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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Life of Edward Thring, Head-Maser of Uppingham School

Life of Edward Thring, Head-Maser of Uppingham School.

Edward Thring was unquestionably the most original and striking figure in the schoolmaster world of his time in England. During the last few years of his life he had come to fill a larger place in the public eye than any other English teacher. Abroad he was the only English schoolmaster of the present generation widely and popularly known by name.

"Every boy can do something well," Thring used to say. A good school which aims at making the most of each boy should be prepared to give opportunities in many directions. A boy who cannot hold his own in purely literary work may command the respect of his fellows, and, what is even more important for healthy growth, may maintain his own self-respect on other lines of effort.

Games were a matter of course, and on them he laid great stress, aiming at as perfect an equipment as possible in cricket and football grounds and fives courts. It seems strange, in the light of present practice, to find that the gymnasium opened in 1859, and the gymnastic master put in charge of it, were the first possessed by any public school in England. A carpentry and a shop for metal work, each with skilled instructors, a garden where plots were assigned to pupils, and swimming baths, in default of any convenient natural bathing-place, were among the other appliances which, sooner or later, he adopted to carry out his general idea of giving variety of interest or useful training in leisure hours.

On a higher level, and at the time more singular as an innovation, was his introduction of music as a regular part of public school training. . . .

It will be readily understood that one who held Thring's views about the living power of the teacher's work would find stumbling-blocks in anything like mechanical methods of dealing with that work or judging it.

"If education and training are the true aim of mankind, and power in a man's self the prize of life, then no superstition ever ate into a healthy national organism more fatal than the cult of the examiner."

Such was Thring's judgment on one great feature of modern educational systems. It is a judgment which he reiterates in a thousand forms—one about which his conviction grew more intense as his educational experience increased.

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"A system of examination and inspection, in proportion to its power, is death to all original teaching, to all progress arising from new methods, and even to all improvement which is at all out of the routine track. . . .

"There is no dead hand so dead as living power thrust in on work from the outside. It is the doctor putting his fingers on the heart when he ought to feel the pulse.

"Where examinations reign, every novelty in training, every original advance, every new method of dealing with mind becomes at once simply impossible. It it outside the prescribed area, and does not pay."

To "smash up the idolatry of knowledge' was to him the first step in true educational progress. To pile up facts and accumulate knowledge is within certain limits necessary, but it is not education. The primary object of education is to call out thought, not to load the memory—to strengthen mind and give it versatile power, not crush it under an accumulation of undigested facts.