The Erosion of Childhood: Child Oppression in Britain, 1860-1918

By Lionel Rose | Go to book overview

14

TEACHING METHODS 1860-1918

The classroom regime was governed by four factors: the imperatives of the codes and examinations, the size of classes, prevailing attitudes about the status of children, and philosophies about what education should be preparing children for in adult life.

The codes and ‘Payment by Results’ were not entirely responsible for the interminable rote-learning, for the monitorial system in the British and National schools had long necessitated this method as a way of teaching large numbers on the cheap. The Royal Commission on Education of 1858-61, which had been set up to review the effectiveness of the government grants to those schools, itself revealed the ludicrous effects of brute memorizing. One inspector, Mr Foster, reported, for example, how in one school a 13-year-old girl recited the boundaries of several countries:

I asked, ‘What is a boundary?’

‘It’s a year’s wages.’

My question had suggested to her mind the terms on which the pitmen are in some collieries bound for a year to their employment. Doubtless she did not dream of its connection with the lesson she had just repeated. 1

Another inspector, Mr Fraser, told of a 14-year-old girl who recited St Luke, chapter 4, verse 14, thus: ‘And there went out a flame of him through all the religion round about’, instead of ‘a fame of him through all the region round about’, with no idea of the gibberish she was uttering. When he asked a class in another school ‘What is a region?’, a boy replied ‘A roundabout’, which Fraser attributed to the uncomprehending association with the word in the aforementioned verse. 2

Despite this futility, the Revised Code which followed the

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