"A man severe he was and stern
I knew him well, and every truant knew." -GOLDSMITH.
THE people of Scotland have
always been noted for their love of learning. As early as A.D. 563, St.
Columba, hailing from the island of Iona, established a Christian college,
from which many missionary educators went forth. John Knox instituted the
parish schools of Scotland, and thus originated the system of popular
education now prevailing throughout the English-speaking world. Dr. Norman
McLeod tells us that when public schools were introduced into the Highlands,
such was the eagerness of the people for knowledge that it was no uncommon
thing to see the grandsire and grandson competing for the head of the same
class, This being a national characteristic, we are not surprised at the
large number of Scotchmen who occupy and- have occupied positions as
clergymen, statesmen, presidents, premiers, and educators in the United
States and Canada.
This thirst for knowledge
characterized the pioneers of Zorra, and though they were poor, and the
district sparsely settled, from the very beginning provision of some kind
was made for the education of the young.
The pioneer school-house was
a very humble affair. A log shanty, thirty feet by twenty-two, cornered but
not hewed, with chinks between the logs, then moss, all plastered over with
clay. The roof consisted of rafters with poles laid across, and for
shingles, pieces of elm bark three feet by four. The chimney was made of
lath covered with plaster, and served for heating, ventilating, and lighting
the little house. Of course it frequently caught fire, but the boys, by the
free use of snow, were equal to the occasion. There was but one small window
in each side. The furniture was in keeping with the rest of the building.
About four feet above the floor holes were bored into the logs of the wall
and pins driven in. Upon these were laid rough basswood planks, three inches
thick, and the desk was complete. The teacher's desk was somewhat more
pretentious, being built on four upright wooden pillars, and furnished with
a small drawer in which the dominie kept his taws, switch, ruler, and other
official equipments. The grey goose furnished the pens, and the ink was made
from a solution of soft maple bark, diluted with copperas. Sometimes this
ink would freeze, resulting in bursted bottles. To prevent this it was not
unusual to mix a little whiskey with the ink; for the whiskey of Zorra in
those days, though cheap, would not freeze like that alleged to have been
used by some politicans in Muskoka a few winters ago.
The paper used was coarse
foolscap, unruled. Each pupil had to do his own ruling; and for this purpose
took with him to school, a ruler and a piece of lead hammered out into the
shape of a pencil. Our first attempt at writing, was making "pot-hooks" and
"trammels," which mean the up and down strokes of the pen. After practising
this for several weeks, we began to write from "copy" set by the teacher.
The sentiment of the "copy" was always some counsel, warning, or moral
precept for the young; and as we had to write it carefully in every line of
the page, it could not fail to impress itself upon the memory and to
influence the life. I ascribe no little importance to this factor in early
education. The duty of being on our guard against evil companionship, and
making the most of life by every-day diligence, was constantly inculcated by
these head-lines set by the teacher. Here are a few in illustration. I give
them alphabetically as they used to be given to us :-
"Avoid bad company or you
will learn their ways."
"Be careful in the choice of companions."
"Choose your friends from among the wise and good."
"Do not tell a lie to hide a fault."
"Emulate the good and virtuous."
"Fame may be too dearly bought."
"Honor your father and mother."
"Let all your amusements be innocent."
"Omit no opportunity of acquiring knowledge."
"Perseverance overcomes difficulties."
"Truth is mighty and will prevail."
"Wisdom is more to be desired than riches."
Being thus early taught by
our teachers, we naturally took to the scribbling of moral rhymes on our
books. Here are two or three:
"Steal not this book for fear
For here you see the owner's name
And God will say on that great day,
This is the book you stole away."
Or another version was this:
"Steal not this book, my
For fear the gallows will be your end."
Here is very wise advice from
an old school song:
"Work while you work,
Play while you play.
That is the way
To be happy and gay."
While talking of writing in
school, I may give the following note which the boys and girls in early
years used to pass back and forth. Let the reader try to make sense of it:
"Read see how me.
Down will I love
And you love you
Up and you as."
Here is a favorite school-boy
rhyme, the moral of which, however, may be doubtful. On the first page of
the book is written in a good round hand, the following:
"If my name you wish to see,
Turn to page sixty-three."
Innocent of any trick being
played upon you, you turn as directed, and here is what is written:
"Since you've taken the
trouble to look,
Turn to the page at the end of the book."
Your curiosity is now
aroused, and again you turn, only to get this rebuff:
"Oh, you goose, you cannot
Shut the book and never mind it."
The following constituted the
usual programme of studies:
1. Prayer by the teacher.
2. Reading the Bible.
3. Shorter Catechism
4. The teacher making and
mending quill pens, while the scholars were busily occupied with their
studies, most of them writing.
5. The junior class reading
and spelling such words as b-a, ba; c-a, ca; d-a, da; etc.
6. Reading New Testament.
7. Class in English Reader.
8. Class in grammar; the
text-books being Lennie or Murray.
9. Mayor's Spelling Book.
10. Arithmetic, the
text-books being Daboll or Gray.
In the very early days, there
was really no school system, that is, no provision made by Government for
the education of the young. A few settlers clubbed together, raised money
enough to buy sufficient nails and a few panes of glass ; then by means of
"bees" the building was erected. The teacher boarded round, staying a week
or two with each family. No certificate of qualification was asked, and for
his services he received six or eight dollars a month, which was raised by
voluntary subscription among those who had children to send to school. The
amount each man subscribed was, of course, supposed to be in proportion to
the number of children he would send. As some families were large and the
parents poor, the children would be sent to school week about, so that all
would learn a little. Usually there would be in the school during the winter
months quite a few young men and women about twenty years of age, trying to
pick up the knowledge denied them in earlier years. In some localities, for
lack of funds, the school was kept open only for six months of the year.
By and bye something more
systematic was attempted. The township was divided into school sections and
provision made for the salary of the teachers by levying a certain rate- fee
on each pupil. This did not work well as it discouraged attendance. At
length Egerton Ryerson introduced the "Free School" system. This system,
where adopted, did away with the fee formerly charged, and provided for the
expenses of the schools by levying a tax on every acre of land, occupied or
unoccupied, within the section. The adoption of this system was not
compulsory, but was left to be decided by a majority of the electors
regularly, assembled at the annual meeting. Long and loud was the
controversy between what was called the "Rate Bill" and the "Free School"
system. But truth is mighty, and it prevailed in this case. Gradually, in
spite of all opposition, the schools of Zorra all became "Free;" and the
blessing can scarcely be overestimated. It recognized the value of
education, and put it within the reach of the poorest, and, as a result, all
the children received a good public school education.
Times change and we change
with them, but all changes are not improvements. Petty criticisms of our
present educational system are cheap, and, of course, always possible, for
nothing human is perfect. We should appreciate the good, but at the same
time, not captiously but faithfully, point out the weaknesses of the system.
To-day we have many more subjects on our curriculum than our fathers had, we
have better organization, keener competition, and a multitude of
examinations. But does all this prove the superiority of the present over
the past? Not necessarily. Studying for a prize, or to pass an examination,
while very trying on the nerves, is very doubtful education. Organization is
A man is not educated in
proportion to the number of facts crammed into his memory, but in proportion
to the discipline he has received. Real education, as the word implies, is "
a drawing out" of all man's faculties—physical, mental, moral, and
spiritual. It develops the whole man, and builds up his character by
broadening, deepening, and bringing out in symmetry, harmony, and beauty,
all his God-given faculties. Such education depends, not so much upon
system, as upon a competent, careful, conscientious teacher. The true test
of education is not the number of books a man has read, nor the number of
rules, dates, and facts with which his memory may be loaded, but the quality
of character wrought out by the discipline. Any system of education which
simply recognizes the "here," and ignores the "hereafter" is not good,
either for the "here" or the "hereafter." The development of the intellect
alone will never produce a high type of manhood. Nay, more; the training
which ignores the moral and spiritual, is not only defective, but dangerous:
it puts more power into the hands of those who know not how to use it. The
ignorant thief will steal a pig or a chicken, the educated thief will steal
a bank or a railroad. Lord Bacon was, at once, the greatest and the meanest
of mankind. Aaron Burr had a greater intellect than George Washington. The
one was a cultured libertine, the other a Christian hero. The memory of the
one brings a blush to the cheek of purity and virtue, the memory of the
other is the richest heritage of a great nation.
The reader has already seen
the prominence given to the development of the religious and moral as well
as the intellectual faculties in the pioneer schools. Are all the faculties
of the child so well developed in the schools to-day? Is the Bible read and
studied now as it was then, and are those great moral principles which lie
at the very foundation of civilized society as faithfully inculcated? We
fear not; and the result may be seen in the irreverence, the disobedience,
and general lawlessness which we see in modern society. Is there no reason
to fear that the church itself is becoming superficial rather than serious,
sensational rather than spiritual?
The teachers of those early
days were for the most part middle-aged men, earnest and faithful, but
"severe and stern," and knew little of the theory of teaching as understood
to-day. In the main they erred in applying themselves to the repression of
the evil in the pupil, rather than to the development of the good. It is
said of that great teacher, Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, that his aim in teaching
was not so much to impart knowledge, as to impress upon his pupils a sense
of the value of knowledge, with a view of stimulating them to seek it. The
pioneer teachers were far from being Arnolds, and yet their motives and aims
were undoubtedly good. They certainly did not in their ideals rise above
their environment ; and, like all others of that generation, they had strong
faith in the efficacy of corporal punishment.
The language not unfrequently
used would not be tolerated in any school to-day. It is related of a certain
parent that when he threatened to make his boy "smart" if the wrong-doing
was repeated, the youngster promptly retorted, "You can't do it, papa.
Teacher says I was born stupid, and no power on earth can make me smart. He
says I came of a stupid family." The father afterwards settled it with that
The method of teaching was
exceedingly mechanical. The pupil was taught to parse a word, not by
studying its relation to other words, but simply by committing to memory a
list of "prepositions,"" adverbs," " interjections," etc. He knew that a
certain word was a preposition because he had committed to memory a list of
prepositions, in which that word occurred; and so on with the other parts of
speech. The list of prepositions was of course very long, and was a terror
to young grammarians. It was arranged alphabetically; first, the
prepositions beginning with "a," then those with "b," etc. Here, for
instance, is the list under "a" :"about, above, according to, across, after,
against, along, amidst, among, amongst, around, at, athwart." Then came the
"b" words—" bating, before, behind, below, beneath, between, betwixt,
beyond, by," and so on with the c's, etc.
The list of adverbs was not
even arranged alphabetically, but proceeded in this fashion "So, no, not,
nay, yea, yes, too, well, up, very, forth, how, why, far, now, then, etc."
After this the interjections
claimed their right to be memorized; but och! och! I forbear. We used to
think the long, dagger-like mark after each one of them was put there to
indicate some murderous design..
The "taws" was a great
institution in those days. It was thought that the knowledge which could not
be crammed into the memory, or reasoned into the head, could be whipped into
the fingers or the backbone. Pupils, girls as well as boys, were flogged for
being late, although some of them came two miles through the woods, climbing
over logs, and wading through streams to get to the school. They were
flogged for whispering in school, or for making pictures on the slate, or
not being able to recite correctly such barbarous lists of the parts of
speech as above indicated. And worse than all, they were flogged if they
failed to recite correctly the Shorter Catechism. Oh! how the Presbyterians
envied the other denominations for their privilege of exemption from the
Catechism. It was a premium put upon Methodism, and had it been left to "us
boys," all Zorra would be Methodist to-day.
In preserving order the
teacher watched all the scholars with the eye of a detective, and soon found
out any scholar or scholars guilty of the crime of whispering or talking.
Instead of coming down and remonstrating with the offender, as the teacher
of the present day would do, he doubled up the "taws" into a ball, and sent
it flying with unerring aim, carrying consternation to the delinquents.
Those to whom this "fiery cross" came had immediately to come up to the
master's desk, each of them holding on to some portion of the detested
"taws," and there receive the castigation due to their fault. A friend
writes assuring me that the hardening of the scholars' hands in this way was
one of the means of making the tug-of-war team of Zorra so invincible.
The following amusing
incident will perhaps be remembered by some Zorra readers: A teacher was
accustomed to bring with him to the school every morning two or three
birches; but if these were not used up in the forenoon they were invariably
hidden by the boys during the noon hour. There was a hole in the ceiling
right over the master's desk, and here the switches were thrown. But the
best of friends must part; and so the day came when the teacher must say
farewell to his scholars. Notwithstanding his severity the teacher was a man
of warm feelings. So the boys, anticipating a ki scene" during the delivery
of the farewell address, had one of their number at noon go up the hole,
with the instruction that he was to collect all the switches—the
accumulation of years—and at the proper time let them down. Late in the
afternoon the time arrived; the address began, and the teacher, amid tears,
was assuring the scholars how much he loved them, when, lo, and behold! all
of a sudden a whole avalanche of switches came from above—tokens of
affections. The teacher was nonplussed, the scholars were convulsed, and the
school was dismissed without hearing the peroration of the dominie's
There was no play ground
attached to any of these school-houses; and so, frequently, the bigger boys
and girls would get into an adjoining pasture field to play baseball. (0
yes, dear reader, the girls of those primitive times would play baseball and
be none the worse of it.) Going into the field to play was not prohibited,
but it was a strict rule that the scholars must watch for the teacher's
return at i p.m., and be in before him. This time, however, the young
people, some twenty-five in number, were so interested in the game that they
did not observe the coming of the teacher. There was, of course, no bell or
signal of any kind, and it was some five or ten minutes before the
baseballers realized that "school was in." They rushed in as quickly as
possible, but only to receive fifteen strokes each from a heavy leather
strap. When the flogging was over, the teacher panted, but his pride was
assuaged, the majesty of law upheld, and good (?) supposed to have been
done. The writer has a very feeling recollection of the occasion.
A visitor to this school,
examining a class of little boys, asked the question: "How is leather made?"
The answer came promptly," By tanning." Question 2-" How is tanning done?"
Little lad's prompt answer—" You put it in a hole and wallop it with a
stick." He had learned this method of tanning by observation and experience.
I have spoken of the
faithfulness of the pioneer teachers; their efficiency, however, in teaching
good English pronunciation was not so evident. Think of a Scotch teacher who
had never heard a word of French in his life, requiring a class to repeat
from memory the names of the counties of Quebec Province! Let the reader who
knows something of French, imagine such names as the following pronounced in
the most approved Gaelic fashion, with a flogging as the penalty of failure:
Charlevoix, Chicoutimi, Bellechasse, Berthier, Portneuf, Nicolet, etc. Such
pronunciation reminds us of the mother who boasted that her daughter made
her "debut with great eclat," putting a strong English accent on the last
syllable of the French words. Some of the pupils of those early days have
found a long life too short to unlearn the innumerable mispronunciations
acquired in school.
Let us not, however, be too
severe on the pioneer teachers. They were not, as a class, cruel or
vindictive. They were simply imbued with the spirit of their times. Parents
thought that the future welfare of their boys demanded that they be from
time to time in a judicious manner laid across the parent's knee. Corporal
punishment was inflicted in the army for, the most trifling breaches of
discipline; and in England a boy was hung for stealing a handkerchief worth
After all, are there not boys
to-day who would rather suffer the strap and be done with it, than endure
all the modern substitutes for the old flogging? "We don't get licked," said
a little boy contemptuously, "but we get kep' in, and stood up in corners,
and locked out, and locked in, and made to write one word a thousand times,
and scowled at, and jawed at, and that's worse"