Alumni Q&A with Denis Rixson
Every month we interview one of our alumni and hear their memories of Jacari. This month we've been talking to Denis Rixson who was a Jacari member in the early 1970s.
1. When did you volunteer with Jacari?
I was at Lincoln College from 1970 to 1973. I can’t even remember exactly how I got involved with Jacari, but the issue of apartheid then preoccupied the media and the student mind. I did PPE and spent many hours studying in the Rhodes Library. I spent a lot of time studying colonialism and the Subcontinent - names like Fanon and Gandhi were bread and butter to me then. I even did a special course on Marxism.
2. Who was your pupil?
He was a boy of around 8 years old. I used to cycle out to Headington where I was shown into the front room of the house and promptly given a cup of tea. In those days the front room was sometimes the ‘best’ room – i.e. kept immaculate for entertaining visitors. There I would practise reading with my pupil. I think we generally used his school books for this purpose.
3. Can you tell us the most vivid memory of your time as a Jacari volunteer?
What I remember particularly – and this is what always brings a smile to my face – was that he had not the slightest interest in reading and was football-mad. He was very dutiful and polite (his mum was definitely in charge) but I think it true to say that he probably suffered every lesson whilst dreaming of an escape to the world outside, football in hand. We both made the best of it; I compelled by duty, he by obedience, but if I’m honest his heart wasn’t in it and I only hope I didn’t put him off reading for life.
I later spent over 30 years teaching but this was an early lesson for me. Some kids just aren’t interested in books! Probably that’s why I have always been keen on other methods of language transmission: song, poetry, plays, story-telling, live readings.
4. What are you doing now?
I am retired from teaching and a councillor with Highland Council.
5. How has being a volunteer with Jacari influenced you later in life?
It served as an example of how good things can be done without great expense. This is why I celebrate Jacari’s longevity. It was probably straightforward to set up and administer, virtually without cost, and hopefully it helped some children.