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Jaap Rousseau: Master Extraodinaire

Jaap Rousseau: Master Extraodinaire

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Published by KeithBeavon
Recollections of a school master who taught me in the 1950s.
Recollections of a school master who taught me in the 1950s.

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Published by: KeithBeavon on Dec 10, 2009
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11/18/2011

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Main Building
 The Main Building was completed in 1906and is now a National Monument. Thisbuilding now houses the headmaster'soffice, administrative office, the computer room and offices of the Reunie, the Trustsand Finances. In the 1950s there werenine classrooms in constant use...Main Building
Memories of Jaap Rousseau: Master
 Extraodinaire
1
It is all so much neater and even more impressive than it was in January 1951.Then there was no cultivated lawn in front of the main building. Instead there was agravel road and, about 20 metres from the
Stabilis
doorway, there was a row of ragged pine trees aligned parallel with the main building. Consequently it wasdifficult to stand back and view the building as a whole as one can do today. Even soit was impressive. I would wager, however, that all those Old Greys, who are part of agroup of about seventeen, that constituted 7E1 and 8E1 in 1951 and ’52 respectively,even to this day, when viewing the central building, will still find their eyes andmemories drawn to, and centred on, the small classroom at ground level beneath thenorthern gable.Why?Because that was the room where Mr J.C. Rousseau held sway and exerted hisauthority. ‘Jaap’ as he was referred to amongst the boys of the school was both ClassMaster to 7E1 and our Latin Master for the duration of our time in Standards
2
7 and 8.Whereas Mr Eddie East would teach us Latin in Standard 9 and in the matriculationyear, our contact with Jaap Rousseau would continue in our final two years when hewas our Afrikaans Master.We, the English-medium boys who had selected Latin rather than German for our first two years in the high-school, and mathematics over geography for the last twosenior years, for all intents and purposes had a class with Jaap every single day of our secondary schooling.I remember very clearly the first day I entered Jaap’s classroom and the first timewe saw him enter and address us. The classroom had a tiered floor with the high tiersreaching the two windows that looked out onto the gravel road in front of the building. The right-hand side of the classroom, as one sat facing the blackened plaster-of-Paris chalkboard, had three windows, and on the left-hand side was a blank wall. To the left of the chalkboard we could see a regular-sized door to a small walk-in cupboard. The door was slightly ajar and its surface was festooned with sheets of 
1
All the teachers, except for the occasional female, were referred to as Masters and identified by thesubject they taught, thus the Latin Master, Science Master, Maths Master and so on.
2
Now the designation would be Grades 9 and 10.
1
 
foolscap paper pinned to it with large drawing-pins. Some of the sheets had cartoon-like drawings on them and each, regardless of the nature of the drawings, bore thewords “
 Die Wieg 
.
3
Their significance would only be fully understood in 1953 whenJaap would be our Afrikaans Master. There was also a bold caricature pinned to thedoor. It was composed of a smallish trunk and a large head of a person wearingspectacles and with a distinctive ‘Adam’s apple’ on the throat. The caricature was alsowearing a real Grey College tie with its distinctive blue, orangey-gold, and silver stripes. The one-word caption was “
 Patat 
”. To be more precise it was an excellentcaricature of Mr J. Cronje who would later become a much loved and admiredHeadmaster, and known universally by decades of boys and Old Greys as Patat.So much for the room.A few minutes after we had taken our seats in the tiered rows of desks in Jaap’ssmall classroom He entered. He was not very tall, he was thickset, had a hawkishnose, and the dark hairs of his balding head were tinged with grey and clipped veryshort. He had a
 snor 
and a grey-and-white
bokbaard 
. As he strode across the front of the classroom he removed from his mouth the bent-stemmed pipe he was smokingand pushed it into the side pocket of his sports-jacket. While he was saying somethingabout teaching us Latin he reached behind the half-open cupboard door and producedwhat appeared to be a crudely fashioned miniature cricket bat. He then proceeded toinform us with a smile that it was known as “
die plankie
”, and had been given to him by the matric class of 1950 (10E1) when they heard that the previous
 plankie
haddisintegrated. He told us that the
 plankie
would be part of our lives for the two yearswe were to be his Latin class. Just what that meant became clear sooner rather thanlater.Jaap Rousseau had a reasonably high forehead, perhapsit was enhanced by his balding. It was smooth looking butwe soon learnt there was a large Y-shaped vein that ranfrom a point in line with his nose upward and backward.When the vein became noticeable you soon learnt to take itas a severe warning sign. When the vein was full and raisedyou knew trouble was not imminent but trouble hadarrived. Jaap did not tolerate ‘fools’ lightly.More frequently than not he would commence a class by writing a Latin tag, or idiom, on the board. He wouldtranslate it into English and explain the meaning. And youwere supposed to remember the tag forever. The first onewas
 Nihil Stabile Quod Infidum
, Nothing is Steadfast that isUnfaithful, from whence the College motto
Stabilis
. That first tag, and those thatfollowed in quick succession, including
 Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi
, were (and Ihope still are) inscribed in gold letters above the earliest of the Academic Honours’Boards in the Re-Unie Hall.Less interesting, and certainly more painful, were our attempts to master thedeclensions and cases of nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs, particularly whentranslating from English into Latin. Although the class was conducted in EnglishRousseau’s irritation and retribution was conducted in Afrikaans. He had the habit of normally moving systematically around the class so that each boy in turn would
3
Translated into English “
 Die Wieg 
” becomes
The Cradle
. The aptness of the title should becomeapparent in the above text.
2
 
attempt the translation of a sentence. A first stumble would solicit a frown and agrowling “
 Nee man
!” We soon understood that to be an invitation to a second and lastchance of providing the correct word, form of the word, phrase or whatever. Then if you did not get things correct you would hear “
 Kom
”. Leaving the safety of your desk you would move down to where Jaap now stood near the classroom door with the
 plankie
in his right hand. One last failed chance to correct your mistake was followed by “
 Nee poppie, nee
”. At which point you would bend over and receive a resoundingwhack with the short broad blade of the
 plankie
on the seat of your pants. Thequestion would be posed again and a correct answer alone would provide a reprievewhereas failure would be marked by the ‘thwack’ sound of the
 plankie
doing its thing.To this day I marvel at the fact that Jaap’s method provided the clear evidence thatthere really is a direct relationship between our backsides and our brains!One boy’s failure followed by correct answers from the next boy-in-line wouldmiraculously restore Jaap’s good humour and English as his choice of language. Butif there was a series of boys making a close acquaintance with the
 plankie
the vein onthe forehead would not only become pumped up but would almost pulsate.It was not unusual for a third or more of the class to receive a whack or two duringa 35 minute class. I am almost certain that the record number of whacks for one class period was 22 spread over a little more than half the boys. My own personal best, or PB in today’s idiom, was five.Yes, the whacks did sting but at the same time you ‘enjoyed’ a certain vicariousnotoriety by virtue of being in the Latin group. Senior boys in 9 and 10, who had previously endured two years in Jaap’s Latin class, revelled in hearing the details of a‘raised vein’ episode. Despite the method of instruction there was a grudging butgrowing respect for Jaap. He was a most enthusiastic advocate, and supporter, of theannual College cross-country race that attracted the participation of virtually every boy in the high-school. During the winter terms he was the vocal and very able coachof the under-sixteen A and B fifteens. He was passionate about the ‘inter-school’matches that were accompanied by the mass singing of College songs to music by a
boere-orkes
co-ordinated by the College cheer-leader. He would attend ‘song practice’ in the Hall and together with Mr ‘Volies’ Volsteedt offer advice to the cheer-leader based on experience of inter-varsity matches from their own days as students. No one was surprised when we all passed Latin at the end of 1952. We sat not theCollege exams but the Free State Junior Certificate papers that were common to allStandard 8 pupils in the province.Then in 1953 and 1954, when we were in Standards 9 to 10, Jaap became our Afrikaans Master. The only books we used were the prescribed novels and a volumeof poetry as well as a dictionary. Grammar, idioms, and a rapidly wideningvocabulary associated with all sorts of topics, were all ‘taught’ or conveyed by talkingwith the Master and with fellow pupils. All discussion in the class periods was strictlyonly in Afrikaans. By the time we entered the matric year we were ready to write our first
 Die Wieg 
. It was in effect a quarterly ‘newspaper’ written entirely in Afrikaansfor all the high-school by the English-medium matric class of 10E1. With Jaap as the
Voorsitter 
we elected an editor, sub-editor, as well as a sports editor. We all joined inthe debate as to what ‘cartoon’ would grace the cover and examined closely theselection of previous covers that were pinned to the cupboard door. Then each boyassumed the role of a reporter and was assigned a task in which he would write at3

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Hey Keith - Only saw this now. I'm out of country - my email admin@searchmin.net

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