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The idea of special preparation for life's handicap must be abandoned by our public schools. There are plenty of institutions where that preparation may be obtained without its exigencies invading what are in mockery called "seats of learning.” Why should not the schools recognise the "harmless necessary crammer" as a necessary evil, and confine themselves to providing a really sound education-a foundation upon which the specialist superstructure may be built? As a matter of fact, with their present haphazard methods, they fail either to educate or to "cram.” If they are to maintain their pride of place a choice will have to be made between the two systems. I will go further and say that they can only decide in one way. If scholarship and real education are not to vanish from the land our public schools must gird themselves for the battle, for it rests with them to maintain it. That this end is desirable all will allow, but how is it to be obtained ? It would be dog's work to gird at the things which are without attempting to set forward the things which might be. First and foremost the ridiculous system of superannuation must be abolished. It is the schoolmaster's duty to succeed with the dull and slothful boy. if he cannot or will not learn in one term, the work must be drummed into him in two. The system which gives up the education of a boy in despair because he cannot by a certain age reach a certain standard is preposterous, and is simply a piece of advertisement for the schools. I mean that by this means room is made for others, and the fittest survive—those most likely to get scholarships and high degrees and thus bring the name of their school into prominence. But to turn one dull boy into a wellinformed and scholarly man is
real credit to a schoolmaster than half a dozen Hertfords or Irelands by some ephemeral genius. Our old foundations can surely afford to scorn flash honours and newspaper puffs. Even a dull boy has usually some subjects in which he is comparatively strong. Our model schoolmaster would find this strong point out; and, while not neglecting other more irksome branches of study, would strive heart and soul to develop the boy's mind in this direction.
This suggests a most important point for consideration. A boy should not be hampered in acquiring proficiency in one subject by backwardness in others ; therefore his promotion in each subject should be gained independently of the rest of his work. At present a boy, on his arrival at a public school, is subjected to an examination to determine in what form he shall be placed. Whatever form his fate allots him to, his position will be fixed according to his classical
attainments. The term "fourth form,” "remove," "fifth form,” &c., apply entirely to the divisions of the school for classical purposesEnglish composition, history, &c., being included under this head. For purposes of comparison and superannuation this classical form alone counts. His studies in other branches of learning are apportioned according to his proficiency in classics. If he is in the fourth form, his mathematics are restricted to arithmetic, his instruction in modern languages to a little easy French. If he is in the fifth form he is promoted to the more abstruse walks of algebra and Euclid, and possibly, in addition to the adventures of Père Moïse and Zébédé, and the rest of Erckmann-Chatrian's warlike heroes, he may begin to do a little German.
The boy may speak French like a native, but if he is a dunce at classics, he is restricted to learning of the tortuous courses of the cobbler's grandmother in connection with the boots of the gardener's nephew; he may have been learning Euclid and algebra at his private school, but these accomplishments must be laid aside till the conjugation of Túrtw has been sufficiently mastered to enable him to get promotion into a higher classical form.
The converse, of course, equally holds good. A boy in the fourth form finds his classical work“ like shelling peas." He could do the work of a couple of forms above him, but before he can get his remove he has to obtain a sufficient aggregate of marks in all the subjects taught to place him in the first ten or so of his form. He is wretchedly weak, perhaps, in mathematics; and a boy who has no special aptitude for classics amasses from one to two thousand more marks in that subject than he does, beats him on the post, and obtains the promotion which would have been turned to much better account by the loser. Is it any wonder that the latter, when he comes back next term and finds himself tied down to a monotonous round of “bumblepuppy," loses all keenness and habit of industry? He sticks fast where he is, and, for want of a job, does Latin verses for boys two or three forms above him! He may, in time, when a sufficient amount of mathematics has been drummed into his head, reach a fairly high place in the school ; but the promise is gone, the talent lost by disuse, and one more is added to the list of failures.
Nor does his conqueror fare much better. In a form where the classical work is beyond him he is forced in self-defence—to save himself from pains and penalties—to apply to that good fairy of the schoolboy whose earthly name is Bohn, and becomes a thoroughly unsound scholar through bolting unassimilated masses of knowledge, and, finally, meets the doom of superannuation also.
Why should not a boy go from bottom to top of the school in classics, according to his proficiency in classics alone, or why should a deficiency in classics prevent him from finding his proper level in French, mathematics, or science? If some order of merit for the whole school be desired—and, personally, I am inclined to think that it is a necessity-let the whole school be placed continuously, without any break into forms, in accordance with the sum of each boy's proficiency in the aggregate of the subjects taught. Thus A, who excels in classics, modern languages, and mathematics, will be at the head of affairs; while B, who is good at classics, but poor at mathematics, will find himself about the middle, higher or lower, according as his proficiency or deficiency preponderates.
By adopting some such method as that sketched above it would be possible to draw out to the full the powers of a boy in his strongest subject, and, at the same time, to ensure that in the weaker ones he shall not be dragged into unknown regions, leaving behind him fields as yet unexplored.
Unquestionably, the elimination of the "cramming” system from our public schools would result in a diminution in the pressure upon them, perhaps in a shrinkage in the number of boys. Those whose circumstances demand an immediate qualification for the battle of life would drop out ; this to my mind is no disadvantage. Napoleon's dictum as to the leaning of Providence towards the general who had “big battalions" may be accepted as far as war is concerned, but it does not in the least follow that they are of equal advantage to a school. I believe the majority of our public schools are too big—they would be better without the ephemeral element which comes for a couple of years to acquire a smattering of polite learning and a deeper initiation into the mysteries of the ledger. Personal acquaintanceship with all one's schoolfellows, community of interests, camaraderie, esprit de corps—all those sentiments which add value to a public school training are lost when numbers rise to eight hundred or a thousand. Wykehamists are pre-eminently fraternal ; their common traditions, and common tongue (for Wykehamical speech is not addressed to the understanding of the profanum vulgus) link them in bands of amity wherever they meet. To such an extent do they carry their good-fellowship that I have heard outsiders vote them a nuisance. I believe that the maintenance of this state of affairs would rapidly become impossible were it not for the good sense which prompts the authorities to keep the numbers of the school down to four hundred or so.
With these words I leave the discussion of the scholastic side of the question, but I cannot fail to recognise that that side is very far from embracing the whole of public school life. That sound learning should be imparted is most desirable and necessary, but that a boy passing through the most difficult period of his life should have his moral nature trained and cultivated, should be turned into a good man and useful citizen, is far more important. The grand influence which our public schools exercise in this direction, the manliness and self-reliance which they give, is a goodly heritage for English youth which the youth of no other country can boast. The spirit which hates meanness and scorns a lie is an honourable distinguishing mark of their communities, and, taken for all in all, I think it is impossible to over-estimate the value of their training
But that there are evils, even here, will admit of no contradictionevils which I believe arise very largely from the hyper-sensitive delicacy, not to call it cowardice, of those who are placed to guide and direct the boys at this portion of their lives. Every public school man knows the canker of the public school system. I do not maintain that it necessarily or exclusively exists in public schools, but while writing of them I feel that it is of great importance not to shirk the subject, distasteful and difficult as it may be to write on it without shocking the moral sense of the readers of this Review.
The whole matter lies in a nutshell. Boys at a public school arrive at an age when new and unthought of physical powers overcome the moral judgment of which their age is capable. Transgressions on which a few years later they will look with horror seem to them at least venial. There is little or no sense of moral wrong—there is no restraining influence but a fear of the consequences. Occasionally some glaring iniquities reach the ears of authority, and a wholesale expulsion takes place, which fails altogether to impress those remaining with any sense of the moral enormity of the offence, while it blasts young lives with a sometimes ineffaceable stigma. One party is almost always innocent, and yet he has to undergo the penalty meted out to the tempter. To such a pitch has this evil reached that some of our public schools almost provoke the punishment of the Cities of the Plain. A foreigner once spoke to me with the utmost horror of the state of affairs which, even in his country, he had heard prevailed in English public schools, and I had to confess that, of my own knowledge, matters were no better than report had led him to believe. Yet the iniquities which so horrified him are a matter of jest among the boys at the schools themselves. Surely the matter is not beyond wise treatment. A year or two later those who have sinned the most, in the clearer light of a wider experience, look back on their deeds with horror and shame. Cannot our masters put these things before those whose lives are committed to them as a sacred charge in a manly and sensible way-point out to them that the young men of Sodom are in a more perilous plight than those who yield to the blandishments of Delilah? But they will not, until the occasion arises : until the mischief is done their lips are sealed. The subject is too horrible and must be avoided. I am convinced that it only requires the opinion of the world to be properly impressed on boys who are just coming to the most critical time of their lives to ensure the horrorstruck avoidance of nameless vice.
I tremble at the knees of Pharaoh. He will probably, if he thinks it worth his august while, pound me to a mummy and send me, post-haste, to the dim kingdom of Amenti. The things I have written I have written from the “bear's side of the question "—that of the young bear who has gradually tasted some of the troubles which he used to be consolingly told all lay before him. One thing I should like to say in conclusion. The sense I have of the mistakes and incongruities of a public school education does not in the least diminish the affection and gratitude I cherish towards my old school, or towards those who have the direction of it. No class of men fulfil their high and responsible duties more conscientiously, or with more true zeal and devotion, than the masters of our public schools. Any old public schoolboy who does not remember with many very warm feelings the friendship and sympathy which his masters were ever ready to extend to him must be wanting somewhere. If, therefore, in hitting out at a system I have inadvertently wounded an honoured class of men, I have missed my mark. But I am not without hope that I may have spoken what is in the minds of many of them, that they themselves feel the shortcomings of a patched-up system.
Reforms, either from without or within, must be carried out, and that soon, if we are to save one of their noblest heritages to the future sons of England.
" Vox IN SOLITUDINE CLAMANTIS."