Lynne herself, who had taught for thirteen years, four of them at Caol, said that when she arrived at Caol she didn't have to change, because she was at last able to be the way she had always wanted to be. She used to think she was doing it all wrong, and had to be a proper teacher. She used to have spelling tests and lining up in the corridors and she used to ask lots of questions, she said, but now she can justify what she likes doing and no longer does those things. She does her best to make sure that the children in her class do not waste time either (a) sitting about doing nothing ("listening") or (b) doing work that means nothing to them. She even allows children to eat fruit in her classes - something no other teacher in the school allows.
"There must be a place in every school," she told me, "where the whole school can have an opinion, think the unthinkable, make mistakes, be themselves, not expected to be an average child to fit in the group, freedom to use materials that artists would use (including dictionaries), a place where they are respected as the person they are."
By the time of my visits, Lynne and Rob were working as a team, and would often change places. Rob's work in the classroom was described to me by the children as "chatting". When Rob was with them, they chatted, for instance about current affairs.
Current affairs was one of the two most unusual subjects on the curriculum on the top floor, and often had a strong influence on the children's work. (A particularly striking example of this is Jodie Fraser's 9.11 piece.) The other unusual subject is philosophy. Sophie's World is one of the books available in Room 13, and Rob often discusses the ideas of major philosophers with the children. Much of Danielle Souness's work stems from her realisation that you can play with words and the meanings of words; she did a whole series of prints of a picture of a cat with a variety of titles playing on Plato's distinction between the perfect ideal cat and the imperfect individual cats - My cat is a cat, not the cat, for instance. Rob says he starts teaching pure philosophy in a fairly formal way to seven- and eight-year-olds, but finds that two years on they won't understand what he is saying. Then when they are eleven or twelve the interest will re-awaken.
During a school year Lynne usually presents her class with five big questions:
- What happens to the part of you that is you when you die?
- What is beyond space?
- How did the universe begin?
- When and how will the world end?
- Why are we here?
Recently she asked her class how many of them had thought about these questions, and most of them had; then she asked how many of them had talked about them with other people, and very few had done so. She gives her pupils time to discuss these questions with each other, and admits that she does not know the answers herself.
Anne Cameron asked her, "May I ask a question? Why do you ask us questions when you don't know the answer?" and in doing so pinpointed one of the curiosities of conventional classroom technique. Ordinary people ask questions not just when they don't know the answer, but precisely because they don't know the answers. Anne had become so used to being asked questions by teachers who already knew the answers that Lynne's admission of ignorance astonished her. It would actually be more reasonable to ask a conventional teacher, "Why do you ask us questions when you already know the answers?" - exactly the opposite of Anne's query. In areas where the children know less than the teachers, it is logical that the children who should ask the questions and the teachers should provide the information. That is what usually happens in Room 13. It is not a place where children are told what to learn and then asked questions to find out whether they have learnt it; it is a place where they do what they want to do, and ask questions when they need help.
The striking fact about these two subjects - current affairs and philosophy - is that they both deal with the children's own concerns. In most schools these subjects are ignored, so the children see the horrors in the news on television and nobody asks them how they feel about it; they worry about the big philosophical questions and never get a chance to discuss them. In Room 13 and the Primary 7 classroom the children have the opportunity to talk, to listen, and to express their ideas in works of art.
The adults do not steer them away from disturbing ideas. Lindsey Martin's photograph of herself wrapped in underlay with rubber gloves over her face was an attempt to create the feeling of lying under the wreckage after 9.11. As Gillian Bowditch wrote in The Observer, this is not the sort of picture of which Mrs. Martin would have said, "That's nice, dear," and then stuck on the door of her fridge. Nor would she have wanted her daughter's triptych, entitled Certo, idem sum qui semper fui (It is certain that I am what I have always been) made of the bones of three dead foxes and the dried maggots scraped off them, with panels underneath painted red for blood and gold for "rest in peace." I doubt whether Nikki Donnelly's family display any of her photographs of dead animals in their sitting-room. And what of the memorial to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the victims of the Soham murders?
Children think about such things, they worry about them, but they are seldom given the opportunity to express their worries uncensored. Rob Fairley welcomes such expression. It was he who supplied the dead foxes when Lindsey was looking for bones; when an animal dies on his croft it is he who brings in the photographs of dead animals for Nikki to use. It is he who talks with the children about wars and disasters.
Yet there is no pessimism, only acceptance, and there is no feeling that in order to be serious all art work must deal with gloomy subjects. One of the most famous of Room 13's pictures is Rachel Allison's The Magic Yellow Elephant, a gloriously colourful canvas covered with elephants of all colours and all sizes, inspired by the Hindu creation myth which Rob had explained to her class. Lucy McGillivray made a huge, bright, painted collage entitled Everything I have thought of in eight years (except for two dead hamsters). John McGillivray, on being told by Mr. Fairley that "good art doesn't need to take a while," as he said, spent an afternoon painting a dark blue background and sticking 1p and 2p coins to it, like stars in the sky. The work is called Money isn't everything, and he explained to me that family and other things are more important. Rachel, who told me that she was one of the people who had thought about the big questions, said she used to be afraid of dying, but now thinks it's just like going to sleep for ever.