The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A German Co-Educational School
by G.M. Haggie, A Student of the House of Education
We (a fellow-student and I) spent last summer holidays at Heidelberg with a German family, the Wittmanns. The father, Herr Direktor, is the headmaster of a large co-educational school there, consisting of about six hundred boys and fifty girls. His school is an ober-realschule, which is a type that is worked on lines entirely opposite to the "gymnasium," which the majority of the upper and middle classes attend. These ober-realschulen are, comparatively speaking, quite modern; they correspond more or less to the modern side of our public schools, whilst the "gymnasium" represents the classical. Children enter at about nine and stay till eighteen or twenty. If the pupils do not take all the subjects according to the time-table, they do not receive any "class" marks, nor in consequence, prizes. These pupils are called "guests," and are mostly foreigners. As is natural in an ober-realschule, modern languages are considered very important, and they form a large part of the curriculum. French is taught in all the classes; English is begun when the children are about twelve. Herr Direktor considers English even more important than French, and he would like children to begin it before the latter. He teaches the upper classes himself, whilst another German professor, who has studied English for two years at Oxford, takes the others. Herr Direktor believes strongly in the phonetic method for teaching living languages; he also thinks that good books should be read in their own language.
Last Summer term his top class were studying Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding; the second form took Herbert Spencer's Education, whilst most of the lower forms were reading Shakespeare. The beginners took "Stories of Robin Hood" from the Told to the Children series.
We were present at a viva voce examination in English at the end of the Summer term; the class consisted of about thirty boys, whose ages ranged from fourteen to sixteen. The subject was Geography and History combined (the taking of Quebec by General Wolfe) and the boys answered the questions smartly and with evident interest. Not a word of German was spoken throughout the whole lesson; the boys' accent was exceptionally good, and they were able to speak correctly and, in some cases, fluently. It may be noted that it was not a few of the more advanced, but the whole class, who did such credit to their masters and themselves. True to ober-realschulen principles, no Greek is taught, and very little Latin, compared to that which our English schoolboys learn. Herr Direktor insists that these languages are useless for commercial and usually for professional life, and should only be studied by those who have a natural bent for the classics. He admired much in English education, insomuch as it laid stress on physical and moral training, but he declared that, in matters intellectual, we were far behind the Germans. Especially did Herr Direktor approve of the large part[?] games and gymnastics play, and he does his utmost to arouse the boys' interest in athletics. The lower classes are bound to attend so many hours' gymnasium a week, and the upper are encourages to play tennis. There are three tennis courts belonging to the school, and tournaments are held at the end of the summer term. The game is not played on grass as in England, but on asphalt courts. We witnessed one of these tournaments; on the whole the players displayed more zeal than proficiency, but their enthusiasm was unbounded. Rowing is also encouraged, and a Regatta [boat race] takes place about the end of July. Each of the upper classes has its own boat, and a great deal of friendly rivalry is displayed.
We were present at a theatrical performance which the older pupils got up for their "break-up" party. They acted the Pyramus and Thisbe scene from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, and also Moliere's L'Avocat Patelin. As far as we could judge their pronunciation was very good and they knew their parts thoroughly. The school orchestra, which numbered between twenty and thirty pupils, played, excellently, selections from Handel and other composers. The head-girl made a very long speech in German, which, as she was American, was quite remarkable. Last Summer term was the first time that a girl was top of the ober-realschule, and in spite of a certain amount of resentment from the boys, she filled the place admirably.
Herr Direktor thinks that the sciences should be more widely taught in our English schools; a very big laboratory has just been added to the ober-realschule, and chemistry and physics are compulsory for the upper classes. Nature study, too, is very largely pursued; Herr Wittmann admires the way it is encouraged in the P.N.E.U. schools, and he tries to get his pupils to study nature outside as well as in. He is very keen on collections such as wild flowers, butterflies, birds' eggs, etc., and his eldest son has some very good ones.
Although Herr Direktor thinks that Germany has many things to learn from England, yet he disapproves on the whole of our public schools very strongly. As far as I can gather his chief objections are:—
(1) Our Public Schools are too exclusive (a) with regard to social
standing; (b) with regard to religious teaching.
(2) The classical is the most important side of our Public Schools; though a classical education is unsuitable for the majority. It neither helps them afterwards to earn their living, nor generally does it increase their mental powers. The practical side—sciences and the modern languages—is inefficiently taught.
(3) Games, although excellent in moderation, form too large a part of the life. Herr Direktor agrees with Mr. Benson when he says: "I honestly believe that the masters of public schools have two strong ambitions—to make boys good and to make them healthy; but I do not think they care about making them intellectual; intellectual life is left to take care of itself."
(4) Too much responsibility is laid on the elder boys, and they are allowed to exercise too much authority. "Prefects" would not be necessary if masters looked after the boys properly. Herr Direktor declares that boys of seventeen or eighteen are unsuited to inflict punishment on younger boys, or to regulate the moral code of the school. Bullying is largely the result of our "prefect" system, coupled with the exercise of corporal punishment. "If masters resort to brute force to obtain what they wish, they cannot but expect the boys to follow their example." The above is a very brief sketch of our impressions of a German co-educational school and the views of its headmaster. Certainly there is much in the ober-realschule that we can admire and might do well to imitate; yet perhaps its aims are a little too utilitarian and its training too one-sided for us to wish to copy entirely. Our public schools, with their ancient traditions, are a heritage of which English people may well be proud, for they understand "education" to mean on not only mental development, but the training of "body, soul, and spirit" for service.
Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July 2008
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