Shirley Valentine has the answers

Posted on 19-01-2012

Shirley Valentine is one of my favourite films. I watched it a lot with my parents when I was younger; I think they liked it because it made relationships between English women and Greek men temporarily fashionable. A scene from Shirley Valentine occurred to me when I was writing this post about 21st century skills. The scene is in the video below, up until 2.04.


In this scene, Shirley is in school assembly and the snobby headmistress asks ‘What is man’s most important invention?’ Sputnik, says one girl. The Hoover, says another. The automatic washing machine. The aeroplane. The internal combustion engine. All great inventions, but all wrong. The answer, as young Shirley says, is the wheel. She’s right, but of course, that doesn’t stop everyone laughing at her. It’s the laughter of hubris – and indeed, the idea that we, in the 20th and 21st centuries, could be dependent on anything as pathetic and simple as a wheel does seem laughable. But it is true. As Newton said, if I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Modern industry wouldn’t work without the wheel. The iPad wouldn’t work without the alphabet and the number system.

Anyway, it gets even better. The headmistress is outraged that young Shirley could have got the question right when the better-spoken girls in the school got it wrong. ‘Somebody must have told you,’ she snaps. And Shirley responds ‘Well how the bleeding hell else could I learn it?’ Quite. A more succinct demolition of discovery learning I have never heard.

Unfortunately, the headmistress’s dismissal of her answer leads to poor Shirley dropping out and becoming a rebel. There’s a moral there for you.