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

By Lionel Rose | Go to book overview

17

PUPIL SOCIETY AND SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

Children can be notoriously cruel to each other and for a good many school could be an unhappy medium for intensifying the pain of Victorian social prejudices. Class snobberies could make life miserable for a child who was obviously poorer than his or her classmates. Even within the working class there was a sense of snobbery. Dorothy Ogersby, the daughter of a Yorkshire stone-mason, recalled how around the turn of the century at Sunday School the better-off girls ‘flaunted their new clothes, poking fun at those not so fortunate’. 1 ‘Emma Smith‘, the ’cornish waif described in Chapters 9 and 10, was shunned by other children at school in Penzance for her neglect and ragged appearance, for however poor they were, they were still one up on her. Hungry ‘bread horses’, as we have noted, were made to work by their better-fed schoolmates in return for a crust. The attitude of teachers could ease or sharpen the sense of inferiority. Kindly and understanding teachers could protect the child: one teacher in the Forest of Dean in the late 1890s would give a boy with no money at home a penny to buy shoeblacking, to save him from chastisement by the headmaster for coming to school with scruffy shoes. 2 Other teachers delighted in making some unfortunate the butt of the class; unkempt children were humiliated by being made to sit at the back of the class and being given less attention, andin the 1920s Mabel Yeo, who wore cast-offs at her Exeter school, was sent back to school from a nature ramble she had been looking forward to, because a button had come off her shoe. 3 Children in poor neighbourhoods who won the scholarship to the new secondary schools after 1902, and whose parents scrimped and saved to send them there, could find themselves cruelly caught between two worlds; their former schoolmates might taunt them in the street as social renegades,

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