Volume 31, no. 3, March 1920
(Papers read at PNEU Meeting of the Annual Conference of Educational Associations held at University College on Jan 7th)
Mr. H.W. Household, Secretary for Education, Gloucestershire, presided. Mr. Household explained the objects of the Parents' Union and the educational philosophy of its founder.
The message for the age was "Believe in mind and let education go straight as a bolt to the mind of the pupil." Teachers were not free from the trammels of the days of manuscript and oral teaching; they had not forgotten the times when books were scarce. For the teacher to occupy the center of the stage was wrong; the child should be left to itself and to its books, and the teacher should come in only when required by the pupil. Mr. Household said he thought they all started from common ground: that was, first of all, that there was a failure much more widespread than teachers would like to admit to the outside public-a failure on their part to get the interest of the bulk of their classes. They were teaching always to a comparatively small minority. The second point on which they were all agreed was that there was need for experiment. Miss Mason was conducting a great experiment which it behoved everybody to watch. She was a great educational reformer. In Gloucestershire the education authority had adopted Miss Mason's system in nearly thirty elementary schools and be could bear testimony that the system did absolutely what Miss Mason claimed for it. Mr. Household went on to refer to the recent Education Act. There were, he said, neither teachers nor buildings at the moment for the contemplated central and day continuation schools. Those schools could, therefore, not be started, and by the time the teachers were forthcoming the country in his opinion, would rise up and say they did not want inferior substitutes for the children workers. If secondary education for children 12 to 16 was the proper thing for one section of the community it was the thing for the children of the workers as well. The country would very soon be ripe for compulsory secondary education for everybody. There would be the primary school up to eleven years and the secondary school for everybody over that age. He hoped, therefore, that authorities, when they were presented their schemes to the Board of Education, as they had to under the Act, would make it clear that it was not their intention to provide those inferior substitutes (central schools and day continuation schools) for the children of the workers; the thing to do at the moment was to go ahead with the secondary schools, in the belief that the time would come when secondary education would be free and compulsory, and that when that time came, they would have nothing to undo or scrap.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
I. By C.D. Lawe (Headmistress of St. Agnes School, Babbacombe, Torquay.)
I am speaking as a representative of the 60 private schools that are working under the Parents' National Education Union, and hope to point out to this meeting some of the great benefits in the system of Education the Society is advancing: benefits affecting the principals of private schools, the thousands of children at present educated in them, and the professional class in England from which these children are mostly drawn.
Whatever may be the future of the private school for girls—total extinction by Government action, or absorption into the greater Secondary schools, or continuance of existence under Government Authority, is, at present, impossible to guess. The fact, remember, that to-day private schools are full and have long waiting lists, as many a head-mistress can testify. There are many difficult problems affecting every headmistress, however small the school may be. For the most part, there is an absence of that Tradition which tells so largely in the inspiration and organisation of a public school. There is also no final authority to consult as in the case of the Council Secondary Schools. Two things that throw a great weight of responsibility on the head, who has to settle the curriculum for herself, and to face the still graver question as to whether the general aim of the school is such as to justify its existence.
In Miss Mason's article, "A Liberal Education in Secondary Schools," written last Summer [and included in her Volume 6, pg 250], three matters of vital importance to every school are brought to our notice. Miss Mason shows what some of us have found to be a sure way out of our greatest difficulties. First, she draws attention to the general unrest and dissatisfaction in the public mind with that which has up till now constituted a Secondary Education. Secondly, she examines what Knowledge is in itself, and the action of Mind upon it, and thirdly, she explains the method to be employed in gaining Knowledge, together with the position and duties of a teacher.
Of the first, little need be said, every paper is full of it. Never perhaps, has the subject been discussed so frequently and so widely in the daily papers—a reflection of the interest in the public mind. Whether it be "Children of Nine or Ten Reading Shakespeare," or a criticism of Dr. Montessori's indictment of fairy tales, or an account of Mr. Angelo Patri's wonderful school in New York, we can hardly pick up a paper without noticing some Educational article. All imply, either directly or indirectly, that in a right Education will be found the means of founding that New World which is to rise out of the miseries and conflicts of the old one.
I read of Mr. Patri's school in New York, that he plans that his children will be the children of a greater republic, for "out of the school comes the spirit that shall keep and shall make America vigorous, true and unspoiled by wealth or by power." A vision shared by the hero of Mr. Wells' "Undying Fire" in the imaginary world that should be the result of his ideal Education. "In a world," says Mr. Wells, "so lit and opened by Education, most of these violent dissensions that trouble mankind would be impossible. In that more open and fresher air the fire that is God will burn more brightly; for most of us who fail to know God—fail through want of knowledge. Many more men and women will be devoted to the common work of mankind, and the evil that is in all of us will be more plainly seen and more easily restrained." Many voices were raised crying for reform. Some would have us cast away all our books and enter into a varied curriculum of self-created activities; some advocate a form of Education with a wholly utilitarian and commercial object, and some would oust all the Humanities and make physical Science the only study.
Hostile criticism of the Public schools meets us in the writings of famous novelists and of school boys. I think it is Dr. Courteny Dunn in his "Natural History of the Child" who remarks that, though the claim made for the playing fields of Eton may be a just one, we do not know how many battles have been lost of those same fields.
It is all very bewildering, but those of us who have studied the philosophy of the Parents' Union set out in Miss Mason's four Educational books and have for some time employed her methods and applied her principles, have discovered a system inculcating and embracing all those things that are felt by so many to be the need of our children to-day. Spontaneous activity in their studies, a habit of concentration, and versatility of mind that can make a success of any work undertaken, a keen zest and joy of life in all its phases, and a sense of independence and responsibility for their own lives in relation to their family, their school and their country, these fulfil what has been said to be the purpose of Education which "should be to lead a child into the fullest, truest, noblest and most fruitful relations of which he is capable, with the world in which he lives."
Miss Mason limits the meaning of Education in her pamphlet to that aspect of it which chiefly concerns the school, namely that which affects the energies of the mind or the acquiring of knowledge, which she defines as, "ideas clothed upon with facts." Not that she does not recognize the other factors in Education—those of home and social environment, for she builds up her method on the Natural Law that, "Education is the science of Relations," and her chosen motto for the Union is, "Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life."
First and foremost in her theory stands the recognition of the fact that a child is born a person, in possession of a mind as complete as that of an adult excepting in experience, and that the mind of a child is ready to devour whatever is presented to it. Just as a child needs the wisdom and experience of an adult to select the food proper for his nourishment, so the child is dependent on his teachers for the mental food necessary for the development of his mental growth. Here in company with Professor Welton, she sets on one side as unnecessary that careful training of the so called "faculties" of the mind. "All such faculties," he says, "must be developed as essential factors in a healthy mental life; but if the attempt is made to develop them in isolation, the result is merely the formation of certain mental habits." As physical actions constantly repeated become habit, and those actions automatic, so mental activities too become automatic, and those faculties of reason, judgment, imagination and the like are brought into play naturally through the achieved habits of attention, concentration, assimilation and reproduction. The choice of what a child should learn is not limited, he is to be put in touch with every sort of knowledge to which man is heir. For that reason the programme of work sent out every term for the members of the Parents Union School cover an enormously wide field of knowledge; Knowledge of God, of Man and of Nature, those three great relations of every human soul.
There was an interesting article in the Ladies' Home Journal last month, in which a mother wrote of her little girl of four, a perfectly normal child, that she had an intimate knowledge of many people and things supposed generally to interest older people. Venice, with its buildings and statues, was an everyday topic; Cimabue and Michelangelo she spoke of as naturally as most children will talk of Cinderella and Jack the Giant Killer; she knew and recognized many famous musical compositions, among others, Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice, Tschaikowsky's 1812 Overture; and this, because she had a first-hand acquaintance with these things through books, pictures and music. That it: "all depends what you give or tell a child" was the discovery made by this mother, a discovery made many years ago by the promoters of the Parents' Educational Union, and carried out from term to term in the programme of work set for children from six to eighteen years. Knowledge of God and of Nature is supplied to them through the Bible and Church History; by the best nature books obtainable, and by encouraging their own observations in drawing from Nature and Nature Diaries and Note Books. Knowledge of Man through History, Literature, Art, Languages and 'Citizenship.' The extraordinary interest children take in Citizenship, should fit them well when they are older, to take their share in grappling with problems of national importance.
It is in the Historical studies that, to my mind, we teachers get the most help; here we have surely the true "Concentration of Studies" for the History of a given period is studied, English, French and general European History, in close combination with the Literature, French and English, and in the older forms, Italian of the same period, and the pupils get a first-hand acquaintance with many literary works belonging to the period. Some years ago in Italy, the father of one of my pupils, an Italian Jew, took me to task for the History that was taught in the school. He set forward his idea of teaching children History, drawing what I thought was a very ideal course of reading and embracing the History of the World. It was not in my power to alter the syllabus under which I was working, but I have never forgotten that talk, and have found his theory carried out almost identically in the Parents' Union programmes. Children from 6 to 8, in addition to English History, get acquainted with Classical Mythology; then from 8 to 10, stories of Greek and Roman History, French, and outlines of Indian History. Later, they supplement their earlier reading by Plutarch's Lives and the General History I have sketched above. All this is given to them through the medium of real books, not text books. Emerson said of men at Oxford:—
"They have access to books; the rich libraries collected give an advantage not to be attained by a youth in this country, when one thinks how much more and better may be learned by a scholar, who, immediately on hearing of a book, can consult it, than by one who is on the quest for years, and reads inferior books, because he cannot find the best."
In a lesser degree this may be said of children working in the Parents' Union Schools, and we, their teachers, owe a great debt of gratitude to the Union for the way we are given the best books of their kind to put into the children's hands. I have known a girl of 14 cry bitterly because for reasons of economy, some of her History books were to be sold second-hand because she was going to a new school,—she kept her books. The point in which that of the Parents' Union differs from any other method of education is the insistence that sit work, excepting poetry learnt by heart, should only be read once (read to the children in the lowest form, and read by themselves in the higher), and then reproduced either written or orally. It sounds simple enough in the statement, but a great deal lies behind it, for it implies very close concentration to follow, let us say, a chapter on the Renaissance and then to reproduce it and to leave out nothing. My experience during the past five years of working under the Parents' Union is this, that concentration is a matter of habit and can be conditioned in any child between the ages of 6 and 10. Between 10 and 12, if they have previously "learnt" many lessons and had time to read their work over and over again, they take much longer to acquire this habit of concentration, and from 12 to 14 I find it an Herculean task to help them form it—in some cases almost impossible.*
(*That this interesting experience is not general, the Editor can give witness. She finds that new girls of sixteen or seventeen in the Finishing School narrate as well as girls brought up in the School, and [text was unreadable] to call the attention of students to the circumstances as showing that this method requires no preparation, but makes a direct appeal to girls of whatever age.—Ed.)
An objection may be raised as to how it is possible to get so much reading done in the time, and that brings me to the method insisted upon by the Parents' Union. First, the work is to be the work of children themselves, there is practically no oral teaching in the ordinary sense. Professor Welton has said that "in a very real sense all real education is self-education, and all learning is doing," and again, "A teacher can no more perform for his pupils the functions of mental assimilation than those of physical digestion," and the same writer discourages what he calls an "excessive use of that form of oral teaching in which the teacher guides and leads the pupil's thoughts from one detail to another so persistently." Mr. Caldwell Cook, in his book the "Play Way," defines "Play" as that which enters a child's mind and remains there active. (I think that is his meaning if not his words). Miss Mason agrees with him in the necessity for activity, though she differs from him in that she holds that "the mind refuses to know anything except what reaches it in a more or less literary form." In order that the child shall be doing all the time, Miss Mason insists on every lesson being "told back," thus supplying that necessary activity which is the proof of knowledge. The eagerness displayed by all children from six years old to do this either by speaking or writing justifies her method. No side issues, such as marks, position, prizes, enter into their work. They have Terminal examinations, sent from the House of Education, but there is no time for "looking up" and the results show that what has been read has been assimilated and is generally retold with ease.
A proof was given me only the other day of an old pupil who has gone on to a public school; she was talking about her Literature class, and telling me of a lecture she had heard on Pope, and "do you know," she said, "I could have given every word of it myself, I knew it all." She had read the life of Pope two or three years previously, had read and reproduced it once, but she really knew it, it had become part of herself. I have known several girls educated on the lines, who take easily and without cramming public examinations in order to qualify for professional life; two of my dear pupils have done this recently, though they were not at all "clever" girls; others have taken good places in public schools. It is by appealing to the best in human nature that we drive out the best and, therefore, what is the truest expression of the acquirement for the love of it, and for the increased growth and pleasure in life that it brings, is surely better than encouraging study for the sake of some reward, whether it be that of many prizes or position, or a distinguished place in an Examination list. I feel I cannot do better than to finish by quoting Mr. Edmund Holmes. He says, "We have seen that the great arterial instincts which manifest themselves in the undirected sympathetic instincts for the goal of Love, the artistic instinct for the goal of Beauty, the scientific instincts for the goal of Truth. We have seen, in other words, that the push of Natural forces in the inner life of the young child is ever tending to take him out of himself in the direction of a triune goal, which I may surely be allowed to call "Divine." If we follow inwards "infinity" the lines of love, of beauty and of truth, we shall begin at last to dream of an ideal point, the meeting point of all, and the vanishing point of each, for which no man will suffice less pregnant with meaning or less suggestive in reality than that of God." It is towards this "goal" that eloquently set before us by Mr. Holmes that I have tried to show that the Parents' Union is aiming and striving in its work by providing a "Liberal Education for All."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
II. By J.W. Clouston, Esq.
I have been asked to say a few words about the result of teaching boys on the P.N.E.U. system—and, though, I cannot claim to be a speaker, I can speak from 10 years' practical experience of these methods, as for that time the method has been carried on in my own Preparatory School, and under my own direct supervision.
I think I must detain you for a moment with a few words on how Miss Mason's methods differ from others in use at the moment. Firstly, she does not assume that the boys dislike work, and it is therefore necessary to disguise work as play—or to give them coloured bricks in place of units. If a boy dislikes work it is often because it is made so dull and uninteresting that it would bore an angel. I can only speak from my own experience, but I find a very small percentage want any driving; far more want restraining from overdoing things.
Secondly—and this is the whole mainspring of the system—Miss Mason insists that children are really human beings: and must be treated as such. Failure in the past, complaints or inattention and laziness, all can be traced to the inability to recognise this fact on the part of reformers and teachers. Formerly, the children did not do the work—we did it for them. We separated what they should learn from what they should not learn, and then made them do it—by notes, by explanations, by special preparation, by any means the brain of man could devise, but always working on the principle that the child could not be expected to do anything but accept what we cared to throw him. Quite unconsciously, I honestly believe, the master so dominated the boys that the latter could not develop his own mind—he merely tried to produce what he thought his master appreciated, not what he wished to produce, or what he could have produced, had his mind not been really in subjection to another and stronger.
When I was a boy at a Preparatory School, I wrote Latin verse—or rather, I didn't. But I attended classes where I was supposed to (though I really knew nothing about English verse, and much less about Latin verse). Anyhow, I was there, and did my best to please the gentleman in charge. If the words wouldn't go into a hexameter line one way, well, you pushed and shoved until they slipped in by another route. It was like a jig-saw puzzle, but with the very great difference that failure meant repetition during cricket. I am convinced I gained nothing by it, unless it was a form of low-down cunning, and I well remember my joy, when looking for a word in a big reference dictionary, to find the very line quoted as an example!
English verse was there for me to learn—not to appreciate or criticise—and like the gallant Six Hundred, we did not reason why. Miss Mason always advocated it, and now I see there is quite a movement in favour of suitable boys being given opportunities to write English verse. They learn and read samples of ballad and verse, and why should they not reproduce in an effort of their own? They have not been given a chance in the past. For examination and other pestilent reasons, they have only had time to hear what the critics said, what a man wrote and in whose reign he lived. Can boys write verse? Certainly they can—let them have the chance Miss Mason offers them, and if people knew what really creditable attempts they produce, they would unhesitatingly agree with her.
The same applies to essay writing—boys are still taught to write down the advantages and disadvantages of the point under discussion—to tabulate what they are going to say, and then try to produce what they think is acceptable to the powers that be.
What is the result? A hundred boys' essays are all alike—the same style, the same shibboleths, the same opinions . . . Why? Why should not a boy say what he likes in the style he chooses for himself? He is not there to reproduce the ideas of another—he is there to express his own ideas, and, as far as possible, in his own style.
Another trouble of the past is condensations—now, the P.N.E.U. avoids condensations [condensed books]. The boys read plenty of good English in the original form, and the result is a good vocabulary and ease of expression. A boy must necessarily form his vocabulary from what he reads—and he doesn't want précis, he wants standard works, and as many as possible. If a boy wrote out "Honesty is the best policy" 10,000 times—would it make him honest? It would merely cease to affect him. It would mean only as much as Nestle's milk or Spratt's dog cakes—words he accepts through seeing them so often.
You cannot teach honesty by condensation, and you cannot teach English either. Let us look at a foreign language. Is a boy to acquire a vocabulary by learning so many words a day? It sounds a little pre-historic, but I know it is a method in use to-day. No, he can only obtain a vocabulary by constant speaking or reading as he acquires it under P.N.E.U. methods. It is not so easy to find suitable books, but the P.N.E.U. English method can be applied, and I am very satisfied with an experiment I made with my top forms. In French, I chose a book whose story was one of interest and known to the boys, and let them read it in class without any preparation. When they could read the book at sight, I chose a harder one, and so onwards. With the forms in question, I started them with a Gospel, which they read very quickly. From this I passed to the Scarlet Pimpernel, and last term to Kipling's Jungle Books. Not only have the boys been very keen to read on overtime, but their vocabulary has increased by leaps and bounds—just as my junior boys who learn English on P.N.E.U. methods, who surprise me with the words they not only use, but of which they know the meaning. Miss Mason's methods, to my way of thinking, not only mean liberty of thought, but also initiative on the part of the boy.
I have noticed this very much in science. Before I had my own school, I held several posts as science master, and it was my custom to explain everything as fully as possible. All the apparatus, what I would do, what would happen, why it happened—so that all the boys had to do was to listen to me.
Preparatory school boys only have a grounding in general science—something for someone else to build on when they go to a Public school—but I use a different method now. I set up the apparatus—or describe it—then I ask the boys what will happen, and let them tell me this and give a reason. I do not pretend they can always answer, but I do say they learn in a way that surprises me, and in a way my old forms of considerably senior boys never answered. I attribute this solely to the fact that under P.N.E.U. methods they have been taught to think for themselves. And original thought—one piece of original work, however small—is worth all the pages they absorb from someone else. What we want, is men who can think for themselves—not men who reiterate the thoughts of another. This ability to think has been depreciated in the past and, personally, I am willing to take any steps or adopt any plan which makes the boys more self-reliant mentally and physically. Miss Mason's methods do this, and in a school they can be expanded and applied in so many directions that I can only hint at their utility.
I have given you some of my own impressions of the P.N.E.U., but before I came to-day, I wrote and asked one of my old assistants, who now has a school of his own, what he thought of his results with Parents' Union methods. He deals in his answer only with English, and he says:—"I am confirmed in my belief in the P.N.E.U. Not only do I find it a time-saver, but my boys have a consecutive and connected view of the term's work without revision. This is no small recommendation in view of the number of subjects which find space in the time-table. The method, too, stimulates interest, attention and clarity of thought. As far as I am concerned, the method has come to stay and I am very pleased at the way the boys have increased, not only the range of their vocabulary, but also in their powers of observation."
The gentleman who was kind enough to find time to write to me at the end of a busy term is one of the best and most careful teachers I know, and a man of over 20 years' experience in Preparatory Schools, and his words carry weight.
I am often asked if boys trained on P.N.E.U. lines succeed at Public Schools after leaving Preparatory School, and I can unhesitatingly say they do. But I am afraid I can't support this or tell you the results of my experience without sadly over-working the first personal pronoun, and I must beg you to be patient with me in this respect.
But I wrote to the headmaster of a well-known Public School too. Four P.N.E.U. trained boys from my school have won scholarships there comparatively recently, and I asked his opinion.
He writes that he finds them intellectually fresh and keen, self-reliant, and ready to enter into every branch of the school life. They had all been placed high at entry, but this has not stopped them climbing steadily to positions of eminence, which shows that they have not been forced but have developed along the best lines.
About a year ago, I was asked to write an article on the Parents' Union methods of teaching English for the Preparatory Schools' Review, and the point in it which struck masters was the absence of preparation for the lessons. At first sight this seemed rather a tall order to them, especially when the programme included European and Ancient as well as English history in conjunction with a book on World history. Theories are all very well, but headmasters ask more than theories, for they have learnt to distrust the gentleman who usually advocates educational reform though he has never taught a class in his life.
Recently I was told of an idea of printing Euclid's books in Greek, so that boys could learn Greek and Mathematics at the same time. I hate to be pessimistic, but from what I know of boys, they would learn neither Greek nor Mathematics!
Well, I was saying, proof is what is wanted, and I am not asking anyone to accept the theory of History with no preparation without some practical support.
I daresay you know there is a History Prize, the Townsend Warner, open to boys from Preparatory Schools, and as a rule about 70 compete. For the last two years I have sent in two candidates who have learnt history on Miss Mason's methods with no preparation, and moreover in each case the boy was one with Mathematical leanings and no special bent for English. In 1918 we won 15th and 17th places and last year 3rd and 5th, and the examiners' comment was that some of the answers of these boys was up to the standard of the VIth form at a Public School.
I am afraid I have made a feeble effort to explain the results of Parents' Union training, but I am more of a teacher than a speaker, and in any case it is a subject beyond my power.
The immortal Mr. Jorrocks said of his hunt horses that "he kept no cats that couldn't catch mice," and I have kept Miss Mason's methods for ten years, and a headmaster does not do this without a good reason. I can assure you. As the headmaster said in his letter to me, the method has come to stay, and it has come to stay for this reason, that it is not a question of a programme, but a revolution in our attitude towards children and education in general.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
III. By Miss B. Millar
I expect most of you here have read Miss Mason's pamphlet on a "Liberal Education in Secondary Schools," which is the subject under discussion this afternoon. At any rate you will know something of Miss Mason's teaching, and of her method of education, and will have heard how successfully a number of elementary schools have been working, during the last few years, on the lines which were originally laid down by her for teaching of children in home schoolrooms. A number of private schools also use her method, and those of us who know its results are very anxious that more and more schools of every kind should follow their example. With that end in view, I want to try to describe to you Miss Mason's method in the working, particularly as regards children above the elementary age, and to contrast their education with that given to girls of the same age in other schools. I hope you will forgive my quoting mostly from my own experience.
Let us start by briefly considering the attitude of most so-called educated people at the present day towards knowledge. Mr. Fisher was talking to us the other day about the ceaseless war which we of the teaching profession have to make against the common ignorance of mankind. He reminded us what a small proportion of men and women there are who care to keep alight the flame of knowledge and help the world to make intellectual progress, and how important it is, therefore, to see that everyone has such an education as will give him the opportunity of swelling their ranks. It was rather startling to be assured that to nine-tenths of the human race, thinking is painful and indolence is pleasant, but certainly we all know many boys and girls who leave school glad to have done with lessons, with no thought of continuing their education for themselves, and therefore speedily forgetting most of what they have already learnt. They never dream of reading anything but light novels, and if they go to the theatre, choose always to see musical comedies and revues. That such a state of things exists is surely the fault of the education they have received. They most have started their school life as all healthy-minded children do, with a keen desire for knowledge, but something has killed it.
Miss Mason holds that the trouble lies both with the kind of knowledge that has been offered them, and with the way in which they have been taught to deal with it. She tells use that children have a desire for many different kinds of knowledge, and that we are depriving them of their rights if we stint them either as to quantity or variety. We must put before them the best kind of mental food we can, suitably varied, and we must train them from the first to assimilate it for themselves. People often find this question of variety a stumbling block, and find fault with the wide curriculum of the Parents' Union School child. They say that if he attempts so many different subjects, he will get only a very "scrappy" knowledge of any of them, and will know nothing thoroughly. It is true that vague, disconnected knowledge is likely to produce only that restless habit of mind, which causes people to be always running after some new idea or fashion. Such a substitute for true knowledge was perhaps in Mr. Fisher's mind when he talked of examinations having at least the merit of preventing excessive dispersion. But when each subject is studied carefully, thoroughly and consecutively, and is lined up, whenever possible, with other subjects, as it is with P.U.S., the result is very different. The child makes as much progress in each subject as do other children of his age, if not more, and into the bargain, his love of knowledge, instead of gradually dying away, grows increasingly stronger, and his interests and sympathies are greatly widened. I cannot imagine any subject that could be left out of our syllabus without detracting from the total value of the children's education, and what an outcry they would make themselves if such a thing were suggested to them!
This matter of a wide curriculum is closely bound up with the question of the method of teaching. Miss Mason has time on her time-table for so many subjects, because of the way in which the children learn them. Her theory rests on the important truths—that all children have enormous powers of attention, which can be called into play by gratifying their love of knowledge, and that it is the nature of the mind to know that which reaches it in a literary form. For this reason, Miss Mason puts well-written books on every subject into the hands of the children, and thus, they learn by reading for themselves what a specialist has to tell them about each subject. As they never read a passage more than once, they read with the closest attention—there will be no second chance—and by the process of narration after reading, their knowledge is both tested and fixed in their minds. This narration is a very important part of the children's work. To tell again what they have read, sounds very simple, but in reality it involves hard work. It is impossible to tell what they do not know, and to make an orderly narration of any passage read, involves repeated putting of the question "what next?" by the mind to itself, till the whole thing stands out clearly in the memory. The process of narration does for the mind what the digestive organs do for the body. To have narrated a passage satisfactorily implies, not a mere parrot-like committing to memory of words, but the having made that passage one's own—a part of oneself. It is not an easy thing to do at first, but improvement soon comes, and the child himself proves to us that what he has read once and narrated at a lesson, say, in October, is still clear in his memory when, at the December examinations, he is asked again for that piece of knowledge.
In a large class it is of course impossible to give all the children in each lesson a chance to narrate, but we find that they are all eager to do so, and listen to their more fortunate companions attentively, and afterwards readily supply any omissions that have been made, or correct any inaccurate statements. We may notice in this connection, that the teacher, when hearing narrations, leaves the children to do all the work. She does not interrupt them if she disagrees with any statement they make, nor help them out with questions if they hesitate. She knows that it is disturbing to be interrupted, and that questions upset the train of the narrator's thoughts—his mind is no longer free to ask itself "what next?" for he has to cast about to find the answer he feels his teacher is expecting. As for the written work done by the children, it takes the form of reports, which they write after perhaps two of their lessons each morning. This is, as a rule, in addition to narration, not instead of it, for we expect a report to be rather a précis of the whole lesson, with the salient points given their proper proportion of significance. This, children find considerably harder than a detailed narration, and at first a form III. child, or one new to the method, is inclined to use up all her report time over relatively unimportant details. Here again, "practice makes perfect," and in a short time, she becomes more discriminating.
Having thus glanced at Miss Mason's method from a general point of view, let us now think of the treatment given to each subject separately. I will begin by showing you what work we do in handicrafts, art, science, and mathematics. These are subjects which people, who have heard only of our unusual use of books, imagine that we pay very little attention to, or leave out altogether!
As regards handicrafts, first of all, during the winter terms the girls learn cardboard sloyd, and in the summer term claymodelling, both of which forms of handiwork are very popular with them. The students at the House of Education also learn other kinds of handicrafts, such as netting, raffia-work, basket-work, chair-caning, brass-work, leather-work, wood-carving and book-binding, and several of these they often teach their pupils as hobbies, in addition to the regular handiwork done in school. Then, as the girls have no "homework" to do, they have time for regular sewing and knitting in the evenings, as well as the usual piano practising that all girls have to do. At neither of the schools that I myself went to from the ages of 13-16 and 16-18, did we do any handicrafts whatsoever, not even sewing, and I expect there may be more girls' schools in the same position.
Drawing and painting, like handicrafts, get their share of attention during the hour we spend in school before tea. The outstanding feature of our children's art training—I mean that which is not to be found in other schools—is what we call picture-study. Six beautiful little reproductions of some great artist's work are studied by the children each term, so that they become familiar with the best in art, and learn to enjoy it. Last term at Ambleside, the fifth form girls attended an interesting course of University Extension lectures on "How to enjoy pictures." They not only appreciated the whole subject more than most school-girls of 16-17 would, I think, have done, but they also had the keen pleasure of recognising old friends among the pictures shown them on the screen. Once the lecturer assigned one of these to the wrong artist—a slip which they were quick to notice, although it was a couple of years since they had studied this particular picture.
In music, as in picture-study, the girls have the privilege of getting to know something of one man's work each term. Chiefly this is done through their weekly musical appreciation classes, which are a great joy to them, but they also learn themselves any part of his music that is within their powers. If he has written any songs suitable for them to learn, they learn them in their singing class. They learn to read music by means of Tonic Solfa.
Nature Study takes an important place in the work done by the children, and is taught as much as possible from fieldwork. They learn a great deal about flowers and birds from Nature walks, and their interest is quickened by the keeping of Nature Note Books, in which they enter notes on anything that has struck them, and make paintings of flowers or insects they have found. Once a week in school they have a half-hour for "nature painting," as they call it, but it is a favourite occupation out of school hours too, and great is the pride they take in these nature note-books. Then during morning school they study Botany with the aid of interesting books, and read other delightful natural history books, such as Mrs. Buckley's Life and Her Children (in form II.), The Fairyland of Science (in form III.), and Winners in Life's Race (in form IV.) A book called the First Year of Scientific Knowledge introduces them to geology and physics, which studies they carry on in other books when they reach forms V. and VI. Astronomy is also begun in form IV.—much to the envy of the 12-year-olds in form III., who have tasted its delights from the little book called The Sciences, which they read in form II.
They also read in the fourth form some books on domestic economy, which, rather to my surprise I must own, they enjoyed thoroughly. I do not think many school girls have the opportunity to make a wider study of science than P.U.S. girls, though those at schools which have laboratories have the advantage of learning chemistry, perhaps a good many are deprived of science altogether. I went through the two schools I mentioned without being taught one word of any scientific subject.
To go on to mathematics: here the habit of close attention stands P.U.S. girls in good stead, so that they manage to keep up with most girls their age, although they do no evening preparation. The third form has four arithmetic and two geometry lessons a week, while the fourth form substitutes algebra for the Wednesday lesson. The girls in the fifth and sixth forms all go on with their mathematics, and have two arithmetic, two algebra and two geometry lessons a week, whereas in some schools, it is usual for all, except only a select few, to give up mathematics in the higher forms. Arithmetic is taught from the first as far as possible through problems, so that the girls learn always to think for themselves.
Let us next consider how the P.U.S. girl learns languages. She begins French first, of course, and spends more time on that in every form than on other languages, but at 10 or 11 years old, she begins Latin, and probably German too. When she reaches the fifth form, she learns Italian as well.
People often say that children cannot be expected to learn so many languages at once, but I have never found that they confuse them with one another. Rather they profit by being able to compare them: for instance, they are much interested in learning an Italian word such as "finestra" to notice its likeness to the French and German words they already know; and the grammar that they learn from one language often helps them considerably in learning another. As far as possible, the girls are taught to narrate in French and German, and in the fifth form in Italian, after reading a passage, and it is surprising how quick this practice makes them at picking up new words and expressions. Of course, at first they have not the vocabulary or knowledge of grammar, to depart very much from the words of the book, but they gain in freedom as they go on. Again, their habit of attention proves valuable to them, and enables them to get through the amount of work in the morning's lesson, which most girls only get done with evening preparation as well. They are trained to visualise words correctly when they first meet them, and to get a clear impression of, say, a new rule or a new verb the first time they are taught it, so that it is not often that the teacher has to spend time over the difficult task of dislodging a wrong idea. It was considered most surprising at a Conference meeting last week, that a class of boys of 13 and 14 should show pleasure and excitement over the learning of French verbs. Personally, I have always found that children enjoy both French and German verbs, and are as keen as one could wish to write them out absolutely correctly—and that, without the stimulus of the ingenious system of competition which an able Master has evolved for his boys.
English Grammar is taught throughout the school, instead of being given up in the upper forms as it is in most schools. In forms V and VI, while continuing to analyse and parse once a week, the girls read such books as Abbott and Seeley's English Lessons for English People, and Trench's Study of Words and Past and Present. These all interest them deeply. So much reading of well-written books, combined with the habit of narration, leads naturally to successful composition and good style.
When we give the girls compositions to write, we do not set them such subjects as "a lead pencil," or "honesty is the best policy," or "the pen is mightier than the sword" (all of which I remember groaning over myself at about the age of 13!) but about some scene out of one of their literature books, some character they have been reading about in history, some event or important speech that has been read to them a day or two before from a newspaper.
Correct spelling is another natural outcome of their use of books; they are never allowed to spell orally, but are taught to visualise all new words. In order to avoid any mistakes in dictation lessons, the passages are always carefully prepared first—so carefully that they rarely make a mistake when they write them down. Each sentence is only repeated once, so again, close attention is essential.
Scripture is placed in the forefront of the subjects we teach, as its object is to give the children that most important part of all knowledge that is their due—the knowledge of God. They are trained from the first to narrate the passage of Scripture which has been read to them, as closely as they can in the words of the Bible; which they succeed in doing very well, although at first the Biblical language is interspersed with rather startling paraphrases of their own. In this way they very soon get unusually familiar with the text of the Bible, and I have known a little girl of 9 write the answers to three questions on the Old Testament and three on the New, in language so closely following that of the Bible that a stranger to the method would have thought she had been learning by heart. In reality, each passage had only been read once, and that some weeks before. The reading is followed by narration, and then by such teaching as Paterson Smythe gives in his Bible for the Young. The older girls use commentaries to help them in their study of the Bible, and in addition to their week-day classes, they study in detail on Sundays some part of the gospel story, in such a way as to teach them to read between the lines, and to picture the whole scene in their minds.
At ten years old, the children begin to learn what Citizenship means by reading Arnold Forster's The Citizen Reader, and as they pass on through the school, they read other books, which add to their knowledge of the government of their country, and of the problems which government presents. They read also a book which teaches them much of human nature and of their duties in ruling themselves for the benefit of others.
I have not time to go into detail over the teaching of history, literature and geography—all of which subjects are mainly taught from books, and are closely correlated with each other. You probably know already what a wealth of reading the children enjoy; how much literature they study in connection with their history period for the term; how they do not confine their reading to English History alone, but read French History, European History, Indian History, Ancient History; how they learn geography from books which appeal to their imagination, and give them practice in careful map-study, combined with the sort of knowledge they would get from traveling themselves, and from books of travel. I think they are particularly to be envied this part of their school work. So many school girls learn history from oral lectures entirely, and as for literature, until perhaps they reach the sixth form, they may be confined, as I was myself, to one play of Shakespeare's per year, with pages of laboriously learnt glossary.
I should like you to see how much our children love their books, and how much they make them part of themselves. The Shakespeare play they read each term, from the second form upwards, is a special favourite. Last term when we had a fancy dress tea-party, about half of them chose to dress up—quite without any prompting—as characters out of various plays they were reading. They take great pleasure in Scott's novels too, of which they generally read one each term, out of school hours.
Miss Mason makes provision too, of course, for the physical training of the children, and tries to make that as varied as their mental training, but as all schools do much in this respect, I will spend my last few minutes in considering how the adoption of this method affects the teacher. On hearing a description of this method of education for children, the teacher often wonders what is left for her to do! She is no longer called upon to "get up" her lessons and pour them out to the children; she may not let her personality intervene between them and the writers of their books. There are no marks for her to give, no punishments to set. But let her once start using the method, and she will soon find that although she has to practise "masterly inactivity," she is certainly no passive spectator of the lesson. There is always scope for her guiding hand, and it makes an immense difference to the children if their teacher is enjoying the lesson with them; her sympathetic remarks here and there—sympathetic with the subject, that is—carry them along with her. Then, too, unless she has absolute control over her class, the children may in their eagerness, get into disorderly ways, and interrupt one another's narration; or, feeling that she is not entering in the lesson, like all children they will probably grow careless and frivolous.
The gain to herself of teaching in this way is enormous, both in the way of interest, and in the saving of labour. She cannot do anything but enjoy the children's books, and as the individuality of the children comes out both in narration and in their reports, there is nothing monotonous in the correcting of their work. It is very difficult to translate an "atmosphere" into words, and I am very doubtful whether I have succeeded in conveying to you the happy, healthy atmosphere of our P.U. Schoolrooms—even though I know it so well myself, having had the privilege of spending eight years at Ambleside, training and then teaching under Miss Mason's influence. The children who grow up with the benefit of such an education as I have tried to describe, not only have much knowledge stored up for their own and other people's enjoyment, but have formed a character which will be a lasting asset to their country. They are single-minded people, with a broad outlook and many interests in life; they are both thoughtful for others and have also acquired that "self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control," which "alone lead life to sovereign power." And so we, who have seen for ourselves how much knowledge presented in this way does for the children, are naturally anxious to see its influence spread still further. We feel that to give true knowledge to all the citizens of our empire would be the most effectual way of putting an end to the present day state of friction and unrest. A writer in the Spectator, about a month ago, assured us that ignorance which leads to wrong thinking is the cause of very many strikes.
Miss Mason in her pamphlet advocates a liberal education for all classes of the people. Nothing could unite us all so much as a basis of common knowledge, and what more important thing can we do for our country than to help in giving to its people the kind of education that will put them in the way of having a "right judgment in all things?"
Proofread by Phyllis Hunsucker
Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July 2008
|Top||Copyright © 2002-2021 AmblesideOnline. All rights reserved. Use of these resources subject to the terms of our License Agreement.||Home|