The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
An Educational Reformer - T. H. Green

By F. L. Green
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 561

To everyone who cares for the future of his country . . . the question, with what sort of mental equipment the children of the next generation are to go into the world, must be of supreme interest.--Lecture on the Elementary School System of England.

These words, to be found in a masterly review of the operation of Mr Forster's Education Act, form the key-note of the educational thought of the late Professor Green.

As a Rugby schoolboy, an Oxford lecturer, tutor, and professor, a Schools Inquiry Commissioner, and a member of the Oxford School Board, he had a large grasp of practical details, but it was as a far-reaching social force that education appealed to him. Through the re-constitution of the middle and higher education of England, to which he devoted so much effort, he anticipated, if not a re-construction of society, at least a considerable change in its tone, and the removal of many of its barriers.

The practical objects for which Green strove were the liberalisation and expansion of the Universities, and a properly organised system of schools, which would "level up without levelling down, thus opening to all who have a special taste for learning . . . what has hitherto been unpleasantly called 'the education of gentlemen.'" He hoped for a time when the sort of education, which alone makes the gentleman in any true sense, will be within the reach of all, and "all honest citizens will recognise themselves and be recognised by each other as gentlemen."


When Green first sat for a scholarship at Oxford--in 1854--the University, with its splendid resources and encouragements to learning, was still practically a close corporation.

The first University Reform Act of 1853 had indeed nominally opened the University to Dissenters, but they were still practically excluded from the great schools which fed it with scholars. The cost of University life was also great, for in order to belong to the University or to receive any real instruction, it was necessary to live within one of the colleges. The Universities were practically unknown ground to even the rich commercial classes. They thought of them as "places where young men stay at great expense till they are twenty-three, and are then unfitted for business, without knowing what else to do with themselves." A University career was looked on by them "as a speculation and as comparatively not a good one." The college system increased the difficulty. "The father of the aspiring Grammar School boy probably does not know how to communicate with the authorities of a college, Fees and caution money perplex him. He is ignorant as to how scholarships and bible-clerkships may be best obtained. It is possible for him, of course, to leave all such matters in the hands of the schoolmaster; but an arrangement on his son's behalf which is wholly unintelligible to him, personally, he is sure to look upon with a less favourable eye."

The disastrous social effects on town and university of this practical monopoly of the classes were readily recognisable.

"The insides of the colleges," writes Green, in 1854, "are strangely incongruous with the outsides. The finest colleges are the most corrupt, the functionaries--from the heads to the servants--being wholly given to quiet dishonesty, and the undergraduates to sensual idleness." Years later he deplores, but cannot wonder at, the ill-feeling to the University still found in a large class of Oxford citizens. The real grievances they had years ago had left a sore, nor was "a more friendly relation fostered by the careless, though not ill-natured, insolence in which the lusty youth, bred apart in the mis-called 'public schools' and housed in the collegiate barracks, are apt to indulge.

Green's demand, as early as 1864, was formulated into such a cheapening of the avenue to the Universities as would open to poor men and Dissenters--traders who do not love trade and whom trade does not love, small schoolmasters and ministers in towns--the career of learning and teaching at the endowed Universities themselves, and in the endowed schools, which was even then practically open only to Churchmen with some command of money.

He considered it "the business of the State, as the representative not of the classes, but of the nation," to see that the money resulting from educational endowment" should be so applied as to really provide a 'ladder of learning,' to use Professor Huxley's figure, by which boys of intellectual promise should be able to mount, I do not say 'from the gutter,' for that phrase would imply parental neglect, which can never be followed by real success in learning, but from the humblest well-disciplined home to the Universities."

Towards this ideal during Green's lifetime a great advance was made. Ecclesiastical exclusiveness and its disastrous social effects were checked by the opening of the Universities to Dissenters by the Universities Reform Act of 1353, and by two Acts of 1870--the one opening their great prizes, the fellowships of colleges--the other opening the head masterships of grammar schools, hitherto generally confined to clergymen of the Church of England, "who were able to make regulations (and till recently in many cases did make them) by which the schools were virtually closed against the sons of conscientious Dissenters."

Thus, in I880, Green was able to contrast "the former active hostility of the University to Dissent"--at one time so strong that the house of a connection of his, having facilities of communication with the New Road Chapel, would sometimes be used as a shelter for undergraduates anxious to hear some eminent Nonconformist preacher in the chapel without being stopped by the authorities of the University--with a state of things in which not only were there several Non-conformist fellows of colleges, "very active and determined in their Nonconformity," but also "a much respected Non-conformist professor, who often preaches from the Congregational pulpits of the city."

The Universities had also done much to break down the barrier of cost that, added to the ecclesiastical barrier, restricted the benefits of a high education to a privileged few. By opening to competition close scholarships already existing, by offering exhibitions to candidates distinguished in local examination, passing the statute by which students are allowed to come to the University without joining a college, by relaxing restrictions on the course of study for honours, they had succeeded in bringing University education within the reach of young men whose parents from their social position an traditions would naturally desire it for them, but who could not otherwise afford to give it to them.

But with a few exceptions the Universities failed to draw students from a stratum of society previously unconnected with the University--the unlearned classes.

"We find," says Professor Green in his Lecture on the Grading of Secondary Schools, in 1887, "that Professor Huxley's 'ladder of learning' can as yet scarcely be said to exist, or that, if it exists, it is very rarely mounted. It is not, moreover, in the topmost rung of the ladder that the defect lies. The endowed Universities offer assistance (as some say bribes) to education with lavish hand. It is true that they do not impose any tests of poverty on the holders of their scholarships and exhibitions, and these are sometimes won, though less often than is commonly, supposed, by young men who could easily meet the expenses of University education without them. But while it is certain that the imposition of such a test would interfere with one great object which our scholarships at present serve, the fusion of men, most variously born and circumstanced, in one academical autocracy, it is very doubtful whether it would do anything to bring the higher education within the reach of those who do not now attain it . . . . The dinner would be provided, but the guests would not be forthcoming."


In December, 1864, a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the education given in those schools in England and Wales which were not comprised within the two former Commissions of 1858 and 1861, that is, practically, "the schools, attended by the children of such of the gentry, clergy, professional and commercial men as are of limited means and tradesmen." An assistant commissionership, was offered to Green, and during the last three quarters of 1865, and from April to June, 1866, he was occupied in the personal inspection of the schools of Warwickshire and Staffordshire, Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Northamptonshire. He had also to make a special report on King Edward's School at Birmingham.

The results of his inquiry were depressing.

The gross annual income from endowments of the grammar schools of Staffordshire and Warwickshire (excluding Birmingham) he found to be nearly £9500. Of the boys on whose education this sum was spent there were less than a hundred "who, with any amount of time allowed, and with unlimited use of the dictionary, would make out for themselves, with decent correctness, an ordinary passage of Cicero or Virgil." About twelve boys were reading mathematics above Euclid and elementary algebra; about ten showed "an intelligent interest in English literature and a knowledge of history that would be likely to continue with them," and twenty at most could translate for themselves a passage of ordinary French.

For this state of things it was necessary to suggest a remedy. The apparently short cut to the attainment of the stage by the lesser grammar schools at which liberal education begins--the substitution of modern languages for an ancient one and of botany or chemistry for grammar--would be found, Green thought, a longer road. The real difficulties on the part of the taught are an absence of intellectual interest, an incapacity for intellectual effort, and an obtuseness to distinctions of thought. A purely "modern" curriculum would not diminish these difficulties, for history and geography "studied as a boy must study them, do nothing to elicit the faculties of inference, nor can they take much real hold on those who are wholly without political knowledge or interest. English grammar as an instrument of liberal education seems comparatively poor. If taught philosophically it at once runs up into logic, out of the reach of the uncultivated schoolboy. As taught in the ordinary empirical having way, it does not serve the purpose of Latin . . . having few inflections . . . It does little to stir the faculties of discrimination and comparison. The same remarks apply, in a modified degree, to the study of French," and though less applicable to German, it is a more difficult language, and less generally recognised as of practical utility. "The less abstract branches of physical science, such as botany and physiology, may be taught in such a way as to afford an equal mental discipline with Latin grammar and construing," but if so taught they will be objected to. "It is only because, as ordinarily taught, they do not require the same effort of abstraction from sense as the; elements of Latin, only because they appeal more directly to eye and ear, instead of thought, that they are popular subjects." "To that class of parents which forms the main constituency of the grammar schools--the shopkeepers and small manufacturers--the 'modern' subjects are matters of equal indifference with the classical. What they want for their sons is an education which will qualify them for business (i.e., which will enable them to read, write, do accounts, and compose an ordinary letter) in the most compendious possible way.' Again he says, "The great check on aspiration towards the University at present is the prevalent notion that education should be an easy and agreeable process, which will qualify the recipient for making money at fifteen. This notion the adoption of the 'modern' system would sanction and enthrone."

The reasons why so few promising boys were to be found at that time in grammar schools, Green considered, were mainly social.

The head masters took as boarders the sons of professional men and the lesser gentry from the country round, and as no fees could be charged for day-boys, they had no pecuniary stimulus to make their several schools useful to the immediate neighbourhood. They therefore trampled needlessly on the notions of education current among the commercial class, and lost many boys to the private academies; while if they had promised "adequate attention to writing and arithmetic, and so much to English grammar as is necessary to make the son of uneducated parents write a correct letter," they might have added anything else at their pleasure, and have kept their boys.

The buildings and situation of many of the grammar schools Green found to be bad, and this disadvantage led to a preference for boarding-schools as against day-schools, and a reluctance among professional men, on social grounds, to use the town school for their sons. "Outside the homes of the less distracted ministers of religion, there is scarcely a father to be found who knows anything about or takes any interest in the education of his son. . . The consequence is that he does next to nothing at home, and there is not enough competition to stimulate him much in the local day-school. Meanwhile he is very likely forming acquaintances in the neighbourhood which his parents think socially and morally objectionable. . . A sovereign remedy for this mischief is thought to be his migration to a boarding-school. . . . Disagreeable connections are broken, the family is free from responsibility, and the boy is more acceptable to his home, and his home to the boy, when he returns to it for the holidays. . . So long as the tradesmen of country towns continue their habit of spending the evening in the bar-rooms of inns, a sensitive father may be excused for wishing to have as little connection as possible between his family and theirs. The difficulties of social mixture in a grammar school, however, seem to be greatly lessened by the influence of the master on the manners of the boy, and by the possession of a good playground. . . . It is companionship with under-bred boys in the street which the more refined parent specially fears for his son ; and, on the other hand, it is by intercourse with his boys in the precincts of the school and in the playground that the master may best succeed in softening the manners of the rougher ones, and giving a common tone of honour and gentleness to all."

The reasons why grammar schools were not of more service to those boys who did go to them were, Green thought, firstly, an uneducated parentage; secondly, the presence in the schools of boys who ought not to be there at all; and thirdly, the fact that the old Universities were out of the reach of even the better boys.

The want of intellectual stimulus at home was the most serious difficulty to be faced. "The difference between the educational standard of the professional class generally and the commercial class generally forces itself strongly on any one conversant with provincial life. . . In the one case there arc no books (except a few with gilt leaves, only moved to be dusted), no intellectual traditions, small opportunities of study at home. . . The entire education of the son has to be done in school. . . There is nothing to stimulate his intellectual ambition. The possibility of an education at the University never entered the horizon of the family imagination, nor has he ever heard any one commended for knowledge or literary ability. The son of a professional man, on the other hand, learns his own language, it is to be hoped, in the nursery. He is early accustomed to the sight and use of books As he grows older, familiar example may accustom him to the notion of knowledge as a source of utility and estimation. . . . The use of an expression or illustration, which would be familiar to boys bred among books or educated people, is often received by a grammar school class with a stare, and with a few noticeable exceptions, the only boys in these schools who have attained the elements of scholarship are the few of professional parentage."

The elementary ignorance of the lower classes in grammar schools arising from the received view of the grammar school as a charitable institution, which is to remove the burden of education wholly from the shoulders of parents, was found to be gradually disappearing before the exaction of fees and of a minimum of preliminary knowledge as the condition of entrance.

The virtual closing of the old Universities against the scholars of provincial grammar schools has been already dealt with.

The remedy proposed by Green for the evils that have been dwelt on was the establishment of "a well-organised system, by which the poorer grammar schools should pass on their best boys, with small exhibitions, to the richer, and these again should transfer their elite, with larger exhibitions, to the University. . . It would be understood that the higher classical education was not to be attempted by the smaller schools; that they were to concentrate attention on English, writing, arithmetic, Latin, and Euclid, with French in the higher classes, and that further classical or scientific education would be furnished to such as were fit for it" in the great grammar schools, which to have two departments--one preparing for the Universities, the other devoted mainly to mathematics, physical science, and modern languages.

The views here expressed were to a great extent adopted in the three grades of secondary education recommended by the Commissioners in their report of 1868--the first grade schools continuing school work to the age of eighteen or nineteen, and teaching Greek as well as Latin; the second grade schools, which suppose school work to stop about substitute for Greek one or more modern languages and make Latin an important subject; and the third grade schools, which suppose school work to stop about fourteen, and which are content, therefore, to combine with the elements (including the elements of Latin) the teaching of one modern language.

These views were not, however, carried out in the way which Green had hoped for.

The Endowed Schools Act of 1869 "made no provision, as the original Commission recommended, for or the establishment of provincial authorities having power to deal with schools in groups. . . . To the absence of such provincial authorities and the consequent reference of everything to the Commissioners sitting in London, has probably been owing the fact that the process of settling new schemes for the grammar schools has been so slow and has bred so much local discontent." Again, the terms "first grade," "second grade," "third grade," which represent a valuable reality when the school of lower grade can be made to feed the higher, are apt to imply merely a harassing limitation upon the subjects of instruction, when each school, instead of being one member of an organism, has to act as an independent whole."

Green also thought that the Commissioners themselves erred in the proposed establishment of eighty first grade boarding-schools. "The class which would chiefly support new boarding-schools, charging from £60 to £120 a year . . . would seldom be disposed to keep their sons at school long enough to do justice to the full first-grade curriculum. They would send them to such schools, not for the sake of the studies pursued, but on account of their gentlemanly, repute, and would generally withdraw them for favourable openings in business before they were seventeen. . . They will thus, for the most part, be educating second-grade boys on first-grade principles."

It was to the increase of first-grade day schools in large towns that Green looked for the development of higher education in England. "The instinct which leads to the prolonged pursuit of literature or science will be often found;' he says, among those who, while feeling the intellectual stimulus which the life of a large town supplies, find no very tempting openings into the life of prosperous p commerce. . . If the people are to be made scholars, the scholar must go to the people, not wait for them to come to him. He must offer them his wares, in the universally accessible day-school, instead of expecting them to seek him out at the boarding-school. . . So far as we are drawing to Oxford young men of promise from classes outside those which we are used to, it is through the action of day education. . . . It is the day scholars . . . the day students . . . that are bringing hopeful new grist to our mill."

Typed by happi, March 2016