Secondary Education in England, 1870-1902: Public Activity and Private Enterprise

By John Roach | Go to book overview

12

The public schools and society

Some of the elements of the public school image were suggested in the last chapter—the concentration on team games, the stress on chivalry and the knightly life, the ideal of self-sacrifice for the empire and on the field of battle. The positive side of this was a loyalty, hardihood, and common feeling which deeply affected men’s work in the world. The negative side was a tendency to press boys into a common mould, the surrender of freedom and spontaneity to a mask of good form, a narrowness of sympathy towards those who did not belong to the elite group. The public school ideal was in many ways totalitarian, yet it maintained its influence in a society which was not at all totalitarian and which was affected by many other currents—liberal, egalitarian, socialist—of many different kinds. It says something for public school training that its products were sufficiently adaptable to preserve their influence in a rapidly changing world.

To many boys, masters, and public figures the magic began to work on the games field. Boys had always played games, though up to the middle of the nineteenth century they often did so in the face of opposition rather than support from their schoolmasters. It has been argued that the organization of games and their assumption of a definite place within the general school curriculum dates from the 1850s (HSE: 267). However, games did not become generally compulsory until the later part of the century, and there were differences in practices and priorities between different schools.

The majority of the public schools were boarding schools, and in such schools there had always been problems in keeping boys occupied when they were not in the classroom. The primary reason for promoting school games was disciplinary. They kept boys occupied and they prevented poaching on the land of local farmers. Since they made boys physically tired and filled up their time, they were a useful prophylactic against masturbation and homosexuality, evils of which contemporaries were very conscious, but about which they were unwilling to express themselves publicly. Clement Dukes, the Rugby doctor who was the chief authority on health at school, argued that boys should join in well-

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