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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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Co-Education

by F. Rankin
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 207-216


(Paper read before the Winchester Branch of the P.N.E.U.)

For those who are weary of the reiteration of the first principles of education, propounded as they have so often been lately from platform and pulpit, these first few lines are not written. Henceforth, every teacher fresh from the training college and eager to have his or her name upon the government register, will be scribbling in her examination what has, during the time of probation, become almost a mechanical formula. But at present there are still a few uninitiated, and for the benefit of these, we must begin the discussion of all theories of education upon the recognised lines, and must have clearly before our minds what is meant by education in schools, mixed or otherwise. Later on we shall deal with the actual definition of the word itself, a definition which often differs so widely from the interpretation, but the early part of the discussion is concerned more with the end and aim of education and the purposes which it is intended to fulfil. These are not difficult to express in words. The development of every faculty so that it can be most wisely used; the formation of a character which will sustain the home, which will nevertheless at the crucial moment sink love of family in citizenship, citizenship in patriotism, and patriotism in devotion to humanity. We shall all agree that this view, expressed, though not exactly in those words, by a well-known educationist, is the only ideal that we may contemplate either within the walls of the school or beyond them. Whether conscious of such an aim, or whether only dimly realizing the striving for it, all who have to do with the training of children are interested in its attainment.

In an article written some time ago for this magazine may be found in these words: "Now, man being made to live among men, we cannot go too far in the process of moulding the child for social life, in counteracting his egoistic instincts when they first unfold by the development of his altruistic and social instincts."

This first begins at home. In the free intercourse between brothers and sisters which rubs off all the corners, and where selfishness almost amounts to crime, the altruistic faculty has every opportunity. The larger the family, the wider the scope, the more the certain the success.

Different qualities unduly assert themselves according to the want of balance in the different temperaments, and are quickly reduced to normal proportions. In a nursery full of children, the selfish one will find himself friendless, the little girl who runs away from a cow will grow brave under the stress of public opinion, and a show of ill-temper will be rewarded for weeks after by the pseudonym of "Lady Spit-fire." In no case will any difference be made for girls. The success of this nursery democracy is the mainspring of the co-education theory. It is argued that the family life is the type of the social life and that we cannot do better than follow the lines laid down for us. A thoughtful person might think of one or two reasons why this argument is weak, but for the moment we will waive dissension, and consider this idea as one great argument in favour of keeping boys and girls together. They meet each other in the holidays, they mingle in the world together when they are grown up; why, then, for nine months in the year, should they be kept apart, until gradually a barrier is formed between them, which, though only slightly indicated by nature, has been strongly emphasized by society. In these civilized days when need of reform asserts itself, it is not unwise to study simple methods, that is, natural methods. It follows, then, that the first object of education, namely, that of fitting a human being for family life, is best attained first in a day school, secondly, in a co-education school.

But we must go farther. The ideal man is to sink home in citizenship, that is, love of his neighbours, his townsfolk. He is a member of a large community in which each must bear his share for the common weal. His motto (that of a well-known modern school) must be "Work of each for weak of all" and by "all" is meant fellow-women as well as fellow-men. Will he be better fitted to work for and understand his women citizens if he has shared his boyhood with them? Will he be a better or worse member of society because he has sat side by side at school with the girl whom he now takes down to dinner, and will they have the less to say because they have had interests in common? It is a question which remains yet to be answered in practice. Theoretically, there seems no flaw. It is at this point that a problem arises which it is impossible to do more than touch upon in this paper: the relation of men and women, or rather, perhaps of grown-up boys and girls. If this relationship is all that can be desired, then, so far as its social side is concerned, our present education is adequate. If, on the other hand, there are those who are dissatisfied with existing conditions, they may find a remedy in the influence of mixed schools. It is a point upon which it is difficult to offer any opinion, but we are in a state of evolution, and possibly, in a future age, so-called love will not step in and break friendships so ruthlessly as now. Another point following close upon this one is the question of chivalry, and here it must be owned the enemies of co-education will find food for argument. It is, they say, the death-blow to chivalry, and there is but one answer, that a virtue so easily done to death is no virtue at all. We are told by the experienced that chivalry is already doomed because the majority of women over men and the necessity of their earning a living has already placed them socially, not above or below, but upon the equality with men—and sharing halfpence means sharing blows. This need not be, and co-education properly carried out may be one of the preventives to this apparent evil brought about by the inevitable changes in society. Co-education, badly done, would bring about just what is feared, and girls would have to fight their way metaphorically and literally.

As a matter of fact, experience seems to show that boys are not rough and rude to girls in the same school; they simply ignore them, the tendency being to imitate neither the medieval knight nor the medieval ruffian, while there is a school, not altogether obscure, where the girls have taken matters into their own hands and ridden the high horse, at least as far as class-work goes, over their weaker brethren. The remedy of both these extremes lies in the hands of the head master and his staff.

We have now reached the third stage in the education programme, namely, that of patriotism. So much has been said about this during the last twenty years in connection with child-training, that it may be dismissed with a few words, and those are only necessary as showing the relation of public schools to the question at issue. England is immensely proud of its patriotism, and England is immensely proud of what it holds to be the nursery of patriotism: its public schools. To the esprit de corps born and fostered there, we owe partly, at least, that strong national feeling which we call loyalty to king and country and which is shared by an entire people in common, one with the other to the exclusion of private interest. Will the lukewarm spirit of a mixed school supplant this enthusiasm, almost the finest result of English training? One cannot, even in the most hostile spirit, suppose that it would, but of this we may rest assured—the public schools lie quite outside the co-education question. As all the world knows, they are not perfect institutions, but because of the self-government which their methods teach, because of the courage, the tact, and the self-control which a boy may learn in them, they will stand untouched by the modern spirit of change in this respect for many a long day. We are dealing now with the high schools and the new boarding schools of which the cry is increasingly, "they come, they come!"

Let us now go into the matter more in detail. This scheme was started in America, and in America it seems to flourish. Notwithstanding that it has been recently said, "co-education is decreasing in the country districts," it is correct to say that, at the present time, education there is mixed; statistics prove it beyond a doubt. But Americans object to boarding schools, we like them; and at once the subject of our paper assumes more importance. Shall our boarding schools be mixed? Let us discuss this a moment from the girls' standpoint and find out what are the advantages and disadvantages. Anyone who has had experience of both kinds of schools will probably be struck with one fact. Girls in a mixed school are very proud of their position as pioneers, and consider their circumstances much more fortunate than those of the old-fashioned schoolgirl. It is, however, quite a question whether they are really having so good a time. Many girls from twelve to fourteen are sensitive and shy, and the companionship of boys is not congenial. They simply make friends with other girls. Knowing what glorious places a few modern girls' schools are, one cannot help feeling the privileges of the advanced are somewhat dearly bought. Again, twelve years of age is early to send a girl away from home. Every girl should lead a corporate life for a few years, if only to get rid of the sense of her own importance, but the later the better, and college life will do this as well or better than school life. The drawback of a co-education boarding school might be redeemed by an immaculate lady superintendent, but here, a host of minor difficulties arises. If the head is married, his wife must superintend the girls, and it goes without saying that her influence over them will be small. Either she will have children of her own and so never seem quite to belong to them, or, since she is married, they will feel intuitively that they do not stand first with her. The women who have done so much for girls in their schools have been unmarried. The ideal matron of the girls' house is a possible solution, but it must be borne in mind that in England she can never be the head, and her influence will be proportionately limited. Therefore, the idea of typifying the home life in all its aspects must be given up.

In regard to the details of discipline, punishments, and athletics, much might be written, but space is limited, and as all of these three can be regulated to fit the altered circumstances, they do not bear any extent upon the question. A point of more importance is the actual work studied, and shall all agree that this is of greater consequence to the boy than the girl? Whatever standard, whatever curriculum is necessary to the former, that standard and that curriculum must be established, and that this implies no disparagement with respect to the girls will be seen when we consider the different kinds of life led by men and women. A man is essentially active, his work is action, and the sphere he will fill in the future depends (apart from character) upon the material he has amassed for use in his early days. His education must be utilitarian, and what he learns at school, be he mathematician, scholar, statesman, or man of business, must be the foundation of knowledge that will be used for its own sake. Now turn to woman's work. It is a truism to say that, with few exceptions that prove the rule, no woman is a great thinker, philosopher, poet, inventor, musician; her work is rarely active or visible, and though this does not for a moment mean that it is inferior to that of the man, it proves undoubtedly that it is different. It is the woman with the finest institution who is best equipped for life. Up to sixteen years of age, it is a matter of small consequence what a girl studies. If she has to specialize, she can well do so after that age, but until then, whatever she learns is grist to the mill. She will assimilate and use it afterwards in her own way, which will almost always be an indirect one. It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to add that, of course, some differences must be made in the school time-table, but these are so slight that they need raise no discussion. The recreation time and the question of games needs some thinking out. Girls again show a tendency to go back to girls, and boys to boys in the free time, but since the average girl cannot play cricket and never will play football, this is not a matter of surprise. It is impossible that there can be quite the same bond of feeling if half the school cannot enter into it actively, and perhaps here something must be sacrificed. At all events, nothing must be forced, and to co-educate at unsuitable times, or in a manner clearly indicated as foolish, would be a far greater mistake than that of total separation.

There now remains to discuss only the moral standpoint of our subject, the most important of all and upon which nevertheless all opinion must be indefinite. In one of the special government reports recently published after investigations in America, one may read these words: "To whatever cause it may be attributed, the entire courteous devotion of American men to their wives is a pleasant sight to see." This is the outside of the platter, and helps to settle the question of chivalry, but it also indicates real devotion, as if the wife were also friend and companion. The supposition then that co-education will prevent happy marriages is an untrue one. The writer goes on to say, "It seems an admitted fact that girls become more full of resource and capable of much self-reliance, that boys gain in refinement and in a deeper respect for girlhood." There are still many people who complain of the want of manners found in high school girls. Frances Mary Buss, recognising what might be an evil, maintained a system of discipline in minor matters undreamt of by the ordinary public school boy. Experience has since taught that rowdiness in girls is not conquered by suppression, for it really arises from the emotions at a time when it would do much harm for them to be pent up. The immense amount of want of self-control in later years may in many cases be traced to too much of it in early ones. Girls need not be noisy and rough, but they want as much free play for every side of their character as a boy, and the enormous increase in athletics for girls bears witness to this. If we teach our boys and girls together, we must be careful lest the pendulum swing too far in the other direction; lest a poor imitation of masculinity be looked upon as a growth in self-reliance. There is a danger of this in the case of a large majority of boys, but just as in the home, a girl with many brothers is as gentle as one with none, so it may be in a larger community. It is the staff who are responsible, for the girls will follow their standard instinctively, and it may be said in passing that any education that enables them to meet with wise fortitude the coming years is the one to be advocated apart from other considerations. Mental balance is all-important for boys and girls, but particularly for the latter, and a society built up of girls alone is not its best training-ground. There is a healthier if rougher tone in the mixed schools. With regard to the boys, it is only the schoolmaster who is fully qualified to speak. Their simpler natures make thoughtfulness less habitual, and it is possible the brute sensations find a readier response in them than the girls; at all events it is very natural and easy to them to use their fists; so it may be that some of the training hitherto devoted to girls might be extended upon them profitably, and since all of this is only vague surmise, we must agree to wait for results before it can be unanimously declared that co-education has or has not conferred some benefit morally upon both sexes.

Another result, and a very far-reaching one, is that it will open the teaching profession still further to women. Instead of the small boys only being given into their charge, they will be found capable of taking the higher mixed classes, and if we again study the reports, we shall see that this leads more and more to the monopoly of teaching by women. We may, indeed, read of America, "It is now quite possible for a youth to pass through all the grades of education from the primary school to the high school, thence to the end of a university course, without ever having been taught by a man." Here in England, with tradition weighing so heavily in the balance against the forward movement, it seems beside the mark to hint at such a condition, and we may rest assured that the day will not come when English boys acknowledge a head mistress, as it appears those of other countries occasionally do. The same writer, Sir Joshua Fitch, goes on to say, "All are agreed that the best characteristics, both of man and of woman; ought to be enlisted in the work of education, and that the services of both are indispensable. But at what particular stage in the career of a boy or girl there is most need of the more virile and masterful discipline, and what are the subjects and the kinds of instruction which are best suited for teachers and learners of the two sexes respectively, we have yet much to learn." In respect of discipline and influence, the devotion of a boy for his master from the age of twelve to that of eighteen goes far to prove that English educators have not greatly erred. At that period, a woman's influence upon him must be secondary, not because it is the custom, but because the nature of the boy himself has so ordained it. Outside the parents, of whom we are not now speaking, the master is the boy's hero, the embodied example of his ideals, the fixed center of his youth from which his noblest aspirations spring, to whom he ever returns as the complexities of life gradually unfold before him. As he thinks, the boys will think; as he acts, the boy will act, following after lamely it may be, sometimes even outstripping, but ever pervaded in his most impressionable years by a sense of guidance and sympathy.

The same is true of girls and their mistresses, and their relation of pupil to teacher is so beautiful a thing that to destroy it would be an unpardonable crime, and so delicate that even to remark it is sometimes the cause of its disappearance. Let us beware that we do not rush in with our clumsy new methods to dissever this sacred bond. For this reason, as well as some others of a minor nature, the advocates for co-education must not be too expeditious in their action; above all, they must not use force. When a reform creeps in without noise or vulgar push, we may know that it has come in due time, and then we may find that only good is the result of a progression that is natural and in order. Meanwhile, those who see every advantage in the new movement need not despair, for it rests with them whether the idea shall be accepted by those whose high motives are the common good, or whether it shall be tainted by the patronage only of the eccentric and extraordinary. There is no need to think that secondary education as it is carried on in England at the present time is so far behind America, for those who have thoroughly investigated the methods of both countries give us reason to believe that, though our schools may be backward in regard to modern appliances, the tone of the education is unequalled. Different countries and people need different treatment, and while retaining always an open mind, let us remember that America has no such schools already established as those of which we are so justly proud. This is not the voice of insular prejudice. So great was the impression made by our best public schools for boys and girls upon one educationist who came to report upon them, that he is endeavouring to build up something upon the same lines in America. The schools that he visited are not, it is true, among those that we would reform in the matter of co-education, but such a testimony from an American who has made a study of the subject is well worth consideration, and we may fall back on it gratefully when strenuous pioneers denounce existing conditions as rotten and decayed. There is, however, a double meaning to that much-tried and long-suffering word, education. Its definition is usually held to be a leading forth of that which is in the mind and disposition of the child, and this is the fundamental principle upon which our present methods, harmonious or discordant, have been based; a second interpretation, that of leading forth into the working world, has been hitherto in a large measure overlooked; the older institutions, at all events, with regard to their curriculum, seem to have taken into small account the utilitarian value of training. Co-education is one of the radical changes by which it is hoped this second meaning of education may be more efficiently carried out; its promoters are confident that the conditions of a mixed school portraying in miniature those of a larger community, will bring about still better and happier conditions than those which already exist.

Having now run briefly through the chief results of this co-ordinate school life as regards home, society and the world, we will close by glancing for a moment at something which transcends all of these, namely, the ultimate ideal. In respect of this, all elaborate appliances of America, all the newest and most carefully evolved methods, are as dross compared with the desire and thought constantly directed towards our children. A standard of living, being and doing, may be put before them in words; a thousand times during their school life they may be told of things that are most worthy because they are most lasting, but never will the small mind be touched unless the words are an expression of honest thought directed from the teacher to the taught. "As a man thinketh in is heart, so is he," is a truth established by experience, and by a still higher authority; it is apparently left to this century to show how greatly the man, especially in the early years of childhood, may be influenced by the thoughts of those surrounding him. If those to whom you have committed the care of your children are such as you would wish them to be like, it is a small matter whether the apparatus be the most modern, or even whether the school is a mixed one. It is wisely said:—

"Old things need not be therefore true,
O brother men, nor yet the new."

For, though both time and method are indispensable to the evolution of truth, its essence is independent of either, and the key to the success of present and future education lies not in outward forms, but in the characters of those who undertake it.



Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, December 2008