In year 2, spelling tests were not uncommon. One day, introducing one of these tests, and doubtless to take the sting from it, my teacher said it was ok if we spelt the words wrong. Accordingly, I deliberately misspelled every word on the test with, as I remember, some glee. Later in the day, we were in the library having a story read to us when I was summoned back to our classroom for an interview with the teacher. Disappointed and terrified, I made my way back alone through the deserted school grounds. My teacher asked with concern why I had spelled wrongly words he knew I could spell correctly. Through my sobs I answered ‘You said we could!’
At the time I was mostly grief-stricken that I had misunderstood, and that I had missed the end of the story. Looking back, I’m intrigued by this episode and what it was that motivated me to misspell. (And I wonder what my teacher made of it.) During the test I think I enjoyed the creative act of coming up with novel ways to spell known words; experimenting with - had I known it - morphology. Perhaps some part of me enjoyed the act of impersonating a child who knew less than I did, inhabiting for a time the world and intelligence of an other. More than this, I think I enjoyed the freedom of what I (mistakenly) thought was a momentary reprieve from the whole scholastic morality, from the knife-edge between accuracy and failure that so dominated our days and separated us into impenetrable categories of ‘good’ students and bad ones. For once, it seemed, we were offered the freedom of artists and the communion of brothers. Who could resist such grace? Not I, though I paid for my error with bitter tears. And I never found out how the story ended.