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It might with equal certainty be anticipated that the support afforded to the elementary education of the labouring population, not in such localities alone, but throughout the country generally, would be feeble and inadequate. Cordial encouragement or pecuniary aid towards that object proceeding from the body of farmers was rare, whether in favour of the parochial schools, or of those few which in that county rest on the principle of the British and Foreign Society. And the gross proceeds of subscriptions in aid of the National Schools of the Diocese manifest, with sufficient clearness, that in other quarters the cause of the educational improvement of the agricultural labourer has not as yet created for itself an interest in proportion to the serious re. sponsibilities which, in the altered condition of that class, may follow on protracted neglect.
Many parishes in succession, comprising extensive tracts of country, might be pointed out, in which the means of instruction, if they exist at all, are confined to the Sunday-school or the old unimproved day-school. The instances are few in which any advance has been made towards improved methods. Among those which—as they were situated in the line of my route-I was able by permission of the parochial minister to visit
, I may specify the schools at Gorleston, on the borders of Suffolk, in the vicinity of Great Yarmouth, as presenting a few points for observation. These large and handsome national schools were, after much exertion, established by the present incumbent, in a reluctant though not a poor neighbourhood, which now however sup. plies to them a large and increasing attendance. The rules, to the strict adherence to which the clergyman attributes much of the success of the experinyent, are so worded as to impress upon the parents a thankful sense of the advantages offered to themselves and their children by such an institution, The payments (2s. per quarter for one child) are made in advance; and double payment is required for those who do not reside in the parish. Those parents whose circumstances would enable them to pay more than the
prescribed sum are invited to contribute an annual subscription. The doors are shut precisely at the hours named for assembling the schools; and no child then absent without leave is readmitted unless the parent within three days satisfactorily accounts for such absence. Every child is required to attend the parish church, with the exception of those whose parents " being members admitted into a dissenting body, shall have obtained leave from the officiating minister of the parish for their children to accompany them to their meeting-house, in which case a certificate of the regular attendance of such parents and their children at such Dissenters' meeting-house is required, and a printed form of certificate is provided for signature of their minister.” The parents of the children who only attend the Sunday-school are invited to contribute a small sum weekly to a parochial clothing fund. Such intellectual progress as has been attained has proceeded, to a great degree, from the zealous superintendence of the clergyman, who endeavours to make each step secure before he proceeds to another. The mode of reading was natural, and showed some intelligence. Grammar, geography, and a little general instruction had been commenced. The singing was pleasingly executed. In the infant-school there appeared an air of cheerfulness and confidence, to which the gymnastic apparatus, placed in an open shed in the playground, greatly contributed. Master, mistresses, and scholars were alike described as “learning together, and anxious to improve.' Another class of schools consists of those which, in purely agricultural districts, are attended by children seldom above nine years old ; into which, maps, the Scotch or Irish lesson-books, the black-board, instruction in singing, perhaps the mode of teaching by the gallery-lesson, have been introduced; but where the capacity or attainments of the master or mistress are not such as to have yet enabled them to use with effect the improved instruments placed in their hands. The best results that have yet attended these efforts flow manifestly from the vigilant superintendence and active teaching of the clergyman or other individuals whose presence, example, and instruction impart a tone and character, and exercise an influence which no other source can so well supply. In such schools the intellectual attainments were yet very indifferent; but it was evident that a process of religious and moral training was going on, most valuable in its effect on the character and manners of the children, and in creating a visible bond of attachment and good feeling among themselves and towards those around them. A third class is that of those monitorial schools in which the teaching is still confined to, or has very slightly advanced beyond, purely religious instruction; where the master receives little or no aid except from monitors, who leave the school at a very early age, and whose attendance is seldom continuous during the short time that their services are available in that capacity. If in those cases which were the subjects of a special examination and report, a remark was elicited upon the unsatisfactory state of the intellectual progress, the slight assistance derived from the monitors was referred to, as in a great measure accounting for it. I had an opportunity of seeing a few of those schools still conducted on the old plan of the common day-school, or on one slightly removed from it, in which, as the children attending were few, and not beyond the power of careful personal superintendence on the part of the master, the little that was attempted appeared to be taught with effect. The most imperfect specimen of the parochial schools were those intrusted to mistresses, who taught little more than reading, writing, and sewing, and whose acquirements were in proportion to the very moderate salaries with which they were remunerated. In such cases the best result which could be anticipated is that arising from the moral influence exercised by the mistress, and the occasional and salutary supervision of the individuals of local weight and authority who promote the school.
Partial and inadequate as the steps yet taken have been to carry forward to any useful result the education of the labouring classes in this county, it is nevertheless impossible to witness the evidences of an awakening interest on that subject without some feelings of gratification. The question was one which seemed to be engaging attention, though comparatively little had yet been done. Diocesan Boards of Inspection were labouring to point out the present state of education and to improve it. Meetings were here and there in contemplation. Buildings had been in some few places erected at a considerable cost, others of a humbler kind ; and if, when these have been provided and the requisite apparatus procured, a master or mistress is selected, incapable of the charge imposed upon them, it seems to result in most cases not so much from a disinclination to require a higher standard of proficiency, as from the absence of a due appreciation of the qualities which alone can form an effective teacher. One or i wo months' observation of the methods pursued at a training establishment is thought, if not sufficient, at least all that is attainable, to prepare a master or mistress for the management of a school. A retired gardener or a steady female domestic may be considered capable of acquiring the art of teaching by the perusal of a few elementary books on the subject, and this subject one entirely foreign to their previous habits and thoughts, and of which no books can enable them to realize a just idea. Mistakes such as these extend their pernicious cousequences over many years. The difficulty of replacing the individual in his proper sphere is generally found to outweigh any sympathy for the interests of the numerous children that, during a long period, must pass through such hands, sorely ill-fashioned, or totally unformed.
Many defects in the mode of doing what was professed to be done were to a greater or less extent apparent in all the schools which I had an opportunity of seeing in action in the course of this tour. Where the simultaneous method was attempted, no correct notion of it had been acquired : either the lesson did not constitute a well-selected and distinct portion of an entire subject, or it was not given in such a manner as to carry along with it the attention and the interest of the children. Rapid and varied questioning, such as would keep the faculties of the whole class on the alert, was not within the capacity of the teachers ; neither was the ellipsis used in such a manner as to be a valuable lesson on language, by creating a sense of the want of the expression before the right one was supplied. Where the simplest and most solemn words alone are left out to be added by the children, it degenerates into a mischievous formality. The lessons, whether oral or by reading, were seldom adequately tested either by subsequent examination or by writing; and the guessing answers to the simplest questions, or the silence, showed that the teaching,
however given, had had little effect on the intelligence. In the monitorial schools in which I had an opportunity of witnessing the mode of instruction, the monitors, if they questioned at all, made use of part of the words of the sentence, the remaining words, involving the answer, being repeated by rote by the class. I found in no case that a monitor was capable of eliciting further explanation, or of giving it when asked." Their ages ranged from 12 to 13; and although the irregularity of their attendance may to some extent account for their deficiency, it may also be sought for in the part they take in teaching to the younger children long rows of unconnected and often difficult words, to which neither they nor their master seek to attach a meaning. A habit of imperfect association is thus early formed, which leads them to rest contented with mastering the symbol and expressing the sound, without any accompanying effort to reach the sense. There were also frequently observed in the masters the harsh and noisy manner, a deficiency of attention to the lower classes, no successful endeavour, in the mode of reading, to bring down the loud rustic chant to the easy and natural tone. The inaccurate answers of by far the largest number of the most advanced children at these schools, when tested on the subject of their scriptural or catechetical instruction, showed that the reading and repetition had been but slightly accompanied by the understanding. Very little of general instruction had been attempted, except geography, which had not in any instance advanced beyond the general outlines; in many cases the maps hung upon the walls, and the books of more general information were in the hands of the master or mistress, with little other effect hitherto than to point to endeavours yet to be made to turn them to account.
Particular illustrations might be taken from almost every school which I inspected, or visited with those interested in it. In one, 20 boys, who had been two years at the school, could not read words of four letters correctly; they ran one verse into the other, disregarding stops, and without the smallest approach to an attempt to understand the meaning. In a second, 30 boys, who had been from eighteen months to two years at the school, and were nearly old enough to be taken away to work, could not read a verse in the New Testament without hesitation and mistakes. In a third, 15 boys from 10 to 12 years of age, in the first class, read with a boldness and fluency which seemed to impose on the master, who allowed them to pass over connecting words, signs of tenses, and smaller obstacles, in their progress to the longer words, which he always repeated after them, sometimes before. When examined in Scripture history, only one boy could answer any one question, and his knowledge did not enable him to say who led the children of Israel into the promised land. None of them knew the meaning of the words Bible, Genesis, Exodus, although the clergyman, who was present, and put the questions to them, stated that they had often been told. They did not know what county
joined their own, nor the direction of London, nor in what quarter the sun was in the middle of the day; nor the direction of east, west, north and south. These were boys just about to leave school, and who will be said to have received their education" at a school supported at some expense by a large resident landowner. In a fourth, the mistress confeseed she could not teach much figures;” and in speaking, she made frequent faults in grammar. She was the mistress of a handsome school-house, built by a neighbouring proprietor. In a fifth, a girl of 11 years old could not repeat the Lord's Prayer, and the answers of all the elder to the questions put to them at my request by the mistress and monitors, were as far from correct as if they had been read at hazard from an index. The state of proficiency in the adjoining boys' school was also very low; and in both instances the excuse given was, that the monitors did not remain long enough to be of any effectual assistance. These five cases embody characteristics that I found very common in the rest, with but few exceptions; and I am sorry to have to observe that in many, where the intellectual state of master or mistress and pupils was the worst, the anxiety
greatest to procure in the " Visitors' Book” some testimony as to the state of the school. Whenever I found any opinion expressed there, it was generally in praise of what had been exhibited. These were pointed to as saiisfactory testimonials, and no doubt seemed thenceforward to rest on the mind of the teacher as to the efficiency of the plan he pursued and its result. These opinions are often expressed after a very cursory examination ; frequently aster such an one only as the master may find convenient to display. Where the individual pronouncing the favourable opinion is known, and his opinion is of weight, it is pointed to as long as the school exists. If he is unknown, and his competency to form a correct judgment may admit of a question, the master seems to think himself entitled to the benefit of the doubt. The “Visitors' Book" is at the proper times produced to the trustees, or the persons who chiefly support the school, and appears to be admitted by them as the voucher for the care and attention of the master during their absence; more probably as a dispensation from all personal superintendence and inquiry, except at formal and periodical visits.
Hence au ansiety to “show off” on the appearance of every stranger, of which the following may be cited as an example. At a girl's school of about 100 children, the twenty eldest were ranged in a square, and the monitor, a girl about 15 years old, was ordered by the mistress to examine them. She stood boldly forth, and immediately in a loud and commanding tone asked “Who told a lie on Joseph ?" The answers, from those who did answer, corresponded in boldness, “ Moses:”—“ Pharaoh.” The “Visitors' Book” was duly produced at the close of the exhibition.
My opinion was frequently asked, by persons who most lamented the present backward state of elementary education in the county,