Study Guide

Master Harold... and the boys Education

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WILLIE. Okay. Help me.
SAM. (His turn to hold an imaginary partner) Look and learn. Feet together. Back straight. body relaxed. Right hand placed gently in the small of her back and wait for the music. Don't start worrying about making mistakes or the judges or the other competitors. It's just you, Hilda and the music, and you're going to have a good time. (171-178)

Willie and Sam show that education doesn't always have to do with book learning. Sam transmits his knowledge to Willie through movement, by showing him how to get down on the dance floor; we have a feeling that Master Harold wouldn't consider that to be education at all.

HALLY. (Examining the comics) Jungle Jim…Batman and Robin…Tarzan…God, what rubbish! Mental pollution. Take them away. (261-263)

Hey, who said that comics weren't educational? Apparently Hally doesn't see the finer points of graphic novels. He thinks that they're garbage; kinda ironic that they're for his dad, and he, the teenager, is the one wishing for more sophisticated material. Role reversal or snobbery? We report, you decide.

HALLY. [. . .] So, six of the best, and his are bloody good.

[…] SAM. With your trousers down!

HALLY. No. He's not quite that barbaric.

SAM. That's the way they do it in jail. (363-369)

"Six of the best," for those of you uninitiated into the finer points of corporal punishment, means six lashes, strokes, swats, spankings…get the picture? Hally's teacher is a champion student-beater. Next time you get detention you might be grateful that you aren't one of his classmates. Some of our Shmoop elders remember the "Board of Education"—the paddle used by the Vice-Principal to keep students in line back in the day.

HALLY. (Correcting him without looking up) Magnitude.

SAM. What's it mean?

HALLY. How big it is. The size of the thing. (410-416)

You can see the difference in Hally's and Sam's access to education in these three little lines. Sam's twice Hally's age, but doesn't know how to pronounce the word "magnitude" or its definition. Why do you think the playwright chose that exact word to make a big deal of?

HALLY. Failing a maths exam isn't the end of the world, Sam. How many times have I told you that examination results don't measure intelligence?

SAM. I would say about as many times as you've failed one of them. (436-440)

Oh snap. This one-liner might be a little bit cheesy, but the point it makes is actually important. Hally's convinced that traditional educational evaluation tools (aka tests) aren't the only way to measure intelligence. It's ironic that he doesn't realize that Sam, too, has intelligence that isn't measurable by a math exam.

HALLY. [. . .] Tolstoy may have educated his peasants, but I've educated you. (644-645)

Okay, someone just might be getting a little too big for his britches. Hally compares himself to Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer who was also into social justice and sharing his wealth. We're not convinced by the comparison, however. Hally's trying to show off his knowledge but he's just demonstrating his immaturity with this demeaning comment.

HALLY. Like that time I barged in and caught you and Cynthia…at it. Remember? God, was I embarrassed! I didn't know what was going on at first.

SAM. Ja, that taught you a lesson.

HALLY. And about a lot more than knocking on doors, I'll have you know, and I don't mean geography either. (726-731)

Education doesn't have to be all books and calculators. There's also a real-life component that can teach much more than all the books in the world. Hally got his own private sex ed class when he walked in on Sam and Cynthia, another hint that maybe Sam has something to teach him about life after all.

SAM. All right, Hally, all right. What you got for homework?

HALLY. Bulls***, as usual. (Opens an exercise book and reads) "Write five hundred words describing an annual event of cultural or historical significance." [. . .] You know what he wants don't you? One of their useless old ceremonies. [. . .] And it's called religious hysteria. (Intense irritation) (1039-1054)

The assignment doesn't sound all bad to us, but then we love to write about gift exchanges and sporting matches. Hally's beef with the homework is that his teacher has a very narrow view of what can be considered significant. South African schools in 1950 were required to teach apartheid law to their students, so teachers wouldn't be very likely to spend time on black culture.

HALLY. (Sigh of defeat) Oh, well, so much for trying to give you a decent education. I've obviously achieved nothing. (1189-1191)

Did you hear that drip-drip-dripping sound? Yeah, that's the irony slathered all over Hally's statement, sliding off it and into your ears. He, an adolescent, is talking to a grown man as though he were his child, disappointed in the way he has turned out even after years of training. Oh, Hally. We're the disappointed ones.

HALLY. (Helpless gesture) I don't know. I don't know anything anymore.

SAM. You sure of that, Hally? Because it would be pretty hopeless if that was true. It would mean nothing has been learnt in here this afternoon, and there was a hell of a lot of teaching going on…one way or the other. (1877-1882)

After their blowout fight, Sam hopes to salvage something as a learning experience. Though Hally has been the one spouting off about the importance of education, Sam's the one who really knows that the most important lessons don't come from books. We sure hope some of that rubs off on Master Harold.

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