AmblesideOnline AO Parents' Review Articles

The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Educational Bill From an Educational Standpoint

by H. A. Nesbitt, M.A.
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 241-247; 346-

When I was first asked to suggest a subject for the present paper, I was suffering from recent bereavement, and I trusted to be able to work out afterwards the details of the treatment I should give to it. I had not at the time studied the Education Bill closely, and I only gathered from the descriptions of its objects in the Government journals that it was intended to benefit education, and that it contained provisions which would have a direct bearing upon the improvement of our educational methods, upon the training of teachers, the choice of school books, &c. When I came to study the Bill, or rather the Act, as it now is, I feared that my paper would resemble the celebrated chapter on Icelandic snakes: "There are no snakes in Iceland." It is difficult to see at first what effect on education itself would be produced by the taking over of the Voluntary Schools and the substitution of County and Borough Councils for School Boards. There is, however, one point in the Act which, if properly worked, may bring about a revolution in our educational methods. The Councils are to delegate their powers to committees, with power to add as members (a) persons who have had experience in education, and (b) persons representing various educational interests. As to the second of these I am to a great extent indifferent, as there is seldom any difficulty in this country in protecting class interests—the greater danger is always lest class interests should interfere with the interest of the community at large—but the first point, that of placing educational experts on education committees is really, strange as it may seem, a new departure in our national system of education. The education of the masses has been since 1870 in the hands of the Education Department and the School Boards.

Let us begin with the Department. This is an ordinary administrative branch of the Government, conducted by Government clerks who have risen from the lower ranks to which they were admitted by means of fairly difficult competitive examinations, assisted by Government Inspectors, generally appointed by reason of their having distinguished themselves at the University. Even when, as in the case of Sir Joshua Fitch, an educational expert was chosen, it was too often found that the administrative spirit became too strong for educational instincts, so that men of real culture and knowledge of what education ought to be, as evinced in their writings, were found defending Payment by Results and the Pupil Teacher System, until the pressure of outside opinion forced the Department to abandon the former. Sir John Gorst, who really studied the subject of education after his appointment, made gallant attempts to act from an educational standpoint, but he was not supported by his Government and had to retire. Again and again it has been found that the Department, with the best will in the world, was unable to do any good owing to the want of practical acquaintance with the difficulties to be grappled with on the part of its personnel, though there has been of late a marked improvement.

Let us turn to the School Boards. One great benefit of the Act is the abolition of the Cumulative Vote. The result of this method of voting was to make each member the representative of some sect or clique. If a candidate presented himself on the ground that he had had experience in education and had studied the subject scientifically, it was found that he was never elected. If the addresses of candidates are examined, it will be found that they generally asked for election in order that they might support Voluntary Schools, or oppose the claims of Voluntary Schools, or that they promised to give only Trades Union wages to the Board's employees, or anything but that the candidate had studied the subject of education and hoped to do something towards the improvement in methods of teaching, in the choice of school books, &c.

I may be allowed to relate my own experience. A vacancy occurring on a School Board, I was co-opted to fill it, and served for two years. I have reason to think that I was a useful member. I went round the schools whenever I could spare time, listened to the teaching, and was able to give assistance and advice to the school teachers, whom I must say I found most anxious to grasp at any improvement suggested.

Now there was a carpenter in the place who had a quarrel with one of the mistresses, who he considered had punished one of his children unjustly. The Board supported the mistress, and our friend announced his intention of getting on the Board himself at the next election. When the election came, I came forward on the ground that I had made a study of the subject and had had long experience as a teacher. I had neither time nor inclination to canvass, my work on the Board took a great deal of my time, which I was willing to give if wanted. I did not put myself forward in connection with any particular party or sect, and I need hardly say that the carpenter who went round and brought his voters to the poll himself got in, and that I was rejected. I am bound to say that the successful candidate proved a useful member. He did not molest the mistress, and he gave useful assistance in respect of the woodwork of some new schools we were building, showing the advantage of having an expert on the Board. In fact, everyone will see in the case of carpentering or the like, that a skilled carpenter is more likely to be able to superintend carpentering than a University graduate, however enthusiastic and Episcopalian, Methodist or Catholic he may be. It is strange that people will not recognise that the same holds in the art of teaching as in the art of carpentering. We are told that popular control should accompany expenditure. It is quite right, but the expenditure is to be in the hands of the Councils—at least so I understand the Act—and not of the Committees. How does the case stand in the government of the country? The executive is distinctly not elected. The electors, it is true, decide which of the two great parties shall be in power, but the Prime Minister is appointed nominally by the Sovereign, actually by natural selection, as being the man most trusted by the dominant party. The electors have no say whatever as to the distribution of the offices among the members of the Cabinet. In some cases they may decide whether anyone is to be made a minister, but this is not selection, and in many cases, as when the man in question is a peer, there is no popular election at all. The officers of the Army and Navy, the Judges, the dignitaries of the Church, the Ambassadors, are not elected. All that the nation decides is whether the power of selection shall belong to one party or the other. We may compare the Council to the House of Commons and the Education Committee to the Cabinet, consisting as it does partly of elected members and partly of co-opted members, viz., such Cabinet Ministers as are peers. Similarly, the Education Committees will consist partly of members of the Council, partly of added members. As in the case of Parliament their expenditure will be subject to the control of the representative body. The advocates of the retention of School Boards praise the principle of election ad hoc. May I say that it is a principle otherwise almost unknown to our constitution? The County Councils are elected—but for what? For general management, not specially for lighting, nor for police, nor for public spaces; they are elected as being men of influence and ability. If a lighting committee were elected it would not be elected ad hoc. The man in the street would not examine the certificates of efficiency, discuss whether this candidate or the other best understood the comparative advantages of electric or incandescent lighting. No, they would be chosen as being well-known men as being prominent advocates of labour, as munificent supporters of local charities; they would not be chosen ad hoc. And so with education. It is notorious that the members are not elected ad hoc, that is, ad efficient education; but ad the support of this or that sect or ad the maintenance of a certain rate of wages, etc.

There was once brought forward a Bill for the better government of India, and it proposed that a council should be formed of eighteen persons, nine nominated by the crown, others elected in various manners. Of these, five were to be elected by London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Belfast! This was absurdly out of tune with the principle of popular election, which is that every man knows best what manner of representative is best calculated to look after his interests in the body to which he is elected. But how could these five cities be qualified to decide as to the class of men who could best care for the interests of Bengal, Bombay, or the Punjab? In the same way the Borough and County Councils are chosen to represent the interests of the constituents, but they only represent the interests that the people understand and are anxious about. Now, judging from the talk at election time, good education is not a subject that the working classes understand or care about much, and consequently this interest is not likely to be well represented by means of direct popular representation. I am passing no judgment on the Act as a whole. Whether too much or too little has been given to the Voluntary Schools is a question which I do not even desire to express an opinion upon, but in this one point at least the Act is good, in that it recognizes the principle that Boards of Management should contain educational experts.

The next question that arises is, in what principle directions could such a committee exercise beneficent influence.

First there is the Training of Teachers. It is not necessary to insist before this society that teaching is an art, and that it no more follows that a highly cultured person should be able to teach than it does that a master of harmony should be able to play the piano, or a great mathematician be able to build a bridge. This, which to us is a truism, is by no means recognized even in the educational world. Inspectors are chosen from among young University men who have taken a good degree. In the great public schools, the idea of a necessary training in teaching is altogether ignored, and with the exception of the Ambleside House of Education, the Maria Grey Institute, and the College at Cambridge, no training colleges for schools other than elementary are in existence.* Even in elementary schools, much remains to be done in enforcing the necessity of regular training. In Germany a pupil is specially trained for five years in the subject matter, and then for two years in the art of teaching it. If any action comes to be taken about secondary schools, this is the direction to which the influence of experts on the committees should be specially directed, as it is just the point that would probably be neglected by the other members.

* I ought to have added the Ladies' College at Cheltenham.

Secondly, and closely connected with the first, there is the Pupil Teacher System. There is only one improvement of any value, and that is improving it off the face of the earth. The idea of setting a child to teach a class is an utterly absurd one. To anyone who knows what teaching ought to be—the effort and the skill required to maintain the interest of the class in order that every hour spent should be an hour of improvement and progress, the idea that an untrained immature mind is capable of anything beyond the merest mechanical work, deadening to the intellect and productive only of distaste for learning generally, seems too absurd for discussion. You would not trust a child's body to a medical student, but you intrust its mind, no less delicate an organization, to someone who has no idea what harm may be done by the clumsy treatment of a 'prentice hand. It may be said that it is necessary to begin somewhere. Yes, but in training colleges the earliest teaching is given under close supervision, and after the teacher has gone through some training in the principles of the subject.

I have heard two arguments for the retention of the system. First, that it is only by early practice that the teachers can become good disciplinarians. Secondly, that it would cost much more to use none but trained teachers.

To the first I would answer that too much attention is paid to the strictness of discipline, as compared with the interest and delight felt by the children in the subject of the lessons. These poor pupil teachers have to work in school during the day, and then prepare for examination in the evening. It is altogether too great a strain on the physical and mental organization. They get to look upon absolute discipline as the chief aim of their lives, and never learn the true joy of teaching, which can only come to one who is able to keep up the attention of the class by means of the interest in the subject taught—a joy that only comes to a trained and competent teacher. And this leads us to the question, whence the need of this martinet-like discipline, so far more rigid than any to be found in secondary schools? The cause lies in the excessive size of the classes. I maintain that it is an impossibility to teach properly a class of 50 or 60 children. The difficulty of doing any good with such a class becomes necessarily much more one of discipline than of teaching. When the inspector comes round, the points which attract his attention are, in the ratio of five to one, points of discipline, and not the subject matter of the lessons. I maintain that no class of younger children should exceed 25, and no class of older children should exceed 30 in number, and this brings me to the second plea, that of expense. As to this, I would say that bad work is in the long run always dearer than good work, and that it ill becomes a nation that can spend 70 millions in one year on its army, and 30 millions on its fleet, to begrudge an increase of the 12 or 13 millions for education. It is true that this sum only represents about half the actual cost of national education, but even that gives the cost of the Army and Navy as four times the cost of education. To grudge money for the education of the people is killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, for the earning power of the nation will be in direct proportion to uts intelligence and culture.

When will our authorities learn that the process is more valuable than the results, and that it is not the actual amount of knowledge or attainment, but the mode in which the knowledge is acquired that makes the difference between a man of culture and a half-educated man. Payment by Results is swept away, but it has left its ghost behind. The inspectors think a great deal more of what the children have learned than of how they have learned it, and hence the small attention given by the inspectors to the intelligence and formative character of the teaching given, as compared with the attention to minor points, such as neatness and uniformity of writing, sitting straight, keeping the eyes on the teacher, &c.

(To be continued.)

pg 346 pt. 2

(continued from page 247.)

The question of the size of classes is closely connected with the school building. Again and again in the schools we used to see long rooms, in which the children sat with their backs to the light, and the teacher had the light in his eyes. The matter was brought before the Board in vain when the original plans were formulated, which seem to have been followed ever since until quite recently. It was represented to them that the children should always write with the light coming from the left. It would be perfectly possible to divide the present rooms by partitions, shifting the desks at right angles to their present positions, and thus attain the great desideratum of small classrooms with light from the left. One who has taught, as I have, with ten classes going on at once in a vast hall, knows how incompatible with good teaching it is to have more than one class in a room at a time. Unfortunately, all the London Board Schools have been built for large classes. The ideal is: A trained teacher for each class in a separate room. Efficiency is the truest economy.

The subject of efficiency brings me to a very important point—that of school books. At present, the policy of the Board of Education is not to interfere with "the liberty of the teacher." How does this act? A head teacher wants a book for teaching to read. The Board give him no help, but allow him to select from their authorised list. On this list there are no less than 600 books to select from. How is the poor man to select one out of 600? In practice he is at the mercy of the commercial traveller for this or that publisher. In Austria the matter was arranged thus: A small committee of experts was appointed to draw up an elementary reading book. They were well paid for their services, but the books were then the property of the State, which, producing them in great numbers, could do so at a small expense. If a committee of experts were formed who should, not write a book, but examine those in existence, interview the authors to learn the definite object in view in compiling the books and the means taken to attain that object, we should not be told that it takes three to five years to teach children to read. I have taught a clever child to read in three months, a dull child in six months, giving at first twenty minutes, and later half an hour a day. But this could only be possible with a systematic and scientific reading book*, and to how many of the 600 could such adjectives be applied? I venture to say that, with a truly scientific reading book, no children ought to take more than a twelvemonth in learning to read. An indifferent teacher can teach if he has a good book to guide him—the best teacher cannot teach well from a bad book. In all these things, teachers require leading from above, and this leading should come partly from the inspectors. This leads me to the question of the Inspectorate. The higher inspectors are men of University attainments, but they begin with no knowledge of the art of teaching or the practice of it. There is no necessity for them to have read a single book on pedagogy, or to know the difference between inductive and deductive methods of teaching. They need not know the names of Froebel or Herbart, or have the least acquaintance with foreign systems of education. Often, being men of culture and ability, they pursue these studies later, but not all do this, and the intermediate stage is, in any case, a period of comparative inutility. The lower inspectors are men of experience in the actual work of teaching, but they are generally perfectly satisfied with the modes of teaching they have been accustomed to, and, knowing of nothing better or higher than their own little horizon, they do not believe that anything better exists, and are quite unable therefore to guide the teachers to improved methods. Nothing strikes one more in one's intercourse with elementary school teachers than their utter self-satisfaction. Their classes are in good order, and there are no complaints. What would you have more? The only hope for progress in anything lies in the acknowledgement that all is not perfect at present, and a real teacher is no more satisfied with his work than is a really great painter, for he is equally aware how far his best efforts must fall below perfection. We want an inspectorate, not merely of University men or of experienced teachers, but of trained teachers, experts who have studied what education ought to be, and have also had experience of the difficulty of carrying theories into practice. France, Germany, Sweden send teachers to study the methods in other countries. England is quite content to go on in the old rut, and Germany and France do not think it worth while to send their teachers here, as they consider us, and I fear with too much reason, too far behind for them to learn anything from us.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

* [This is a letter to the Editor sent by Mr. Nesbitt in response to question about which book was used.]

Dear Editor,—The book I used was The English Method of Teaching to Read (Macmillan), but I believe that Reading in a Twelvemonth (Sonnenschein) is still better. Yours very truly, H. A. Nesbitt, 16, South Hill Park Gardens, Hampstead, July 7th, 1903.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

I now come to another branch of the subject. The new educational authorities are to have powers to start Secondary Schools, or, at any rate, to raise money for the promotion of Secondary Education. I confess when I see what the Department has made of primary schools I feel considerable apprehension of what may be done in the case of secondary education. My fear is that there will be many new schools established which will ruin the existing schools without substituting anything better. The first thing to be done must be to draw a hard and fast line between primary and secondary education so as to prevent overlapping, and I venture to submit a scheme for what elementary education should consist of. To this the elementary schools should be rigidly confined, but up to that line they should be encouraged to proceed. Means should be provided by means of scholarships, &c., for elementary scholars to proceed to the secondary schools. The scheme is for children whose school education is to cease at thirteen (or fourteen at latest):—

(1) The children should learn to read with fluency and intelligence, and should have been accustomed to the best English authors, those best adapted to the formation of character.

(2) They should write a clear but not ornate hand. At present, too much trouble is taken to eradicate all character from the handwriting.

(3) They should be taught elementary mathematics—not with a view to its use in life chiefly, but as the very best mode of training to think. The teaching need not extend beyond the ordinary rules of Arithmetic, Algebra to Simultaneous Equations of the First Degree, and the substance of the First and Third Books of Euclid (not Euclid itself.) If these are taught heuristically, that is, if the pupils are led to discover the truths for themselves, they may be very useful for them, otherwise the unreasoning ability to work sums in arithmetic beyond addition and subtraction of money is of small actual use in every-day life. The power of reasoning out an abstract question which can be best acquired by the rational study of the laws of number and space, is most valuable, and depends but little on the actual amount learned. Euclid is good training in logic, but his method does not lead to independent thought.

(4) The English language—grammar and analysis of an easy character. Children are too often troubled with difficult points of grammar, of which they accept the explanation given, instead of being well practised in the easier portions of the subject when they can think for themselves. Systematic spelling, founded on etymology, where this is easy.

(5) History of England, treated biographically, not philosophically. The motto of the teacher of elementary history should be -

"Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime."

Of the two modes of regarding history (1) the story of distinguished men and women, and (2) the story of great movements of character and opinion, the former is perhaps the less important, but is far better adapted to influence the character and to elicit the thought of the children.

(6) Geography, especially the geography of the mighty Empire to which we belong, combined with such elementary science as may account for clouds and winds, day and night, the seasons, &c., treated with the aid of the simplest possible experiments. Experiments tell upon children in the inverse ratio to the complication of the apparatus.

(7) The children should know a little of the spirit of the Constitution and the form of government, and just enough Political Economy to know that expenditure does not benefit trade, and that if wages exceed what will yield a remunerative return, the business will pass to other countries.

(8) I have not mentioned drawing, nor needlework, nor cookery. Drawing, if rationally taught, may be full of the highest culture. Of the other subjects I am not qualified to speak.

I have religiously excluded all mention of religion—not from its being unimportant.

If the elementary schools are not prevented from transgressing some such limit as this, we shall have a state of chaos, the primary and secondary schools being engaged in teaching the same subjects, the work in the primary schools will not be thoroughly done owing to the ambition to do too much, and those who go on from the primary school to the secondary will have been insufficiently prepared. I should be the last to echo the talk about educating people above their position in life. No man has the right to say what is another's proper position in life, but the complaint under the present regime is that too much is attempted, and that, in consequence, the education which is really likely to be of use to the majority of scholars is given perfunctorily. Let the passage from the elementary to the secondary school be as free as possible, but do let the teaching in the elementary schools be elementary, for it is only so that it can be thorough. I gather from what Sir John Gorse said a few days since that the general effect on the Act will be to decentralize, and to allow each educational committee far more independence of action than the School Boards have hitherto enjoyed. Thus a great deal will depend on the personnel of these committees, and it behoves all who have anything to do with municipal work to use their influence in getting the appointment of people who have studied educational methods, and who know good teaching from bad. There is a grand opportunity for the committees to introduce in the new secondary schools, if they establish any, the principle of Co-education. This is in full force in America, where ninety-five per cent of the State schools teach boys and girls together. It is, perhaps, too early to introduce it in primary schools at present, although I am sure that it would have a good effect on the manners of both boys and girls, but surely it might be adopted in state-aided secondary schools. I believe that there is no need in this society to insist upon the advantages of mixed education. None of the disadvantages that were predicted have accrued in American schools, and I am told that there is a life and eagerness to learn in those schools which are still sadly deficient in ours. I find it myself difficult to imagine the attitude of objectors, for I was taught till the age of fifteen in a mixed school, and I attribute to that circumstance my conviction that the intellects of men and women are in no way different in kind. It is impossible for boys to be taught with girls without gaining a respect for their intelligence quite out of proportion to the ordinary tone of young men on the subject. If a boy finds that his sister can solve a problem in Euclid that has baffled him, he ceases to consider that women as such have inferior powers. Of course it may be true that the average mental power of men is greater than that of women, as the average height is greater, but there are as many women whose intellect surpasses that of the average man as there are women who are taller than the average of men, although the average height of the man is greater than that of the woman. The effect on the girl is to give her a feeling of companionship with men, which is of the greatest possible advantage to a girl who has no brothers. The danger apprehended is that boys and girls are likely to fall in love at too early an age. As a matter of fact nothing of this kind takes place in America, and a professor once said to me that nothing was so likely to prevent sentimental nonsense as doing Euclid together at seven o'clock in the morning. I believe in the beneficial influence of intellectual intercourse, so that men and women should be brought up to look upon one another, not as pleasant partners in a waltz, or antagonists in lawn tennis, or objects to practise the arts of compliment and repartee upon, but as companions whose opinions on the affairs of every-day life or on the higher subjects or politics or science or ethics are valuable and interesting to each other. I like to have girls taught partly by men and boys by women. I believe that much that is justly blamed in what are known as "High School Manners" is due to the fact that there are no men teachers in the girls' High School. In the old private schools superseded by the High Schools, there were always men visiting-teachers, and I believe the influence was distinctly a good one. Certainly the manners produced in those schools compare favourably with those of the girls whom one comes across in the trains at present. The habit of having to do with men (even old fogies of lecturers) on intellectual ground, having to look upon them as people whose opinions were to be weighed and not as people to be flirted with, could not but benefit them. I am however, I believe, only trying to convince those who need no convincing. At the King Alfred School, at Bedale's, at Keswick, at Mr. William Herford's school at Manchester, the system has led to no manner of ill, and no teacher who has ever taught boys and girls together will desire to go back to the system of the monastery and the convent.

One reason that has been urged against it is the necessity for maintaining corporal punishment in boys' schools, with the fact that it is unsuited for girls, and that a difference must be made in the punishment of the same offence in consequence. It is time this degrading and barbarous practice were done away with. How a young man, with the instincts of an English gentleman, can be expected to endure personal dishonour is what I cannot understand. I hesitate to use a personal reference, as it might lay me open to the retort: How much better it would have been for you to have been flogged. But there are many schools where it is not practised, notably University College School. It is far less resorted to in most schools than of old, and it has come to be regarded, and I believe rightly, as a stigma on a teacher, that he has to resort much to corporal punishment. The ideal is, of course, that boys should be so much interested in their work as not to be tempted to misbehave, and it will at any rate be found that those teachers who are best able to interest their classes have least occasion to resort to punishment. If we can get the new committees to found mixed secondary schools, without corporal punishment, we shall really have taken a gigantic step in advance.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, December 2008