Eric Frater was easily my favourite teacher at Kingston College. Unlike many others, who treated us boys as lesser creatures, Mr. Frater regarded us as individuals who merely lacked knowledge and experience to become fully-fledged people.
In the four years I attended KC, I believe he came to our classroom fewer times than the fingers of one hand. He preferred to have us visit him in his kingdom, the biology lab on the second floor of the west wing of Clovelly Park, which also housed Carlton Bruce’s geography room and the quite extensive library. Downstairs was the domain of Keith Taylor, master of the physics and chemistry laboratories.
Mr. Frater was well ahead of the times in his approach to things like discipline. He believed caning was only for little boys and was, in fact, ‘barbaric.’ “Since we are trying to create gentlemen” he would explain, “we avoid such things.” However, he did reserve the option of treating us like “little boys” if we so wished, with the requisite trip to the headmaster’s office to be administered “six of the best.”
He devised his own means of enforcing discipline. Because the biology lab wasn’t equipped like the typical classroom (with rows of desks facing the front of the class) but instead had stools at the lab benches, facing in opposite directions, it was more difficult to secure the attention of all present. Mr. Frater took up the habit of strolling between the rows while lecturing us about osmosis or the difference between mono and dicotyledons, while tossing a rounded sea stone from hand to hand. If he spotted someone not paying attention or doing something he shouldn’t, Mr. Frater would shout “Jones, catch!” while shying the stone at the offender.
On one occasion, he sent out a search party for a boy who had a habit of missing classes. When the boys returned with the miscreant, Mr. Frater instructed him to go to the little platform at the head of the lab, right under the charts and diagrams hanging above, and kneel at its edge. The room had just recently been painted, and the platform still had a few blobs of dried paint which made for uncomfortable kneeling for 15 minutes or so by a boy in short pants. By these methods, Mr. Frater had very little trouble with discipline.
When he founded the Science Journal, Mr. Frater sought contributions and I was happy to offer some, since I had long developed an interest in writing. I recall doing pieces on things like the development of the then-new transistor and about the explosion of developments in the field of plastics, among other things.
I never saw much of him after leaving school, but kept in touch with his new endeavours through some of my younger siblings. My father’s job with the Public Works Department kept the family moving around the island, and some of my brothers and sisters attended a new school in May Pen founded by a KC product, Sydney Scott. Later, my father transferred to Lucea, where the younger ones fell under Mr. Frater’s tutelage at Rusea’s.
Some time after that I moved to Canada and lost touch with Mr. Frater. But a friend and colleague who was a fellow KC grad told me of his mid-life upheaval – going back to school to study law. This was a man who already had several degrees and certificates in specialized subjects like parasitology and virology. I gather that he went on to have quite a successful career as an advocate in Jamaica’s courts, providing the legal protection that is the right of every citizen under our system of democracy and common law.
I bet that his court appearances were not only about defending the accused, but also provided him the opportunity to perform another kind of teaching.