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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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Some Impressions of the P.N.E.U. Conference

by C.C. Cotterill
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 544


I am very glad, in response to an invitation, to write, in a page or two, the impressions produced upon me by attending the Conference.

It will, perhaps, be well to state at once that I have been a schoolmaster for more than thirty years--ten at Preparatory, more than twenty at Public Schools.

My object in attending the Conference was twofold-- 1. A general one--to hear, and see, and learn for myself and for my own instruction as much as I could about the aims and principles, and, by means of the demonstration lessons, the methods and practice, of the P.N.E.U. I went solely as a learner.

2. To discover how far, if at all, it was desirable that there should be established closer relations between the Union and Preparatory Schools.

I learnt much. I learnt that it was possible for some hundreds of people, many of them delegates from branches established throughout the whole country, to be disinterestedly inspired with one grand and simple educational aim, refusing entirely to be led astray by the comparatively insignificant side issues which only too often weaken and almost paralyse some other educational efforts.

One single aim seemed to me to pervade everything spoken and every person that spoke--how best and most harmoniously to develop the whole nature of a child. It is impossible to overstate the refreshing and exhilarating effects of such an atmosphere. It was an atmosphere of ideas and ideals.

For those engaged in the practical work of education, I firmly believe there is no such stimulus towards the successful performance of their work as that which comes from the apprehension and habitual dwelling upon of ideas and ideals. And some of the most practically inspiring of these must, it is to be feared, always be those that are only distantly realizable. But a Conference such as this would be something like a complete failure if most of its ideals were not felt to be not distantly realizable, but rather to be in process of realization. This is the test which I applied, and a careful review of what I heard and saw leaves upon my mind the following impression:--

1. Everything seemed to be based upon the idea that it was the duty of those engaged in the education of children to give them that which was ideally the best for them to receive.

2. These ideal conceptions seemed to possess the quite unique merit that they were the simplest and plainest to put into practice.

Such is undoubtedly the impression left upon my mind by my attendance at the Conference. If such an impression be only approximately accurate, no higher commendation could be passed upon the system that produced it.

Among the most suggestive and interesting communications to which I listened were the remarks, amounting often to not more than a few sentences, made by persons in the audience, in the course of a discussion. The interest and value of such remarks seemed to me to be due very largely to the fact that they were prompted by the desire of giving to the audience the results of some simple and practical experiment in the education of children, which the speaker, having found it useful in this instance, was desirous of communicating to others, that they also might put it into practice. In a word, everyone seemed desirous of communicating to others the proved results of successful observation and experiment in the education of children.

If I ask myself what I enjoyed most, I think the most interesting and enjoyable element of all to me was the spirit of the thing--the healthy, friendly, disinterested, open-minded spirit that seemed to pervade everything and everybody; the sense that everyone was there with the single aim of giving and receiving that which might be most helpful towards making the world--the child-world, doubtless, chiefly, but not the child-world only--something fairer and better, truer, happier, more beautiful, in the rolling of the ages. But it was for me rendered the more delightful, because it was all simple, unpedantic, natural.

I have left myself less than no space to enlarge upon my second object in attending the Conference, and will simply say that I cannot overstate the importance, as it seems to me, of the closest possible intercourse between Preparatory Schoolmasters and Parents' Union. I believe that each has a great deal to learn from the other, and I trust that this fact will not be overlooked, but that the best means, whatever these may be, will be adopted, to carry out what I believe is generally felt by those who have given the subject consideration to be a most desirable end to attain.

At present, whilst the work of both is always closely connected and frequently overlaps, the workers, with rare exceptions, know nothing of each other, and next to nothing of their respective difficulties, conditions, aims and methods. And this is far other than it should be.

C. C. Cotterill.