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 78

Section VI. — Other Authorities

page break

Section VI.

Other Authorities.

Views of Almond and Thring.

The following extracts show clearly the opinions on the true ideals of Education, and on "Cram" and "Examinations," held by two of the greatest British schoolmasters of our time—viz., Dr Almond, of Loretto, and Thring, of Uppingham :—

True Education Versus Cram.

From the Point of View of a Public School Master.

In 1898 a startling letter appeared in 'The Times' from an M.D. who had examined several hundreds of boys of thirteen and fourteen on their entering public schools. His verdict was that 64 per cent, were in a very unsatisfactory condition. . . .

We talk of science. We call ours a scientific age. And yet to apply scientific knowledge to the production of the finest possible human being is, as Mr Herbert Spencer showed long ago still a conception rather for the future than for the present. As in many other cases, it would be hazardous to venture on what will, it is to be hoped, be the commonplaces of a future generation, less under the iron heel of custom and prejudice.

It is impossible, however, all at once to revolutionise institutions and modes of life, or to undo the effect of ages of mismanagement. But to come down from the clouds to the solid earth. There is no doubt that the preparatory school product is not what he might easily be made to be in physical robustness, habits of life, beliefs, and ways of thinking, intelligence, or knowledge.

Though I have mentioned these things separately, they are, or ought to be, so interwoven as to be inseparable in the education of a child from his earliest years. What is the most important of all kinds of knowledge? Surely that which has to do with life, which tends to make it fuller, healthier, happier. What beliefs is it most essential to impress on a child? Surely that God's laws, when we can be sure about them, are binding, and that the main laws of health are more and more verifiable every day. In what ways of thinking ought we to train a child? Surely in referring everything he does, not to the standard of what is usual, but of what is sensible and right. What sort of intelligence is most telling in the quest of happiness? Surely that which enables him to reason most accurately and most readily about what it is best for him to do in his daily conduct." All other intelligence, beliefs, and ways of thinking and knowledge are secondary to these; and if we have these ingrained in the child by-precept and example, we shall also have excellence in physique and robustness, and rationality in habits of life.

page 76

I need not waste time in proving that this ideal is not even aimed at. . . What improvement there is I believe to be due to desire to excel in games. They have caused more time to be spent in regular open-air exercise, the good effects of which have been so obvious that they have opened the eyes of many school-masters to the exceeding sinfulness of depriving a boy of oxygen and a quickened circulation by way of punishment. They have also proved to many parents, who, after many qualms, have sent to school boys whom they have succeeded in making "delicate" by their home treatment, what a mistake all this codding has been. . . . And the less foolish management of girls' schools since Mr Herbert Spencer made people think about these is already operating in the same direction.

But the connection between cause and effect in such matters is not sufficiently realised by schoolmasters, still less so by parents, and the "preparatory product," in my experience, has rarely heard anything about it. Irregular verbs, or the mountains of South America, have been more prominent in his education than the laws of his own being. I rarely meet with a boy who has learned why he should eat slowly, why vegetables or their equivalent should form part of his diet, why he should not eat at random between meals, why he should take a run on a wet day and change immediately after-wards, why he should sleep with his window open, why he can strengthen his throat by keeping it bare why his breathing organs should have absolutely free play, unencumbered by a tight or even by any waistcoat, why he should take hard exercise in flannel, and not in any cotton fabrics.

I am aware that I shall raise a smile by the mention of such things, and the smile proves my point. When reason shall have superseded custom as the guide of our lives, the smile will be the other way. But no one who has tried to make boys live rationally, and think why they should do this and not do that, can doubt that if all preparatory schools will do the same no future M.D. will be able to say that they turn out 64 per cent. of their boys in bad condition.

This 64 per cent. (and M.D. cannot be far wrong) is really a very serious matter. I am not going to dilate on the enormous importance for the happiness and prosperity of life of a bodily condition not merely free from disease, but robust, buoyant, and high-spirited. But there is one point of view which will touch those who have no such exalted ideas about high health, but still dread disease. The craze about epidemics, the energy consumed in isolation and disinfection, and the consequent loss of time and disturbance of arrangements, as well as the demoralising panic which is sometimes the result of all this fuss, have come to be serious evils. And it is a case, after all of Mrs Partington You cannot prevent epidemics. Mumps and measles have dispersed their germs before the first signs of indisposition. . . .

Again, with the tubercle germ, about which we have heard so much. "Boil the milk," say some. Well, the boys won't drink it; but the boy who is not one of the 64 per cent. may drink unboiled milk with impunity. He will throw off the tubercle germ as a liner's bow throws off the spray, unless the tubercle germ is present in such quantity as to imply criminal carelessness.

In fact, we ought to turn out the preparatory product pretty well germ-proof as well as accustomed to think rationally, and not conventionally or nervously about his "health." I only wish there was a word to express that normal and glorious condition of being which ought to be that of the average man and woman. Perhaps in some future century, when the perfection of the human animal is regarded as of equal importance with the perfection of the steam engine, there will be such a word.

So far I have dealt with my subject mainly from a physical point of view but all life, as I said before, is interwoven. In teaching our "preparatory school product" to act rationally in the concerns of his daily life, and, let us hope, in also setting a good example ourselves (which I fear not all schoolmasters or parents do), we shall have been training him in a most valuable mental habit. . . . .

Euclid, to the average preparatory boy, is mainly a matter of memory. In the rare cases in which he can make out geometrical riders, he has so far been taught to think.

But, putting Latin aside, the rest of his education has been almost entirely receptive. This is partly due to the numerous subjects required at examinations Working for marks almost infallibly induces a cut-and-dried style of teaching. It page 77 is, indeed, difficult in any subject, except translation from and into other languages and mathematical problems, to avoid what is usually called "cram," when the subject is got up for examination purposes.

But "cram," though it undoubtedly fosters some useful qualities, is fatal to the cultivation of independence, curiosity, initiative, and resource.

If I were asked to name one point in which the "preparatory school product" is inferior to boys educated by a really good tutor or governess at home, under the direction of parents who do not care for their boys being "successes" at thirteen or eighteen years old, but for their success at twenty-five or thirty, I would say that the preparatory school, as a rule, puts the extinguisher on the keenness for knowledge and curiosity about things in general which is natural to most children.

I am not blaming preparatory schools. Passing examinations and winning "successes" is for them a matter of life and death, and they are powerless against the examination system. If the public schools were to set more store by healthy general development, and less on the powers of receptivity and ability to cram, "and if they were not so keen to bribe clever boys into being prematurely forced in order to gain material with which to win future successes, more national methods of education, in its widest sense, would be pursued by the preparatory schools. . . .

But I do not despair of much more satisfactory results in the near future, as there are signs, here and there, of reason getting the better of prejudice and custom in the concerns of our daily life. This I am convinced is the next stage in the progress of civilisation.

[At a secondary school in New Zealand, where Dr Almond's regime has been Strictly followed out for a few years, the average increase in physique of pupils is reported to be as follows :—Height, about lin; chest expansion, about 1in; weight, nearly 3lb. Further, it is stated that there has been a great improvement in general health and alertness and a corresponding mental advance.]

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.

page 78

"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.