9 decades of life as a learner…

Leslie Hicks, aged 90, in all his glory!

Leslie Hicks, 90 years old, war child, veteran and life long learner.

“I was born 5th May 1926, which makes me nearly 91. My education was poor and now I have found a way of learning I don’t want to lose it. I have Vedic maths easy thanks to you”

– message sent to the Don’t Memorise team from Leslie Hicks, 7th March 2017

It’s a privilege to have spoken with Leslie since, hear about his incredible learning journey and to be able to share the story of this remarkable life long learner with you.

Let’s go back in time to the 1920s to a small maisonette in Tottenham, London. It was here in 1926 Leslie was born, at 140 Lordship Lane! Although Leslie’s working class parents were of limited means they ensured their two sons were well fed and watered, and that they attended school. However, Leslie’s early learning experience was starkly different to education in the 21st century.

He recounted one math class where the students kept hearing a ‘hhrrmm’ sound and wondering where it was coming from. It turned out the teacher had a foghorn behind his back. The teacher, as with many teachers at that time,was more interested in winding his students up and “the teaching merited zero” in Leslie’s words! Given his parents lack of education they were unable support his learning and his education rested on teachers like this.

In 1939, with the outbreak of world war 2, Leslie’s education was brought to a crashing halt. In fear of German bombing the government’s voluntary evacuation scheme saw millions of British children being evacuated to places of safety. Evacuation was the biggest disruption to children’s lives during the war and Leslie was no exception. At a time where he should have been preparing to sit school exams he was evacuated to Ipswich. His time as an evacuee was not a happy one. In fact Leslie surreptitiously slipped into the official ‘letters home’ an SOS note for his mother to come and take him home. And she did!

Unfortunately, Leslie returned to his hometown of Tottenham to find its schools badly damaged by bombing from The Blitz or requisitioned by the government. So, at the tender age of 14, like many boys his age Leslie left school and learning to work. Two years later he joined the Royal Navy as a LR3 Gunner, his role to lift the guns up and down. Leslie expressed being treated like “something you trod on”, perhaps due to his class and rank, by his supervising Naval Petty Officer. The Battle of Dunkirk, where the British Army suffered huge losses, afforded Leslie the opportunity to transfer to the Army. Even though his experience with the Army was better, just as in school you “learnt to do as you were told or dealt with the consequences”! It was whilst serving with the Army, which included being stationed in the Middle East, that Leslie rekindled his learning journey.

One problem he found with these books was they were “written as if you already know the subject”

Using ‘teach yourself books’ he began to delve into the fascinating world of Algebra. However, one problem he found with these books was they were “written as if you already know the subject”. This did not stop Leslie though. At the age of 54 he took time off from his job at the then Air Ministry to get an O Level in math. When asked why he was particularly interested in math as opposed to another subject, his response was “math itself has an answer”. He enjoyed the fact that there was only one answer, unlike English for example which is so subjective. Jokingly he mentioned having to still ask his wife where to put a comma!

Good teaching goes beyond just instruction and transferring knowledge!

The internet revolution took Leslie’s learning journey to new heights. The multitude of online resources available opened different ways to learn and styles of teaching to experience. In recent years YouTube has been his open source for learning — from golf to math! Leslie is a firm believer now that good teaching goes beyond just instruction and transferring knowledge. He recounted a video he’d seen of a golf instructor who didn’t just tell you how to hit the ball but also the importance and reason why you should place your feet and bend your knees in a certain way.

Leslie at Calderdale Mill, Isle of Wight
“Unlike ‘teach yourself books’ the Don’t Memorise course is simple and clear in its instruction and most importantly doesn’t assume you already know”

It was on YouTube he stumbled across Don’t Memorise’s Vedic math videos. Given his urge to keep his “mind active and not vegetate in his old age” he took this mental math course. “Unlike ‘teach yourself books’ the Don’t Memorise course is simple and clear in its instruction and most importantly doesn’t assume you already know”. With a pencil & paper in front of him he enjoys giving his brain a work out with these rapid math videos although he mentioned not as fast as youngsters can.

My vision for Don’t Memorise is to reach out to learners of all ages and walks of life, engaging them in learning through understanding with captivating content.

Leslie Hicks’ appreciation of Don’t Memorise truly brings my vision to life. I hope Don’t Memorise resources continue to quench Leslie’s thirst for learning math, and his story inspires many!

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