A Philosophy of Education Volume 6 Chapter 10 Section 2a



THE KNOWLEDGE OF MAN

(a) HISTORY


I HAVE already spoken of history as a vital part of education and have cited the counsel of Montaigne that the teacher ‘shall by the help of histories inform himself of the worthiest minds that were in the best ages.’ To us in particular who are living in one of the great epochs of history it is necessary to know something of what has gone before in order to think justly of what is occurring to-day. The League of Nations, for example,
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has reminded us not only of the Congress of Vienna but of the several Treaties of Perpetual Peace which have marked the history of Europe. It is still true that,—
                   “Things done without example, in their issue
                   Are to be feared. Have you a precedent
                   Of this commission?” (Henry VIII.)
We applaud the bluff King’s wisdom and look uneasily for precedents for the war and the peace and the depressing anxieties that have come in their train. We are conscious of a lack of sound judgment in ourselves to decide upon the questions that have come before us and are aware that nothing would give us more confidence than a pretty wide acquaintance with history. The more educated among our ‘Dominion’ cousins complain that their young people have no background of history and as a consequence ‘we are the people’ is their master thought; they would face even the loss of Westminster Abbey without a qualm. What is it to them where great events have happened, great persons lived and moved? And, alas, this indifference to history is not confined to the Dominions; young people at home are equally indifferent, nor have their elders such stores of interest and information as should quicken children with the knowledge that always and everywhere there have been great parts to play and almost always great men to play those parts: that any day it may come to anyone to do some service of historical moment to the country. It is not too much to say that a rational well-considered patriotism depends on a pretty copious reading of history, and with this rational patriotism we desire our young people shall be informed rather than with the jingoism of the emotional patriot.
          If there is but little knowledge of history amongst us, no doubt our schools are in fault. Teachers will plead that there is no time save for a sketchy knowledge of English history given in a course of lectures of which
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the pupils take notes and work up reports. Most of us know how unsatisfying is such a course however entertaining. Not even Thackeray could introduce the stuff of knowledge into his lectures on The Four Georges. Our knowledge of history should give us something more than impressions and opinions, but, alas, the lack of time is a real difficulty.
          Now the method I am advocating has this advantage; it multiplies time. Each school period is quadrupled in time value and we find that we get through a surprising amount of history in a thorough way, in about the same time that in most schools affords no more than a skeleton of English History only. We know that young people are enormously interested in the subject and give concentrated attention if we give them the right books. We are aware that our own discursive talk is usually a waste of time and a strain on the scholars’ attention, so we (of the P.N.E.U.) confine ourselves to affording two things,—knowledge, and a keen sympathy in the interest roused by that knowledge. It is our part to see that every child knows and can tell, whether by way of oral narrative or written essay. In this way an unusual amount of ground is covered with such certainty that no revision is required for the examination at the end of the term. A single reading is a condition insisted upon because a naturally desultory habit of mind leads us all to put off the effort of attention as long as a second or third chance of coping with our subject is to be hoped for. It is, however, a mistake to speak of the ‘effort of attention.’ Complete and entire attention is a natural function which requires no effort and causes no fatigue; the anxious labour of mind of which we are at times aware comes when attention wanders and has again to be brought to the point; but the concentration at which most teachers aim is an innate provision for education and is not the result of training or effort. Our concern
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is to afford matter of a sufficiently literary character, together with the certainty that no second or third opportunity for knowing a given lesson will be allowed.
          The personality of the teacher is no doubt of much value but perhaps this value is intellectual rather than emotional. The perception of the teacher is keenly interested, that his mind and their minds are working in harmony is a wonderful incentive to young scholars; but the sympathetic teacher who believes that to attend is a strain, who makes allowance for the hundred wandering fancies that beset a child—whom he has at last to pull up with effort, tiring to teacher and pupil—hinders in his good-natured efforts to help.
          The child of six in IB has, not stories from English History, but a definite quantity of consecutive reading, say, forty pages in a term, from a well-written, well-considered, large volume which is also well-illustrated. Children cannot of course themselves read a book which is by no means written down to the ‘child’s level’ so the teacher reads and the children ‘tell’ paragraph by paragraph, passage by passage. The teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell.’ The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. The teacher probably allows other children to correct any faults in the telling when it is over. The teacher’s own really difficult part is to keep up sympathetic interest by look and occasional word, by remarks upon a passage that has been narrated, by occasionally shewing pictures, and so on. But she will bear in mind that the child of six has begun the serious business of his education, that it does not matter much whether he understands this word or that, but that it matters a great deal that he should learn to deal directly with books. Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and what he cannot
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tell, he does not know. Possibly this practice of ‘telling’ was more used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than it is now. We remember how three gentlemen meet in Henry VIII and one who has just come out of the Abbey from witnessing the coronation of Anne Boleyn is asked to tell the others about it, which he does with the vividness and accuracy we obtain from children. In this case no doubt the ‘telling’ was a stage device, but would it have been adopted if such narration were not commonly practised? Even in our own day a good raconteur is a welcome guest; and a generation or two ago the art was studied as a part of gentlemanly equipment. The objection occurs that such a social accomplishment is unnecessary for children and is a mere exercise of memory. Now a passage to be memorised requires much conning, much repetition, and meanwhile the learners are ‘thinking’ about other matters, that is, the mind is not at work in the act of memorising. To read a passage with full attention and to tell it afterwards has a curiously different effect. M. Bergson makes the happy distinction between word memory and mind memory, which, once the force of it is realised, should bring about sweeping changes in our methods of education.
          Trusting to mind memory we visualise the scene, are convinced by the arguments, take pleasure in the turn of the sentences and frame our own upon them; in fact that particular passage or chapter has been received into us and become a part of us just as literally as was yesterday’s dinner; nay, more so, for yesterday’s dinner is of little account tomorrow; but several months, perhaps years hence, we shall be able to narrate the passage we had, so to say, consumed and grown upon with all the vividness, detail and accuracy of the first telling. All those powers of the mind which we call faculties have been brought into play in dealing with the intellectual
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matter thus afforded; so we may not ask questions to help the child to reason, paint fancy pictures to help him to imagine, draw out moral lessons to quicken his conscience. These things take place as involuntarily as processes of digestion.
          Children of seven are promoted to Form IA in which they remain for a couple of years. They read from the same capital book, Mrs. Marshall’s Our Island Story, and about the same number of pages in a term; but while the readings in IB are confined to the first third of the book embodying the simpler and more direct histories, those in IA go on to the end of the volume and children learn at any rate to love English history. “I’d a lot sooner have history than my dinner,” said a sturdy boy of seven by no means inclined to neglect his dinner.
          In IA the history is amplified and illustrated by short biographies of persons connected with the period studied, Lord Clive, Nelson, etc.; and Mrs. Frewen Lord’s delightful Tales from Westminster Abbey and from St. Paul’s help the children immensely in individualising their heroes. It is good to hear them ‘tell’ of Franklin, Nelson, Howard, Shaftesbury, and their delight in visiting the monuments is very great. One would not think that Donne would greatly interest children but the excitement of a small party in noticing the marks of the Great Fire still to be seen on his monument was illuminating to lookers-on.
          Possibly there is no sounder method of inculcating a sane and serviceable patriotism than this of making children familiar with the monuments of the great even if they have not the opportunity to see them. Form II (ages 9 to 12) have a more considerable historical programme which they cover with ease and enjoyment. They use a more difficult book than in IA, an interesting and well-written history of England of which they read
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some fifty pages or so in a term. IIA read in addition and by way of illustration the chapters dealing with the social life of the period in a volume, treating of social life in England. We introduce children as early as possible to the contemporary history of other countries as the study of English history alone is apt to lead to a certain insular and arrogant habit of mind.
          Naturally we begin with French history and both divisions read from the First History of France, very well written, the chapters contemporary with the English history they are reading. The readiness with which children write or tell of Richelieu, Colbert, Bayard, justifies us in this early introduction of foreign history; and the lucidity and clearness with which the story is told in the book they use results on the part of the children in such a knowledge of the history of France as throws light on that of their own country and certainly gives them the sense that history was progressing every-where much as it was at home during the period they are reading about.
          The study of ancient history which cannot be contemporaneous we approach through a chronologically- arranged book about the British Museum (written for the scholars of the P.U.S. by the late Mrs. W. Epps who had the delightful gift of realising the progress of the ages as represented in our great national storehouse). I have already instanced a child’s visit to the Parthenon Room and her eager identification of what she saw with what she had read, and that will serve to indicate the sort of key to ancient history afforded by this valuable book. Miss G. M. Bernau has added to the value of these studies by producing a ‘Book of Centuries’ in which children draw such illustrations as they come across of objects of domestic use, of art, etc., connected with the century they are reading about. This slight study of the British Museum we find very valuable; whether the children
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have or have not the opportunity of visiting the Museum itself, they have the hope of doing so, and, besides, their minds are awakened to the treasures of local museums.
          In Form III children continue the same history of England as in II, the same French history and the same British Museum Book, going on with their ‘Book of Centuries.’ To this they add about twenty to thirty pages a term from a little book on Indian History, a subject which interests them greatly.
          Slight studies of the history of other parts of the British Empire are included under ‘Geography.’
          In Form IV the children are promoted to Gardiner’s Student’s History of England, clear and able, but some- what stiffer than that they have hitherto been engaged upon, together with Mr. and Mrs. Quennell’s History of Everyday Things in England (which is used in Form III also). Form IV is introduced to outlines of European history. The British Museum for Children and ‘Book of Centuries’ are continued.
          It is as teachers know a matter of extreme difficulty to find the exactly right book for children’s reading in each subject and for some years we have been regretting the fact that Lord’s very delightful Modern Europe[1] has been out of print.
          The history studies of Forms V and VI (ages 15 to 18) are more advanced and more copious and depend for illustration upon readings in the literature of the period. Green’s Shorter History of the English People is the text-book in English history, amplified, for example, by Macaulay’s Essays on Frederick the Great and the Austrian Succession, on Pitt and Clive. For the same period we use an American history of Western Europe and a very admirable history of France, well-translated from the original of M. Duruy. Possibly Madame de Staël’s L’Allemagne or some other historical work of equal
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calibre may occur in their reading of French. It is not possible to continue the study of Greek and Roman history in detail but an admirably written survey informed with enthusiasm is afforded by Professor de Burgh’s The Legacy of the Ancient World. The pupils make history charts for every hundred years on the plan either adapted or invented by the late Miss Beale of Cheltenham, a square ruled into a hundred spaces ten in each direction with the symbol in each square showing an event which lends itself to illustration during that particular ten years. Thus crossed battle axes represent a war.
          The geographical aspects of history fall under ‘Geography’ as a subject. This course of historical reading is valued exceedingly by young people as affording a knowledge of the past that bears upon and illuminates the present. The writer recollects meeting a brilliant group of Oxford undergraduates, keen and full of interest, but lamentably ignorant, who said, “We want to know something about history. What do you advise us to read? We know nothing.” Perhaps no youth should go to College without some such rudimentary course of English, European, and, especially, French history, as is afforded by the programmes.[2] Such a general survey should precede any special course and should be required before the more academic studies designed to prepare students for research ‘work.’
          It will be observed that the work throughout the Forms is always chronologically progressive. The young student rarely goes over old ground; but should it happen that the whole school has arrived at the end of 1920, say, and there is nothing for it but to begin again, the books studied throw new light and bring the young students into line with modern research.
          But any sketch of the history teaching in Forms V and VI in a given period depends upon a notice of the
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‘literature’ set; for plays, novels, essays, ‘lives,’ poems, are all pressed into service and where it is possible, the architecture, painting, etc., which the period produced. Thus questions such as the following on a term’s work both test and record the reading of the term, —“Describe the condition of (a) the clergy, (b) the army, (c) the navy, (d) the general public in and about 1685.” “Trace the rise of Prussia before Frederick the Great.” “What theories of government were held by Louis XIV? Give some account of his great ministers.” “Describe the rise of Russia and its condition at the opening of the eighteenth century.” “Suppose Evelyn (Form VI) or Pepys (Form V) in counsel at the League of Nations, write his diary for three days.” “Sketch the character and manners of Addison. How does he appear in Esmond?”
          It is a great thing to possess a pageant of history in the background of one’s thoughts. We may not be able to recall this or that circumstance, but, ‘the imagination is warmed’; we know that there is a great deal to be said on both sides of every question and are saved from crudities in opinion and rashness in action. The present becomes enriched for us with the wealth of all that has gone before.
          Perhaps the gravest defect in school curricula is that they fail to give a comprehensive, intelligent and interesting introduction to history. To leave off or even to begin with the history of our own country is fatal. We cannot live sanely unless we know that other peoples are as we are with a difference, that their history is as ours, with a difference, that they too have been represented by their poets and their artists, that they too have their literature and their national life. We have been asleep and our awaking is rather terrible. The people whom we have not taught, rise upon us in their ignorance and ‘the rabble,’—
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                   “As the world were now but to begin
                   Antiquity forgot, custom not known,
                   They cry,— Choose we!’” (Hamlet.)
Heaven help their choice for choosing is indeed with them, and little do they know of those two ratifiers and props of every present word and action, Antiquity and Custom! It is never too late to mend but we may not delay to offer such a liberal and generous diet of History to every child in the country as shall give weight to his decisions, consideration to his actions and stability to his conduct ; that stability, the lack of which has plunged us into many a stormy sea of unrest.
          It is to be noted that ‘stability’ is the mark of the educated classes. When we reflect upon the disturbance of the national life by labour unrest and, again, upon the fact that political and social power is passing into the hands of the majority, that is of the labouring classes, we cannot but feel that there is a divine fitness, a providential adaptation in the circumstance that the infinite educability of persons of all classes should be disclosed to us as a nation at a time when an emotional and ignorant labouring class is a peculiar danger. I am not sure that the education implied in the old symbol of the ladder does make for national tranquility. It is right that equal opportunity of being first should be afforded to all but that is no new thing. Our history is punctuated by men who have risen, and the Roman Church has largely founded herself as has the Chinese Empire upon this doctrine of equal opportunity. But let us remember that the men who climb are apt to be uneasy members of society; the desire for knowledge for its own sake, on the other hand, finds satisfaction in knowledge itself.
          The young men see visions; the hardships of daily life are ameliorated, and while an alert and informed mind leads to decency and propriety of living it does not lead to the restless desire to subvert society for the sake of
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the chances offered by a general upheaval. Wordsworth is right:—
           “If rightly trained and bred Humanity is humble.”

We live in times critical for everybody but eminently critical for teachers because it rests with them to decide whether personal or general good should be aimed at, whether education shall be merely a means of getting on or a means of general progress towards high thinking and plain living and therefore an instrument of the greatest national good.”


[1]  This book is now in print again.

[2] Of the Parents’ Union School.

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