Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33

On the Education of Girls, and the Differences Which Should Exist Between the Training of Girls and of Boys

page break

On the Education of Girls, and the Differences Which Should Exist Between the Training of Girls and of Boys.

Mr President, Ladies, and Gentlemen.—

However much I may ask your forbearance to-day towards this Paper as to the manner of its treatment, I shall certainly not apologise for occupying your time on its subject matter, viz., the education of our girls—our future women, because I feel that the subject is one of paramount importance to the 19th century. Nor is there any other of greater importance if we except the education of our boys. Now, as that has been in all times most sedulously attended to, and has formed the study and absorbed the energies of the most gigantic intellects in every age, we may reasonably suppose that the education of our boys has reached its highest point of development. For them little more remains to be done. It appears to me, indeed, that the old Greek, in the remote ages of antiquity, in the Titanic youth of the world, had attained to a most marvellous development both of his intellectual and physical qualities. Homer and Æschylus, Socrates and Plato, head that long roll of noble names which still tower far above the feebler minds of modern ages, and make one think that an advanced state of civilization is not the period most illumined by the divine fire of genius, or by the enthusiastic admiration of what is brave and grand and true! But this comparison will not hold with regard to women. Man attained early to his pride of place and height of intellectual dignity. Woman waited long. The five names which stand out most conspicuous in that portion of the world's history are Semiramis, Helen of Sparta, Sappho, Aspasia, Cleopatra; and these are only conspicuous for their crimes. They might be beautiful; they might be gifted; they might be splendid, with the tarnished splendour of a fallen star; but they were emphatically wicked. Some of them were steeped and dyed in sin! To what can we attribute this remarkable difference between the distinguished men and women of antiquity, but to the degraded and uneducated lives to which as a general rule the women of the first three empires were condemned? The remarkable reticence which ancient writers observe concerning their childhood and their early years, never alluding even to the existence of their own mothers, tell us but too plainly that the joys of the domestic hearth, the charms of the social family circle, were things unknown to them. In the small republic of Sparta page 6 some trouble was indeed bestowed upon the physical education of the women, but it was only in order that they might bear men. Under the fourth empire a slight amelioration in their condition took place; and now for the first time we hear of such women as Cornelia, Octavia the wife of Antony, and the mother and aunt of Seneca. Under the Jewish dispensation woman began first to assume her proper place as the help meet of man; but it was reserved for the Great Founder of our Faith to elevate the whole sex for ever by deigning to be born of a woman, by exalting all motherhood in her person, and causing her, though made originally a little lower than the angels, a little lower than man, to be crowned with glory and honour! How best to fit her to fill that place to which her Saviour raised her—how best to carry out in integrity the education of our girls, our future women, in this the "ultima Thule" of the world, and in the high pressure 19th century—on this subject I will now endeavour to say a few words.

My subject naturally divides itself into three parts : Home education—school education—religious, as contrasted with secular, education.

There can be very little doubt that the education of a child should commence in its cradle, and that the first lesson inculcated should be that of instant, unquestioning obedience; and in proportion as this lesson is taught, or left untaught, so in the great majority of cases will the career of that child be successful or unsuccessful, one of happiness or one of misery. The second lesson certainly should be a habit of reverence, and consequently of reverential bearing towards those who are older, wiser, and superior to themselves. Now, the great failing of the youth of this colony of both sexes is a deficiency in these two fundamental principles. Where the fault lies is not easy to discover; whether in the times themselves, which daily become more opposed to reverence of any sort, or in the greater relaxation of discipline within the homes of the people; but that the present generation is less reverent and less obedient than the last, is a fact not to be overlooked. Yet I must reiterate that habits of obedience and reverence lie at the basis of all true education. To these should be added in the home training a habit of speaking the truth, a hatred of lying and deception in any form. The child so trained is fitted now for the second period of her life, the education of schools. In speaking of this part of a girl's training I think we ought to recognise the fact that we have not only to prepare our daughters to become in the future happy wives and mothers—that may or may not be—but our aim and object should be also to give them such an education as will best fit them to support themselves in whatever station of life they may be placed. Surely nothing can be more prejudicial to the inner and higher life of any girl than to present page 7 continually before her eyes, as the highest hope and aim of her existence, the acquisition of a husband! And yet we cannot deny that this is in fact the object of most girls' lives, for the simple reason that their want of a thorough and systematic education has given them little else to think about. Before our girls wrapped up in ecstatic thoughts of balls and beaux, there can but float dim visions of that life, simple and pure, and self-contained, which gave us Mrs Fletcher of Madely—which gave us a Florence Nightingale with all her noble sisterhood of martyrs, and Miss Jones, that delicately nurtured lady who lately lost her life in stern performance of duty among the fever wards of a workhouse hospital! We have had our Selwyns and our Pattesons—where are their female representatives? Where, throughout the length and breadth of this great colony, has there been found one woman who, forgetful of herself, relinquishing ease and luxury and friends and the refinements of life, has become absorbed in the one grand idea of relieving suffering humanity? And yet, if we wish the present generation of girls to rise above the dull level of mediocrity, we must give them models worthy of contemplation; we must teach them to aim at a high ideal; because the very efforts they make to reach it will develop in their own natures the excellence for which they are striving. For it is not that we are not capable of efforts and of excellence, but that we neglect our own powers. We forget that we are emanations fresh from the Divine Mind itself; we think too meanly of our own natures, and never, therefore, rise to the height of that ideal which is latent within us all.

Keeping this end in view, therefore, in the Education of Schools—viz., the attainment of a higher standard of thought and learning, I think we shall all agree in saying that the course of study must be thorough—the teachers duly qualified, the girls allowed to remain at school for a period sufficiently long to complete their course of study. I am afraid Sir Thomas More's Utopia would not be more difficult to establish here than my idea of a first-class school! The building should be large, lofty, well ventilated, standing in an ample play-ground sheltered by trees. In this there should be a croquet ground, a pole with horizontal swinging-bars, a space for rounders and for skipping, for battledore and shuttlecock, and "Les Graces." Athletic exercises for girls are not sufficiently encouraged in this city. I forbear to mention archery, which is a most healthful amusement, because in a school it would be too expensive and also dangerous. This building should be divided into four class rooms of not less than thirty feet, with antechambers attached to each, and a corridor closed in with glass running along one side for the use of the younger children in wet weather.

In the 1st class room girls under nine years of age, with a certificated teacher to every twelve children. The subjects page 8 taught to be reading, writing, copying on a slate from a book or black board, the first four rules of Arithmetic in their simplest forms, needle-work.

In the 2nd class room girls from nine to twelve years of age, with a certificated teacher to every twenty. The subjects taught in addition to the former to be English History, the Geography of New Zealand, Australasia and Europe, Dictation, the first four rules of Arithmetic in their advanced forms and the compound rules, the rudiments of Composition, French, and vocal and instrumental Music. In these two rooms the teachers should be exclusively females.

In the 3rd class room girls from twelve to fifteen years, with a certificated teacher to every thirty. The subjects taught in addition to the former to be—the higher rules of Arithmetic, Physical Geography, English Literature, Drawing from models, written essays and compositions on given subjects, the rudiments of Astronomy and Botany, Roman and Continental Histories.

In this room the teachers and professors should be mixed, indifferently gentlemen or ladies. The idiosyncracies of the pupils should be carefully noted, and no girl allowed to pursue any study, particularly any accomplishment, for which she evinces a marked distaste; but her mind should be more particularly directed to that study and accomplishment in which she will be likely to excel. The text books used should not be numerous, but of the latest and best description. The teaching should be oral whenever possible. The lessons to be prepared at home should be one long lesson—at all events never more than two. The compositions, essays and exercises of the 2nd and 3rd classes should be invariably written and prepared at school. In the 4th class room for girls above fifteen, the subjects taught in the 3rd room should be carried on in higher text books, with the addition of Grecian history, Latin, painting in water-colours, millinery and dressmaking. For every subject there should be a separate teacher or professor. Lectures should be delivered on scientific subjects. Prizes and medals should be awarded for compositions in Latin, French and English, and for drawings and water-colours, especially for original designs or sketches from nature.

Hours of attendance in the first class room should be from ten to twelve, and from two to four. In the 2nd and 3rd, from ten to half-past twelve, and from two to four. In the 4th class room the hours of attendance should be from ten to one on two days of the week and from half-past one to four on three days of the week, alternately. This arrangement should be made because prolonged hours of study are detrimental to female growth and healthy development, until the period of womanhood is attained; and also to allow of the teachers in the junior room, who would be mostly pupil teachers, attending these classes, and so continuing their studies without expense until they were enabled to page 9 take out first class certificates; for to the pupil teachers we should look for the trained assistants and principals of the future.

Such is the course of study which would fit a girl for any station, or for any mode of life—would grace the drawing room of a duchess, or gather gold behind the counter of a milliner—for whatever talent had been given by God to any girl would surely be detected here, and fostered to its highest point of development.

The teachers of such a school as I have attempted to describe, I need hardly say, should be carefully selected. The qualifications necessary to form a good teacher are various, and not by any means comprised within a satisfactory examination by the Board, although that would be necessary. "Poeta nascitur non fit;" a really successful teacher is born, not made. I have known clever, well-educated women who were destitute of the power of imparting their knowledge to others. They had not the gift of teaching. A good teacher must not only be enthusiastic in her work, but she must try to excite a corresponding enthusiasm in her pupils. She must speak from her own heart, if she wishes to reach the hearts of others. Her character should command their respect. Her manner should win their love. Once make sure of the respect and affection of children, and it is easy to rule them. She must exercise the greatest patience, forbearance, and firmness; and every species of favoritism must be avoided. Punishment should be ignored among the elder girls, and their honor, their desire to please, their amour propre appealed to instead. Our colonial girls are as a rule intelligent beyond the average, quick of comprehension, having active and sensible minds, and generally possessing that greatest of all blessings, sound common sense; but they have not the same depth of intellect or fineness of passion and feeling that I remember in the girls of the mother land. They are not easily roused beyond the daily atmosphere of their happy, easy lives. They cannot understand the sublime sacrifice of Virginius—their pulses do not beat one throb more quickly when you tell them how the Three Hundred fell at Thermopylae, or how the Five Hundred rode obediently into the Valley of Death! Froude's unequalled description of Marie Stuart's last toilette in the great hall of Fotheringay will not excite them to any great amount of feeling or sympathy. Unfortunately for them they have no past to rouse them; they see around them no vestiges of time-honoured castles or cloistered cathedrals; whenever we appeal to any sympathies which rise beyond the common life around them, they are immediately at a disadvantage. It would be well if in our teaching we appealed more frequently to these unused but latent feelings of their natures, and so brought them into more active exercise. It is well to glow at some sublime action—it is well page 10 to burn with righteous anger at a base deed! I should imagine—although, of course, I cannot' know—that it would be easier to excite enthusiasm in the boys of this colony than in the girls; their course of study among the Latin authors is more likely to induce it. And here it may be well to notice the radical and important differences which ought to be made between the teaching of boys and girls, and which in my opinion militate greatly against any system of joint training.

An inspired writer, when speaking of national prosperity, desires, for his countrymen, even before the blessings of peace and of plenty, "that their sons might grow up as the young plants, and that their daughters might be like the polished corners of the Temple." Now, certainly there is a difference made between the two. He does not say that our children may grow up as the young plants, though he might well have done so, for the simile is beautiful and applicable; but he distinguishes between the sexes, and makes just the distinction which meets my own view. For what is our idea of a model boy? That he should be hardy, bold, and brave, quick in his words as in his actions, determined and unflinching! And what is our idea of a model girl? That she should be quiet, modest, reflective, graceful in her person and her manners, and true in her heart's core to every outward grace of manner and person! The boy should be the hardy plant, strengthened by every breeze and sun; the girl the carefully polished marble which decorated the jointed corner stones of the Temple. Milton truly says of Adam and Eve:

"For contemplation he, and valour formed—
For softness she, and sweet attractive grace!"

More intellect is required to train the boy—more care is needed to bring up the girl. For instance, that public examination which I witnessed with much pleasure last Christmas at the Auckland College and Grammar School would be the very worst thing that could take place in a school of girls, and one in which no right-minded girl would show to advantage. All examinations of girls should be conducted in private, before the examiners, professors, and teachers only. To answer questions before an indiscriminate number of people whom she had never seen before would be a positive injury and injustice to a girl. To a boy it is a manifest service—his life is to be a public life, and it is well for him to begin his experiences as early as possible. I would have the girls use the same school authors, and participate freely in the numerous advantages which the boys of this city possess, and from which the girls are shamefully debarred; but the method of training should and must be totally different. The hours of study for the boys should be longer; the labour more severe. The studies which would keep a boy's brain in page 11 healthy exercise, would kill a girl or greatly enervate her constitution. Our object should not be to educate our females to become the rivals of men, or to jostle with them for place and station among the highways of the world. Whenever they have done so, they have come to grief. Madame de Longueville and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, were, each in her day, queens of political intrigue, and above queens in power and influence; and yet the end of each was singularly unhappy. The lives of great singers, too, and great actresses, are rarely blest or fortunate lives. The object of our education should be, not to teach her to look beyond her own sphere into the wider sphere of man, but to enable her to live the truest and highest life of which she is capable within her own particular dominion; to make her more self-contained, more self-reliant; to give her the option of a choice; to enable her to see that there is more than one way open to her; that she need neither sell herself, nor give herself reluctantly, but that she can afford to stand aside and wait until her second self is found; and if that should not be, such a woman will have hands and a mind and will to meet any and every fate.

"The age of chivalry is gone"—but I should be sorry to see obliterated from our national usages that chavalrous respect which every true gentleman will pay to what is frailer, weaker, more defenceless than himself. If girls, however, are made to take seats among boys, or women try to fill the place of men, it will surely follow, as a matter of course, that the men will defend themselves by forgetting that they are dealing with women. I cannot therefore agree with the American system of joint training. To this overtaxing of young girls' brains and this keen competition with men, may be ascribed the short-lived youth of the American women, who, as travellers tell us, are old and faded at thirty years of age.

I come now to the most important point of all, religious education. National piety and national prosperity generally go hand in hand. It is a bad omen for any country when it disclaims in its State teaching all mention of that Book which contains the germs and founts and springs of Knowledge. If it has indeed become necessary to institute, in this Province, a purely secular system from which the Bible is wholly excluded, then as a people we are not what we should be. We are forgetful of our highest dignity—our immortality; our highest moral obligation—to train up our children in the fear of God; our noblest heritage—the faith handed clown to us from our forefathers. Whilst I can see that no other system would have been permitted here, and that consequently it was a question of secular education or no education at all, I cannot neglect in a Paper like this to record my earnest protest against it. Not that I approve of using the Bible as a page 12 mere text book, or of confiding: the religious instruction of children solely to the master or mistress of a State school. But surely there are times, over and above the stipulated State hours, when the clergy of the different denominations might attend regularly, and, gathering the members of their flock together, might expound to them the Holy Scriptures. Unless the ministers of religion in this city are most earnest, most watchful, most active, the great mass of our children will grow up around us in a state of civilized heathenism worse than the heathenism of old. For in most cases they will not receive any religious instruction at home; it is useless to ignore that fact. And how small a proportion of the children taught by the State will enter a Sunday School! Never did such a responsibility as now rest upon the clergy of this country! Never was there such a necessity as now for enlarging the number of our Sunday Schools! I tremble to think of the future of some clever, adroit boy or girl who, educated by the State alone, shall use his or her keenness of knowledge and intellect for baser purposes only; ignorant of the keynote without which all is discord in the glorious scale of the universe; oblivious of the keystone, wanting which all is tottering and incomplete in the wondrous arch of knowledge!

A few last words to the teachers of this Association, and I have done. The most arduous, wearing and exacting of all professions, ours is yet the one which exercises the greatest and most lasting influence upon the age in which we live. Our rulers may exclude religion from our schools, but the influence of a truly religious mind will always make itself felt wherever it is found. Children are most acute observers and imitators. Let us never forget that we can sway them both for good and evil; we can place before them perfect or imperfect examples; we can set our faces steadfastly against wrong-doing, or we can pass it over in silence. We are in the forefront of the hottest battle—we have to bear the burden and heat of the day. We can inculcate, if they have never been taught before, those fundamental principles of obedience, reverence, and truth, which, as I said, lie at the basis of all educaction; and our greatest consolation in every hour of doubt and despondency, and they must needs be many, will lie in the sense of duties honestly performed, of labours brought to a successful close.

"Something accomplished, something done,
Has earned a night's repose."

William Atkin. General Printer. High Street. Auckland.