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March 22, 2012 3:23 AM   Subscribe

"He is the kind of boy who is bound to be rather a problem in any school or community, being in some respects definitely anti-social." Alan Turing's school reports.
posted by verstegan (34 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great stuff.

Not very good. He spends a good deal of time apparently in investigations in advanced mathematics to the neglect of his elementary work. A sound ground work is essential in any subject. His work is dirty.

Schoolteachers have a bad record when it comes to appreciating extraordinarily gifted mathematicians. Another great example is the brief life of Évariste Galois, who proved stuff about polynomials that mathematicians and engineers had struggled to do for decades, and who pretty much invented group theory about thirty years before anyone else noticed.
posted by iotic at 3:38 AM on March 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


See that is proper teaching, none of this "participation trophy" hogwash.
posted by fullerine at 3:43 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Aw.

Thanks for posting this. I really love learning more things about Turing. Interesting that he spoke human languages so poorly, when he spoke machine language so well. (Although I'm sure a lack of interest in the former was a contributing factor.)
posted by Estraven at 4:06 AM on March 22, 2012


German. He does not seem to have any aptitude for languages.

Heh. Mind you, the next term had:

German. He has worked hard.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:07 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Basically, he was a dirty and messy kid who grew up at school and, as he discovered his interests, became a respectable and respected young man...
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:17 AM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've just finishing reading this book, and, by all accounts, Turing remained just as extremely untidy and messy in his work in adult life as he was in school. But he got things done, which is quite a consolation for something like me who is somewhat afflicted by the same defect...
posted by Skeptic at 4:23 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Turing's progress and maturation were interesting enough, but I think the most interesting feature here is thel teachers' comments. English public schools have gotten an unfairly bad reputation; this one at least seems to have been a truly fine school.s
posted by Zero Gravitas at 4:29 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, this. So, so this. One of the Housemaster's reports:

I have seen cleaner productions than this specimen, even from him. No doubt he is very aggravating: &he should know by now that I don’t care to find him boiling heaven knows what witches’ brew by the aid of two guttering candles on a naked wooden window sill. However he has borne his afflictions very cheerfully: & undoubtedly has taken more trouble, e.g. with physical training.

I am far from hopeless.

posted by zippy at 4:31 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


This was lovely. The early reports are full of slovenly work and the later reports talk of friendship and great promise- but he's still untidy.
posted by mattoxic at 4:32 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


He sometimes fails over a simple problem by trying to do it by complicated methods, instead of by an elementary one.
The bane of all programmers* to this day...


* throw new PresentCompanyException('as I'm sure everyone here writes in methods of 10 lines or fewer that do one thing, and one thing only');
posted by titus-g at 4:37 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


ARgh! I actually checked that for renegade single quotes as well.
posted by titus-g at 4:39 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: He seems to try, but his work is dreadfully muddled.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:11 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should have taken those warnings about my "permanent record" more seriously.
posted by Trurl at 5:13 AM on March 22, 2012 [15 favorites]


Internet+Permanant Record=
Humiliation Beyond Natural Lifespan
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:05 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The latest Radio Lob short: The Turing Problem.
posted by The Deej at 6:09 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is wonderful. It was heartwarming to see the tone of the reports go from bemusement to enthusiasm over the years.
posted by stargell at 6:16 AM on March 22, 2012


" English public schools have gotten an unfairly bad reputation"

They do? Class issues aside they're pretty good academically speaking. If you have a talent, they're normally good at nurturing it.
posted by gwildar at 6:19 AM on March 22, 2012


Sometimes when I talk to him I get the feeling there's no-one at home and I'm just getting automatic replies.
posted by Segundus at 6:29 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Turing remained just as extremely untidy and messy in his work in adult life as he was in school. But he got things done

Indeed, it can be said that he didn't know when to quit.
posted by ardgedee at 6:38 AM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


My thirteen year old son is entering a similar phase. His work is sloppy beyond belief. Would be great if that portended great things, but I don't think the correlation is strong or positive.
posted by Xoebe at 6:57 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Indeed, it can be said that he didn't know when to quit.

I see what you did there.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:07 AM on March 22, 2012


This was really interesting reading. Thanks for posting.
posted by arcticseal at 7:29 AM on March 22, 2012


Indeed, it can be said that he didn't know when to quit.

More accurately, he wasn't certain if he would ever be able to decide whether he was going to quit or not.
posted by unSane at 8:01 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


English public schools of the era were not academically inclined, in general. Academics were often secondary to sports, Christianity and 'character building', very much on the model laid down by Thomas Arnold at Rugby. You can see this very clearly in Turing's reports, with the references to character, sports, tidiness, cleanliness and so on. That's why there's the comment about 'if he wants to be a scientist, there's no point him being at a Public School'.

It was very much a moral education they were aiming for, as opposed to an academic one. Of course, homosexuality ran through the entire system - was practically institutionalized in some respects - so it may be that Turing wasn't completely isolated as a schoolboy.
posted by unSane at 8:08 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course, homosexuality ran through the entire system - was practically institutionalized in some respects - so it may be that Turing wasn't completely isolated as a schoolboy.
posted by unSane at 8:08 AM on March 22 [+] [!]


Sure, but the tribalistic, RAWR I AM A MAN WHO FUCKETH MEN!!!11 (or preyeth on underclassmen) type of homosexuality would still have marginalized Nerdy, Fey, Reedy Turing (square jaw notwithstanding).
posted by BEE-EATING CAT-EATER at 8:31 AM on March 22, 2012


True, but there were many genuine love affairs too.
posted by unSane at 8:52 AM on March 22, 2012


"He has his own furrow to plough, & may not meet with general sympathy: he seems cheerful, though I’m not always certain he really is so."

Turing, it should be remembered, was forcibly injected with estrogen to eradicate his homosexuality -- after being prosecuted and given the Hobson's choice of the "therapy" or a year in prison. Turing was marginalized toward the end of his life -- and driven from the work he loved -- by a legal system that institutionalized the illegality of homosexuality (or, as it was called by the Labouchere Amendment, "gross indecency" -- the good ol' "love that dare not speak its name"), in public or in private. Homosexuals were officially declared a security risk by the Churchill government months before Turing committed suicide. There may have been a combination of factors that drove him to suicide, but it's hard to believe that his experience with the regressive British legal system wasn't a major one.

BEE-EATING CAT-EATER: Sure, but the tribalistic, RAWR I AM A MAN WHO FUCKETH MEN!!!11 (or preyeth on underclassmen) type of homosexuality would still have marginalized Nerdy, Fey, Reedy Turing (square jaw notwithstanding).

Um, what? Turing may have been nerdy or reedy or whatever, but he was also open-minded and inquisitive, and he could be pretty bold in the right circumstances. He managed to flirt with and initiate a relationship with a 19-year-old when he was 39 (something I'm sure I would have never had the cojones to try even if I'd wanted to), and after his conviction, he traveled to Norway and had at least one affair there. Turing was a lot of things, but he wasn't a cowering, trembling wallflower.
posted by blucevalo at 9:22 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


forcibly injected with estrogen to eradicate his homosexuality

Really? How was that supposed to work? "If we give him manboobs his inherent homosexuality will make him become attracted to women--it's foolproof!"?
posted by yoink at 9:46 AM on March 22, 2012


The estrogen was to reduce/nullify his sex drive. So-called 'chemical castration', fairly commonly used on psychiatrically-detained sex-offenders in the UK as lated as the early 90s (I met people who'd had it done).
posted by unSane at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2012


Brits may be interested to know there's an online petition to get Turing on the next £10 bank note.
posted by UnreliableNarrator at 10:04 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


yeah, i agree with both of you there. i initially misread unSane as saying that Turing's homosexuality aligned with the homosexuality of, um, the captains of industry or whatever & didn't make him a target. but, upon rereading the emphasis is on Turing wasn't completely isolated, which seems pretty fair
posted by BEE-EATING CAT-EATER at 10:20 AM on March 22, 2012


The estrogen was to reduce/nullify his sex drive. So-called 'chemical castration', fairly commonly used on psychiatrically-detained sex-offenders in the UK as lated as the early 90s (I met people who'd had it done).

Huh. Leaving aside just how barbaric that is, it's interesting in terms of the suggested reading of what the "problem" of homosexuality was--i.e., an overabundant sexual drive per se, rather than an "inverted" or "misplaced" one. You'd have thought that the mandated treatment would have been aimed in some way at turning him "straight" not simply rendering him asexual.

Amazing to think that there are lots of people still alive who can remember living in a world in which this sort of thing was done routinely. Heck, homosexuality was a crime in my country of birth until I was a teenager. Even though it was very rarely prosecuted, it was a perpetual sword of Damocles hanging over the head of anyone in a government job who might be seen as "blackmailable" if their sexual orientation became public. And now gay people get married and no one blinks an eye.
posted by yoink at 10:30 AM on March 22, 2012


The estrogen "cure" was to correct for what the cream of medical science at the time thought was an excess of testosterone (which was what supposedly made Turing want to run around picking up men and otherwise behaving deviantly, er, indecently).
posted by blucevalo at 10:50 AM on March 22, 2012


I expected these reports to be much worse than they were. The attitude of the teachers towards him definitely improved over the years.

My school used to give out handwritten reports like this every term as well. Some time ago I went and looked through a few of them, starting from the ones in kindergarten and first grade. As someone who grew up to do quite well academically and who has always thought of myself as a bit of a teacher's pet, it was interesting to see somewhat negative comments about my untidiness and lack of motivation for certain tasks. I had to appreciate the amount of labor that went into those reports though! Paragraphs and paragraphs about each student, it must have taken forever.
posted by peacheater at 11:27 AM on March 22, 2012


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