual courage of Ring himself in this respect.
However--and this is important--the dark side of his character and its life-sapping outcomes should be openly acknowledged if justice is to be done to those who suffered his negative behaviour. And likewise if justice is to be done to him. It is a real pity that, as far as we know while he was alive, he neither came to terms with the damage he did to boys like John Hargreaves nor, as a result, offer an apology and redress. He would have been forgiven, I'm sure. The result would have authenticated his peace with God and enriched the practice of prayer to which he was later apparently devoted.
(Dr.) Gerard Guiton.
Back to the Obituaries Page.