Chapter II


          I have no doubt that some of my readers are interested in the work we are doing in Elementary schools,—a work the more astonishing because children who have little vocabulary to begin with, no trace of literary background, show themselves able to hear or read a work of literary value and after a single reading to narrate pages with spirit and accuracy, not hedging at the longest names nor muddling complicated statements. This was a revelation to us, and it signifies that a literary education is open to all, not after tedious and laborious preparation, but immediately. The people wait only for the right books to be put into their hands and the right method to be employed.
          Let me repeat that we live in times critical for every body, but eminently critical for teachers, because it rests with them whether personal or general good shall 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.
          Let me beg that Heads of schools, so far in sympathy with me that they perceive we are at the parting of the ways, will consider a method which brings promise of relief.
          We are in a condition, for example, to answer the questions to be considered by the Departmental Committee on English:—
          “Can history and literature be brought into closer relations with the school curriculum than is the case at present? How much grammar is necessary? Could not oral composition and drama and debate, do something to cure our national aphasia? How can the preparatory schools improve their English teaching? How can the school essay be redeemed from barrenness? How can examinations be made a test of English without destroying the love of literature?”
          These questions might have been framed with a view to bring out the attainments of the Parents’ Union School. History, European as well as English, runs in harness with literature. Some Syntax is necessary and a good deal of what may be called historical Grammar, but, not in order to teach the art of correct writing and speaking; this is a native art, and the beautiful consecutive and eloquent speech of young scholars in narrating what they have read is a thing to be listened to not without envy. As to aphasia, to quote a Director of Education on this subject,—“Conversational readiness becomes a characteristic. A quarter of a century of these methods with all the children of England and the strong silent Englishman should be a rare bird!” A schoolmaster remarks that his big boys are now eager to speak at some length—a thing new in his experience. Consider what an asset this should be to a country whose safety will depend more and more upon the power in the middle classes of clear and conclusive speech. Oral composition is the habit of the school from the age of six to
eighteen. “Children of ten who read Shakespeare” is the heading of an article in a local newspaper which sent a reporter to investigate the P.N.E.U. method at work in a school as the result of an article in the Nineteenth Century and After written by the Headmaster. As for preparatory schools, we can do no more than offer them a method the results of which in teaching English are rather surprising. The final question as to how examinations may be made a source of intellectual profit is I think sufficiently answered in the P.US. children’s examination papers.
          We do not invite Heads of schools to take up work lightly, which implies a sound knowledge of certain principles and as faithful a practice. The easy tolerance which holds smilingly that everything is as good as everything else, that one educational doctrine is as good as another, that, in fact, a mixture of all such doctrines gives pretty safe results,—this sort of complacent attitude produces lukewarm effort and disappointing progress. I feel strongly that to attempt to work this method without a firm adherence to the few principles laid down would be not only idle but disastrous. “Oh, we could do anything with books like those,” said a master; he tried the books and failed conspicuously because he ignored the principles. We teachers are really modest and diffident and are not prepared to say that we are more capable of handling a subject than is a carefully chosen author who writes especially upon that subject. “Yes, but,” says a young and able teacher, “we know better how to reach the minds of children than does the most eloquent author speaking through the dull pages of a book.” This is a contention of which we have finally disposed. We have shown that the mass of knowledge, evoking vivid imagination and sound judgment, acquired in a term from the proper books, is many times as great, many times more thoroughly visualised by the
scholars, than had they waited upon the words of the most able and effective teacher. This is why we insist upon the use of books. It is not that teachers are not eminently capable but because information does not become knowledge unless a child perform the ‘act of knowing’ without the intervention of another personality.
          Heads of schools are a generous folk and perhaps they have some reason to think parents are niggardly, but the provision of the necessary books by the parents is a sine quâ non*. It is our part to see to it that books take root in the homes of our scholars and we must make parents understand that it is impossible to give a liberal education to children who have not a due provision of very various books. Moreover, it is impossible to teach children to spell when they do not read for themselves; we hear complaints of the difficulties of spelling, of the necessity to do violence to the language which is dear to us all in order to make ‘spelling made easy’; but in thousands of cases that come before us we find that children who use their books for themselves spell well because they visualise the words they read. Those who merely listen to their teacher have no guide (in English at any rate) to the spelling of the words they hear. We are, perhaps, opposed to oral lessons or lectures except by way of occasional review or introduction. For actual education children must do their own work out of their own books under the sympathetic guidance of an intelligent teacher. We find, I may add, that once parents recognise how necessary a considerable supply of books is, they make no difficulty about getting those set in our programmes. Mr. Fisher says,—“there are books and text-books,” and the day is at hand when we shall all see that the latter are of no educational value. We rarely use text-books in the Parents’ Union School but confine ourselves as far as possible to works with the imaginative grasp, the touch of originality, which distinguish
a book from a text-book. Perhaps we should apologise for ourselves as purveyors not precisely of books but of lists of books. Every headmaster or mistress is able to draw up such lists, but think of the labour of keeping some 170 books in circulation with a number of changes every term! Here is our excuse for offering our services to much-occupied teachers. There has been talk from time to time about interfering with the liberty of teachers to choose their own books, but one might as well contend for everyman’s liberty to make his own boots! It is one of those questions of the division of labour which belong to our civilisation; and if the question of liberty be raised at all, why should we not go further and let the children choose their books? But we know very well that the liberty we worship is an elusive goddess and that we do not find it convenient to do all those things we are at liberty to do.
          The terminal examinations are of great importance. They are not merely and chiefly tests of knowledge but records which are likely to be permanent. There are things which every child must know, every child, for the days have gone by when ‘the education befitting a gentleman’ was our aim.
          The knowledge of God is the principal knowledge, and no teaching of the Bible which does not further that knowledge is of religious value. Therefore the children read, or if they are too young to read for themselves the teacher reads to them, a passage of varying length covering an incident or some definite teaching. If there are remarks to be made about local geography or local custom, the teacher makes them before the passage has been read, emphasizing briefly but reverently any spiritual or moral truth; the children narrate what has been read after the reading; they do this with curious accuracy and yet with some originality, conveying the spiritual teaching which the teacher has indicated. Now
this is no parrot-exercise, but is the result of such an assimilation of the passage that it has become a part of the young scholar. It is only by trying the method oneself on such an incident, for example, as the visit of Nicodemus or the talk with the woman of Samaria, that we realise the wonderful clearness with which each incident is brought out, the fullness of meaning with which every phrase is invested by such personal effort. This method of teaching is especially valuable in dealing with the Gospel history, but none of us who read during the War the daily lessons appointed by the Church could fail to be struck by the fact that the law and the prophets still interpret the ways of God, and we shall not do well if we tacitly treat the Old Testament as out-of-date as a guide to life. Let Amyot tell us,—
          “How greatly is the reading of histories to be esteemed, which is able to furnish us with more examples in one day, than the whole course of the longest life of any man is able to do. Insomuch that they which exercise themselves in reading as they ought to do, although they be but young, become such in respect of understanding of the affairs of this world, as if they were old and grayheaded and of long experience. Yea, though they never have removed out of their houses, yet are they advertised, informed and satisfied of all things in the world.”
          Hence, the great value of the Old Testament,—history and poetry, the law and the prophets; and perhaps no one was more sensible of this educative value of the Scriptures than Goethe, though he was little sensible of their more spiritual worth. We endeavour to bring records contemporary with the Bible before children,
using the contents of certain Rooms of the British Museum as a basis. Episodes of Greek and Roman history come in, partly for their historical, partly for their distinctly ethical value. Plutarch is, of course, our great authority.
          “(Plutarch) hath written the profitable story of all authors. For all other were fain to take their matter, as the fortune of the countries whereof they wrote fell out: But this man being excellent in wit, learning, and experience, hath chosen the special acts of the best persons, of the famousest nations of the world.” (North).
using the contents of certain Rooms of the British Museum as a basis. Episodes of Greek and Roman history come in, partly for their historical, partly for their distinctly ethical value. Plutarch is, of course, our great authority.
          “(Plutarch) hath written the profitable story of all authors. For all other were fain to take their matter, as the fortune of the countries whereof they wrote fell out: But this man being excellent in wit, learning, and experience, hath chosen the special acts of the best persons, of the famousest nations of the world.” (North).


*Note: Pelmanism = a System of training to improve the memory but strengthening the mind such as one can strengthen the body. The Memory card matching game is an example. It promised to cure forgetfulness, depression, and procrastination. It was popular in the UK during the first half of the 20th century (which would be at the time C.M. was writing Vol 6)

*Note:sine quâ non= indispensable, essential

[1] These are omitted for want of space but other sets can be seen at the Office of the P.N.E.U.

[2] Chapter X

[3] Chapter X.

[4] See Chapter X.

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