Olga Pyne Clarke (1915-1996): Education and Schooling

Olga Pyne Clarke’s education started at home. She remembers how her family would only talk to her as ‘an equal’ (p.34) when she was an infant, because of this, she had difficulty learning to speak and relied on her ‘own esperanto’ (p.35) to communicate. On Olga’s first experience of talking, she pointed out ‘a pair of goats’ (p.36) along the road. She called these goats ‘da goats’ (p.35) which, to her mother’s shock, was pronounced with a ‘dreadful accent’ (p.35). Learning and communication was a part of Olga’s life that came with conflicting emotions: Olga had to learn and educate herself independently without the help of her parents. Olga moved past this though, explaining that: ‘Having worked out my speech therapy, I’ve never stopped talking since!’ (p.36). Olga’s speech and accent in this memory emphasises the way that Olga’s family perceived class. Instead of helping teach Olga how to speak, her parents cared more about the way Olga sounded. They feared that others would make generalisations about their family from an aesthetic quality of their daughter. That Olga’s accent, as an infant, would reflect badly on her parents if heard by a stranger.

      At Rochelle Kindergarten, Olga, at age seven, ‘loathed and hated every minute’ (p.37) of her education. The children there bored her, but unlike Olga, they could read and write; however, as Olga notes, she compensated for this with an ‘excellent memory for poetry’ (p.37). When Olga’s grandmother later discovered that Olga had gotten lice from the other school children, she marched Olga into the principal’s office and removed her from the school. This academic gap lasted for three years. Olga took a longer time than most children to read and write, not because she had difficulty learning, but because people did not care to teach her. Olga explains that ‘money was [her] chief worry’ because she did not have the ‘extras that [her] school-going contemporaries had’ (p.86). Culturally, it would be English that Olga would be taught to read and write. As part of a generation of Irish children in 1922, Olga would not be taught any Gaelic despite it being her national tongue. At fourteen, when Olga’s mother decided to take her into private education, more than ‘one quarter of the teaching force had no qualification in Irish’ (O’Connor, P.49). Olga’s struggle between her Irish and English nationality was placed into an educational environment that was beginning to neglect its Irish roots.

      Focusing less on education and more on making money, Olga’s experience of private school was particularly unique: she introduced, it seems, animal racing to the city children of the school. Taking bets of off her fellow students, she set the odds and kept a record of her finances. Olga was caught six months later but did not get into trouble with the teachers. They found Olga’s resourcefulness to be charming. After a hunting accident, her father could no longer afford to pay for Olga’s education. From here, Olga’s ‘academic career drew to its close’ (p.89). From the ages of fifteen to twenty-one, Olga went straight into work breaking horses to make money. What her experience of private education shows is that her family boarded the lines of class. Education was never a prioritised for Olga, her family though could afford private school; however, in an instance where ‘extras’ (p.89) were lacking, they could no longer afford to send her there. Education and class are synonymous in the discussion of Olga’s upbringing.  

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