Tomorrow night my wife and I are going to see Roger Waters’ production of ‘The Wall’ at Werchter, here in Belgium. The original album was released in November 1979 during my first term at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of England. It became one of my favourite albums although, as an impecunious student, it was two years before I could stump up the price of a double album. One of the tracks from the album has as part of its refrain the following line, “We don’t need no Education, we don’t need no thought control” and I recall that my Dad (being a professional education specialist) was a little upset with the message that was presented in the song. His upset, however, was as a result of a common feature of many minor upsets – railing against something without taking context into account.
The song’s lyrics describe the difficulties encountered by the album’s protagonist, Pink, during his time in an English secondary school in the 1950’s. Often in some of these schools rigid rules were ruthlessly and, occasionally, physically applied by teachers believing that the smallest weaknesses had to be beaten out of children. I experienced mild versions of this myself where the pressure was applied more subtly and backed up with a heavy dose of Roman Catholic scare stories about living in purgatory or, worse, burning for eternity in Hell – even if you didn’t eat your Brussels Sprouts. That’s not to say that it was never physical.
The song was about the fictional experiences of Pink, a molly-coddled boy brought up by his overbearing mother after his father was killed in Italy during the Second World War. It was never a criticism of school education in general or even schools as they were in the late 1970’s, when the album was released; rather it was a reaction from the writers to things that they could see happening in the midst of their own generation, the war children.
Unfortunately, when something happens that we don’t understand or that we don’t like, we react without considering the context – or we deliberately ignore it completely because it doesn’t suit our own agenda. It’s a human thing! Learning to slow down and look at any given situation or problem is difficult, it requires effort and often shows each of us what our real beliefs are. These are the deep beliefs that drive us to behave as we do every moment of our lives – not the things that we tell everyone we believe in.
My Dad’s failure to take context into account for the song is entirely understandable – it’s not often that a song with a specific role to play within a longer modern musical piece reaches the upper echelons of the popular music charts. In that context the song, separated from the excellent story that is being told in the album, would sound anti-education in general rather than being, for Pink, no more than a description of what was for him just “Another Brick in the Wall”.