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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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The Question of Over-Pressure in High Schools

by A.H.
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 741-744


I am sure I am not alone in feeling that to leave unnoticed a paper so full of interest to parents and teachers as that entitled "An Oration on Sex in Education," printed in the June number of the Parent's Review would be to miss an unusually good opportunity of having the subject of overwork in High Schools and its remedies brought before our minds.

It is not often that such an opportunity occurs, and the paper referred to is one which is full of suggestions and contains much matter for reflection. I would not presume to consider my paper as an answer to the article--coming as it does from so high an authority--but it may serve as an outlet for the spread of some remarks upon the modern system of education which may prove of some use. For thus opening out to the public view the danger into which modern educationists are running, we cannot but value the paper; but, while acknowledging that there are High Schools and High Schools, the writer entirely deprecates the High School system because of the over-work which seems involved in it, and recommends the alternative of home education for girls.

I do not deny that in some High Schools over-pressure does exist, but I do not agree with the writer of the "Oration" in coming to the decision that over-pressure is the inevitable result of the High School system.

On the other hand, far be it from me to deny that girls are, or ought to be, the better for home-life. No training can be so valuable as that gained in a good home, under the influence of a wise parent; but are there not many instances in which we see that school life has supplemented the training of home, and so has helped on to a very great degree the education of a girl in its fullest sense?

In learning at home, how is it possible for one woman to be equally capable of teaching six or seven subjects? At school the girl has the advantage of different teachers for different subjects, each teacher making one of those subjects her special study. The freshness and interest of the change is obvious.

How often do parents come to us with children who require the stimulus of other minds working with them. And this stimulus does not degenerate into feverish competition; it only gives life to work in the schoolroom that at home would be more or less dull and wanting in interest.

How good again is the discipline of school life; the enforced silence at stated times; the rule of punctuality; the order that is required. Almost unconsciously the girl grows into good habits. All these apparently small things go to help a girl to learn the lesson of self-control and recollectedness--a lesson that may easily be learnt in early years, but one hard to acquire afterwards. What a valuable thing it is, too, for a girl to feel that she is one of a large body. It helps to put down petty selfish thoughts, and teaches her to enter into the interests of others, to desire the good of the whole. If she is to be a true woman, she will have to learn this some day, and the early training will make her a better daughter, a more helpful wife. In the general "give and take" of school life, faults of temper and vanity are nipped in the bud, and the girl learns that others have claims as well as she, and that she is not to be the only one considered.

These and many more advantages will recur to the minds of any who have either had a school education themselves or have been in the way of seeing school life.

The High School system seems to me to be capable of being an ideal one, combining as it does the advantages of school and home life; but no system is perfect.

"Nor aught so good, but strained from that fair use,

Revolts from True birth, stumbling on abuse.

Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied."

In the face of the value of High school education, shall we then fold our hands and say that we are helpless, and that things must go on as they are?

It is quite possible--and in a large number of High Schools it is already the case--to have good work without pressure.

Acknowledging, then, the fact of the existence of over-pressure, what is to be done to remedy the evil?

First, let there be more real sympathy between parents and teachers. Let there be loyalty on the part of both parents and teachers. Let the parent first talk over matters with the teacher, and then uphold the wishes of the teacher. And, on the other hand, let the teacher enter into the child's home-life as much as is possible, so that the child may feel that home and school are not distinct and contrary elements in her life, but that one works into the other. I must here say something about the system of "time-tables" in use in most High Schools.

Time-tables were introduced as a means of preventing long hours and systematic over work over home lessons. It is not a perfect system, I grant, but the best that has as yet been arrived at. A certain length of time is given to each girl for preparation. If the time is exceeded, the child marks the excess, and the parent signs the paper.

The writer of the "Oration" tells us that "parents for the most part ignore the school time-tables" and I fear that this is often the case; but whose fault is it? Surely, keeping strictly to the time given ought to be looked upon as a matter of honour and obedience, and parents should see that the school rule is respected.

Of course, exceptions are sometimes made in the case of girls who are slow thinkers, and who therefore cannot work quickly; but for a girl of the ordinary standard, should the work given constantly prove too much to be done in a certain time, then it is a sure sign that the teacher is in fault and not the girl, and the parent ought to make a protest, and give credit to the teacher for a wish to set things right.

Then, again, more care should be taken in seeing that the children are out in the air for a certain time each day. The head work, to be lasting, must be balanced with a certain amount of play. Early hours should be insisted on. Between the years of ten and twenty, as much sleep as possible out to be had; but how often is a child allowed to sit up until ten or eleven o'clock, because no rule for going to bed at a certain time has been made and insisted upon.

This leads me to say that, unless a home is methodical in its arrangements, hurry and over-excitement in the children's work is sure to be the result.

I know many girls who, without being particularly quick over their work, yet manage to get it done in the prescribed time, and have interests outside their school lessons. They find time for extra music or drawing, or they are interested in their pet animals or their museum. And this I know is the result of a well-ordered home. Of course the method required means trouble to parents, and when a girl is one of a large family it seems almost impossible to arrange hours for school in such a way that they will not clash with the time that ought to be given to the home circle; but I am sure a little more might be done in this way than is usually aimed at.

Let me also urge parents to see that in a child's leisure hours change of work is encouraged. How often one sees a child straight form the schoolroom huddled up in an arm-chair reading a book. The brain is still working in very much the same direction as it has been during school hours. Games, needlework, wood-carving, etc,--many other interests might be substituted which would rest the brain, and help to develop the child in an "all round" way.

Let me finish my remarks by quoting from a paper by Mr. Pridgin Teale.

In the Presidential Address delivered in the Health Department of the Social Science Congress held at Huddersfield a few years ago Mr. Teale says: "It is my belief that hard work and long hours of work do not of themselves constitute over-pressure in education or over-work in life. It is the work which is done under perpetual worry and anxiety, and under compulsion of want of time, that tries the health of young and old. Work, even hard work, which is done with pleasure and buoyancy, with wisdom and unselfishness, under a strong sense of duty, with a consciousness that its effect will be abiding, surely is not the work that injures health or exhausts the brain. But it is because we are importing into modern education hurry, worry, and anxiety, selfishness, competition, and feverish desire for success, prize-winning, place-winning, and mark-winning, all tending year by year to grow in intensity and to become more powerful agents, that I see and foresee injury to health, degradation of intellect, and a departure from a true ideal of education.

A.H.