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Problems of a Scottish Provincial Town
Chapter XIV. Education: Some methods of Advance


THE Carnegie Trustees have already shown a desire to aid the work of the School Board in certain directions, but their help has hitherto taken for the most part a somewhat stereotyped form, such as the provision of bursaries, a summer gala-day, etc. The study of the schools, however, suggests many interesting questions, and undoubtedly a great opportunity exists at Dunfermline for attempting in connection with them such pioneer work as would have much more than a local influence. It is this work, which could so well be undertaken by the trustees in conjunction with the School Board, that the writer now proposes mainly to consider, rather than questions relating to the everyday routine of the schools, for the teachers loyally do their duty, and a good standard in the ordinary subjects of the curriculum is well maintained.

The writer does not propose to attempt in any way to outline a complete educational system, but only to touch upon existing defects, or upon points which appear to give opportunity for immediate and healthful action. The first fact that impresses an inquirer into the educational system of Dunfermline is that it deals only with the school work of the children. There is no attempt to superintend or to influence their lives outside the school buildings. The late Royal Commission, which inquired into the question of physical training for Scotland, made the admirable suggestion (amongst others) that there should be a Games' Committee attached to every Scottish School Board, and this suggestion is particularly applicable to Dunfermline, for no attempt is made by the Board to promote or encourage games, and to take advantage of this method of advancing the moral and bodily welfare of the children. Neither the High School nor any of the elementary schools of the town have any playing fields or playgrounds of any kind beyond the inadequate margin of ground around the respective buildings. The provision, therefore, of suitable fields for cricket, football, and other sports and games, appears to be the first step to be taken in the interests of the children. The ideal plan would, of course, be for each school to stand in its own playing grounds, and such a plan could well be followed when building new schools; but as that is no longer possible in the case of the existing schools, one or more pieces of ground in easily accessible positions should be provided without delay. No games are permitted in Pittencrieff Park, and the slope and general condition of the ground in the old public park make games like football and cricket an impossibility.

It may reasonably be hoped that the provision of facilities for recreation will lead to a closer intercourse outside the school hours between teachers and scholars. In such intercourse will be found an invaluable means of influencing character during the most impressionable years, and of cultivating a healthy esprit de corps, with all its naturally stimulating influences.

The various sports' clubs, which would naturally be formed, could in a large measure be managed with the best results by the lads themselves.

The present, too, would be a good opportunity for teaching girls how to play. This has been much neglected in the past, and, although recent years have witnessed an improvement, much remains to be done, especially in the elementary schools. Organised games are as valuable to girls as to boys, and will greatly aid their physical, moral, and mental development.

Another plan which would make for the well-being of the school children, and which the writer strongly urges, is their regular examination by a special medical officer retained by the School Board. The necessity for such an examination has been demonstrated again and again in many parts of the country, and in a few instances it is now a recognised institution. [At Dundee a medical examination of the school children has just been completed (February, 1905), and has revealed the fact that in some schools 75 per cent, of the children suffer from physical defects.] The need for it in the present case is increased by reason of the recent foundation in the town of a large gymnasium, to which the school children are sent once or twice weekly without medical examination. In connection with the subject of physical training it is to be hoped that it will be recognised that two half hours' training each week in a covered gymnasium is in itself quite insufficient, and should never be allowed to take the place of training and exercise in the open air, which ought to be matters of daily occurrence.

In dealing with physical training, the question of juvenile smoking is one that must quickly be faced by the Education Authorities. At present the practice is extremely common and unusually in evidence. All other considerations apart, it is a matter of exact knowledge that smoking for growing boys produces physical evils of the most serious nature. In the absence of legislative restrictions upon the tobacco dealers, much may be done by the staff of the school, especially if, when speaking of the subject, an appeal is made to the manliness of the boy to abstain from doing that which causes him physical harm. The Bill now before Parliament seeks to prevent tobacconists selling or supplying tobacco in any form to boys under sixteen years of age.

The interiors of the schools at Dunfermline, like those of so many of the secondary and elementary schools throughout the country, are lacking alike in interest and beauty, and the School Board, aided by the trustees, might fitly undertake to deal with each of these deficiencies. The walls of the schoolrooms are for the most part bare, and no attempt is made to influence the scholar through the eye. The case for making our schools beautiful and interesting has been admirably stated by Ruskin in the following passage :—

"The first and most important kind of public buildings which we are always sure to want are schools, and I would ask you to consider very carefully whether we may not wisely introduce some great changes in the way of school decoration. Hitherto, as far as I know, it has either been so difficult to give all the education we wanted to our lads, that we have been obliged to do it, if at all, with cheap furniture and bare walls ; or else we have considered that cheap furniture and bare walls are a proper part of the means of education, and supposed that boys learned best when they sat on hard forms, and had nothing but blank plaster about and above them whereupon to employ their spare attention ; also, that it was as well they should be accustomed to rough and ugly conditions of things, partly by way of preparing them for the hardships of life, and partly that there might be the least possible damage done to floors and forms in the event of their becoming, during the master's absence, the fields or instruments of battle. All this is so far well and necessary, as it relates to the training of country lads and the first training of boys in general. But there certainly comes a period in the life of a well-educated youth, in which one of the principal elements of his education is, or ought to be, to give him refinement of habits; and not only to teach him the strong exercises of which his frame is capable, but also to increase his bodily sensibility and refinement, and show him such small matters as the way of handling things properly and treating them considerately.

"Not only so; but I believe the notion of fixing the attention by keeping the room empty is a wholly mistaken one. I think it is just in the emptiest room that the mind wanders most, for it gets restless, like a bird, for want of a perch, and casts about for any possible means of getting out and away. And even if it be fixed by an effort on the business in hand, that business becomes itself repulsive, more than it need be, by the vileness of its associations; and many a study becomes dull or painful to a boy when it is pursued on a blotted deal desk under a wall with nothing on it but scratches and pegs, which would have been pursued pleasantly enough in a curtained corner of his father's library, or at the lattice window of his cottage. Now, my own belief is, that the best study of all is the most beautiful, and that a quiet glade of forest or the nook of a lake shore are worth all the schoolrooms in Christendom when once you are past the multiplication-table ; but be that as it may, there is no question at all but that a time ought to come in the life of a well-trained youth when he can sit at a writing-table without wanting to throw the inkstand at his neighbour, and when also he will feel more capable of certain efforts of mind with beautiful and refined forms about him than with ugly ones. When that time comes he ought to be advanced into the decorated schools, and this advance ought to be one of the important and honourable epochs of his life." [A Joy for Ever]

Ruskin's views expressed in this passage have by no means been entirely unheeded, and great progress has been made in the directions indicated by him. The Dunfermline authorities would, indeed, be well advised to acquaint themselves with the methods adopted by the most progressive and enlightened schools elsewhere. They would then find it possible, at an extremely small expense, to transform a bare repellent classroom into one at once interesting and decorative, making a double appeal to every scholar entering it. In Ruskin's own day an association, [The Art for Schools Association, Great Ormond Street, London.] happily still existing, was formed, of which he was president until his death, for the purpose of supplying to schools, at a low rate, reproductions of standard works of art, nature studies, including bird, plant, and animal life, photographs of great men, etc., and under the direction of able educationists has done much to raise the level of school equipment in the direction under discussion. There are many other agencies, too, existing for similar purposes, and Dunfermline would find no lack of material for the decoration of its schools. Messrs. Voigtlander and Teubner in Germany publish large coloured pictures, specially designed for this purpose. But, of course, the mere covering of the school walls with pictures is by no means sufficient in itself. There must be selection and method. A place should be found for pictures interesting in themselves and primarily educational, as, e.g. studies of natural life, examples of architecture, illustrations of the pursuits and occupations of man. But regard should also be had to decorative effect, and for this coloured panels or cartoons representing historical subjects—particularly the local history of the town—are most effective, and not only beautify the room, but encourage interest and pride in the local history of the past. Much good may be done, too, by changing the wall pictures from time to time. An admirable plan would be to have travelling collections between different schools. This method would be aided if the senior scholars were encouraged to help in forming and maintaining a photographic survey of the town. Many lads, whose hobby is photography, would be only too eager for service of this kind, and a pictorial record of the town could thus be accumulated by degrees, which would be of extreme interest to future generations, and would encourage amongst the scholars the civic spirit.

The decoration of the schools may be greatly aided by a wise use of the well-stocked and extensive hothouses in Pittencrieff Park. These at present are but little seen. Surely many of the plants and flowers could be sent on loan to the various schools of the town, and changed at regular intervals. Apart from the brightness and beauty these would bring into the school life, they could be used in the drawing classes, where the students could sketch from the living plant.

Before leaving this question of school art, a plea may be recorded for the occasional holding in the schools of special exhibitions of pictures. Admirable loan collections can be got together with a little trouble, and may be arranged to illustrate such subjects as local and national history, contemporary art, etc.

The delivery of illustrated lectures should, whenever possible, accompany these exhibitions. Such lectures could be made an important means of influence even when an exhibition is not possible. Through their medium much might be done for the cause of civic education, which should commence in the schools, and not, as at present, be left for the boy to pick up from the newspaper as best he may in later years. If a lad were carefully taught at school, through the medium of the lantern slide, the history of his own town, with the causes of its modern development and its position to-day he would, when the time for leaving school came, be prepared for the next stage (which it may be hoped other agencies would be ready to undertake) in the training for the duties of citizenship, viz. an intelligent understanding of the present problems of his town and a realisation of future possibilities.

Reference may be made at this point to the question of school libraries and museums. Neither of these exists in a real sense, though a few books have been recently acquired for the schools. There is a great opportunity to hand in the foundation of school libraries and the encouragement and direction of wise reading. They should naturally be accompanied by institutions so common in many schools, but lacking in Dunfermline, such as literary and debating clubs, reading circles, Shakespeare classes, perhaps, too, a school magazine. As to the school museum, it may be hoped that it is not necessary to-day to plead for its recognition. A room in each school should be reserved for the purpose, and its contents, instead of being a mere jumble of curios, should be such as would stimulate the thought of children, illustrate and make clear the daily work of the school, so far as this is possible, and enable the teachers the better to discharge their duties.

Turning to the ordinary curricula of the schools, the main improvement to be urged is that more attention be paid to practical instruction in subjects which will fit the scholars for the proper discharge of the duties of everyday life soon to fall upon them. Cookery, for instance, is taught in some of the schools. It should be taught in all and should be supplemented by the teaching of housewifery to the girls. The example of the London County Council is an excellent one in this respect. At the present time, [February, 1905.] an exhibition under its auspices is proceeding of work done in the elementary and continuation schools. The most interesting exhibit is probably from the Council's two centres of housewifery teaching, which will undoubtedly increase the health and happiness of London's citizens. At these centres careful instruction is given in house-cleaning, and cards of instructions are issued. A special feature is made of teaching on the care and training of infants, and the card of instructions may be given as an example.

CARE OF INFANTS

WHAT TO DO                                           WHAT TO AVOID

First nine months: milk only.                                         Soothing powders.
Feed regularly.                                         Starchy food till teeth come.
Keep clean. Bathe daily.                                      Skimmed milk.
Maintain warmth.                                   Bottles with long tubes.
Provide separate bed.                       Sitting posture till after six months old.

The girls receive practical instruction to enable them to carry out these rules. Thus they are taught to make a comfortable cradle of an ordinary clothes basket, and a hammock-bed with sacking and rope. They are shown how to make bed quilts out of the simplest materials. They are also taught, among many other subjects, laundry work in all its branches. All our evidence goes to prove that the lives of the poor are made the harder through the lack of knowledge on such questions as these. Much suffering and loss of health is caused, for instance, by the frequent absence of knowledge not only of proper methods of cooking, but of food values. The possession of such knowledge would mean a far healthier standard of living at a less expenditure than that necessitated through ignorance. The writer urges with entire confidence a great development in this practical side of education adapted to the needs of daily life.

In many schemes of educational development and progress, far too little account is taken of the teachers and their needs, especially in the case of the elementary schools. Necessary facilities for the better discharge of their work are often lacking, and their work has often to be performed under conditions sufficient to depress the best of men and women. In connection with the Dunfermline schools, as elsewhere, I would strongly urge the foundation of a Teachers' Club, to include within its membership the staff of the whole of the elementary schools, the high school, and the technical school. Attached to the club there should be a Teachers' Educational Library, where every important and standard work connected with the profession of teaching and the numerous subjects allied with it would find a place. This library should be placed under the charge of a specialist who would be competent to advise and direct the reading of any teacher desirous of studying any branch of the subject. Thus the Teachers' Club would not only draw the whole of the teachers more closely together by enabling them to meet for social intercourse, for the frank discussion and interchange of views, but would enable them to perfect themselves for their work, and this under wise guidance. The scheme of the Club might also well include the delivery of lectures by educationists and the holding of conferences with other educational bodies. There is indeed no reason why Dunfermline should not become the headquarters for the county of what might be termed in somewhat technical language a Teachers' Clearing House, devoted to the furtherance of the higher study of their work and the assistance of all claiming its help.

Nor would the schemes outlined exhaust the activities of the Teachers' Club. Could it not also bring into closer sympathy with the work of the teachers, and therefore into better co-operation, the parents of the children in the schools ? In the many improvements in method which have taken place in day schools during recent years the parent "problem" has been somewhat neglected, and the harmonious co-partnership of home and school has not yet been completely effected. A Teachers' Club could give much help in this direction by arranging for meetings of parents from time to time, at which lectures and addresses would be given upon questions relating to the training of the young. Discussions should be encouraged, so that the parents should be led to feel a genuine interest in school method and aims, and their active help secured.

I urge this aspect of educational reform strongly, for I share the view which appears to be growing more general, that the day school is destined to be the school of the future rather than the boarding school. The latter will indeed be always with us in some degree, owing to the necessities of our national life, but a great number of lads have hitherto been sent to boarding schools in a spirit of convention. This is not the place to weigh the arguments on behalf of the two systems, but this at least may be said: the day school means a more natural life for the boy; he is not divorced from the everyday influences of home life—influences quite different from those experienced by a lad spending only his holidays at home, for the latter misses all the give-and-take of the family life, with the unselfishness and cooperation which follow. But if the day school is to adequately fulfil its mission, it must seek to promote a more perfect harmony between the home and itself, for a system which neglects or ignores the former rests upon an imperfect base which ever threatens to give way.


 


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