THE KNOWLEDGE OF MAN
EXCEPT in Form I [*age 6-9] the study of Literature goes pari passu [at an equal pace, hand in hand] with that of History. Fairy tales…delight Form IB [*age 6-7], and the little people re-tell these tales copiously, vividly, and with the astonishing exactness we may expect when we remember how seriously annoyed they are with the story-teller who alters a phrase or a circumstance. Æsop’s Fables, too, are used with great success, and are rendered, after being once heard, with brevity and point, and children readily appropriate the moral. Mrs. Gatty’s Parables from Nature, again, serve another purpose. They feed a child’s sense of wonder and are very good to tell. There is no attempt to reduce the work of this form, or any other, to a supposed ‘child level.’ Form IA (7 to 9) hears and tells chapter by chapter The Pilgrim’s Progress and the children’s narrations are delightful. No beautiful thought or bold figure escapes them.
The great tales of the heroic age find their way to children’s hearts. They conceive vividly and tell eagerly, and the difficult classical names instead of being a stumbling-block are a delight, because, as a Master of a Council school says,—
“Children have an instinctive power by which they are able to sense the meaning of a whole passage and even some difficult words.”
There is profound need to cultivate delight in beautiful names in days when we are threatened with the fear that London itself should lose that rich halo of historic associations which glorifies its every street and alley, that it may be made like New York, and should name a street X500,—like a workhouse child without designation; an age when we express the glory and beauty of the next highest peak of the Himalayas by naming it D2! In such an age, this, of their inherent aptitude for beautiful names, is a lode of much promise in children’s minds.
Form IIB [*age 9-10] has a considerable programme of reading, that is, not the mere mechanical exercise of reading but the reading of certain books. Therefore it is necessary
…two years should be spent in Form IA [*age7-9] and that in the second of these two years the children should read a good deal of the set work for themselves.
Their power to understand, visualise, and ‘tell’ a play of Shakespeare from nine years old and onwards is very surprising. They put in nothing which is not there, but they miss nothing and display a passage or a scene in a sort of curious relief.
The transition to Form IIA [*10-12] is marked by more individual reading as well as by a few additional books. The children read their ‘Shakespeare play’ in character.
…in each and all children shew the same surprising power of knowing, evinced by the one sure test,—they are able to ‘tell’ each work they have read not only with accuracy but with spirit and originality. How is it possible, it may be asked, to show originality in ‘mere narration’?
… in their small degree do the children narrate; they see it all so vividly that when you read or hear their versions the theme is illuminated for you too.
I would remark on the evenness with which the
power of children in dealing with books is developed. We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can. The child of genius and imagination gets greatly more than his duller comrade but all sit down to the same feast and each one gets according to his needs and powers.
In Forms III and IV [*age 12-16] we introduce a History of English Literature carefully chosen to afford sympathetic interest and delight while avoiding stereotyped opinions and stale information. The portion read each term (say fifty pages) corresponds with the period covered in history studies and the book is a great favourite with children. They have of course a great flair for Shakespeare,
There has been discussion in Elementary Schools as to whether an abridged edition would not give a better chance of getting through the novel set for a term, but strong arguments were brought forward at a conference of teachers in Gloucester in favour of a complete edition. Children take pleasure in the ‘dry’ parts, descriptions and the like, rendering these quite beautifully in their narrations. Form IV [*age 14-16] may have quite a wide course of reading.
The object of children’s literary studies is not to give them precise information as to who wrote what in the reign of whom?—but to give them a sense of the spaciousness of the days, not only of great Elizabeth, but of all those times of which poets, historians and the makers of tales, have left us living pictures. In such ways the children secure, not the sort of information which is of little cultural value, but wide spaces wherein imagination may take those holiday excursions deprived of which life is dreary; judgment, too, will turn over these folios of the mind and arrive at fairly just decisions about a given strike, the question of Poland, Indian Unrest. Every man is called upon to be a statesman seeing that every man and woman, too, has a share in the government of the country; but statesmanship requires imaginative conceptions, formed upon pretty wide reading and some familiarity with historical precedents.
The reading for Forms V and VI (ages 15 to 18) is more comprehensive and more difficult. Like that in the earlier Forms, it follows the lines of the history they are reading, touching current literature in the occasional use of modern books; but young people who have been brought up on this sort of work may, we find, be trusted to keep themselves au fait [*up to the mark, fully skilled, expert, readiness] with the best that is being produced in their own days.
As for the amount covered in each Form, it is probably about the amount most of us cover in the period of time included in a school term, but while we grown-up persons read and forget because we do not take the pains to know as we read, these young students have the powers of perfect recollection and just application because they have read with attention and concentration and have in every case reproduced what they have read in narration, or, the gist of some portion of it, in writing.
The children’s answers in their examination papers, show that literature has become a living power in the minds of these young people.
Forms , age, grade
Form 1 ages 6-9 grades 1-3
Form 1b: ages 6-7 grade 1
Form 1a: ages 7-9 grades 2-3
Form 2 ages 9-12 grades 4-6
Form 2b: ages 9-10 grade 4
Form 2a: ages 10-12 grades 5-6
Form 3 ages 12-14 grade 7-8 junior high/middle school
Form 4 age 14-16 grades 9-10 high school
Form 5/6 age 16-18 grades 11/12