Friday, March 24, 2017

Education in CM's Day: Classical?

This is the first in the series on education in CM's day.  I hope that this will shed light on her uniqueness and the cultural of her day.  In my introductory post I made the statement that she was clearly not classical in her day or in some of our current interpretations.  I want to further explain that assertion.  I promise, this is not the only aspect we will explore - but it is a key question for many current teachers.

1.  Classical Education had a specific meaning in her day.

In 1904, New South Wales' government created an EXTENSIVE study of the elementary and especially secondary programs in countries throughout Europe.  They were less than impressed with Britain for a number of reasons (possibly some colonial issues enter the picture).  However, they do outline what was studied.
The subject of instruction on the Classical side are usually (1) Religion (or Divinity, as it is sometimes called), (2) English, (3) Latin, (4) Greek, (5) French, (6) History, (7) Geography, (8) Arithmetic, (9) Mathematics, (10) Natural Sciences (viz., Physics, Chemistry, etc.), (11) Drawing, (12) Singing, and such other subjects as (13) German, etc., (14) Instruction in Instrumental Music and so on.  These two last subjects, viz., German and Instrumental Music, and other similar subjects, are usually optional, and extra fees are required for them.  
They show the Classical Division and the approximate time spent on each subject:

Classical Languages         16 hours
French                                 2 hours
Mathematics                       2 hours
Other Subjects                   10 hours
                           Total        30 hours

The "mathematical" track has this division of time:

Mathematics                                       10 hours
Natural Science                                    4 hours
Modern Languages                               8 hours
Extra (Natural Science or Drawing)     4 hours
Others                                                   4 hours
                                                Total    30 hours

You can clearly see the difference and the tracking that took place in education during this era. Britain was actually "behind" other nations like Germany and France because they still focused primarily on "classical education" and were not introducing as much science and modern languages as nations "on the continent" were.  Classical education in this era, was clearly about learning the Classical languages - often at the expense of many other subjects - primarily so that you could get into the University of your choice.  (This article also mentions cramming which comes up often in CM's critiques of current methods of schooling - she is not the only one who found it a faulty system).

The last part of CM's life (in the 1910's to 1920's) there was a raging debate about the breadth and purpose of education.  The debate centered around the introduction of science as a field of study and the inclusion of more modern languages instead of classical languages.  Obviously, in theory we want it all, but in practice there are only so many hours in a day.  In 1917, there was a conference at Princeton University to defend the "classical" approach to teaching.  By the end of the 1920's this approach had lost - Greek and Latin were no longer entry requirements for the Ivy league schools. Eventually, the battle was lost in England as well.  Classical education, despite change and reformation over 400 years, was dealt its death blow.

One look at the course of study for CM shows that she is clearly in the "modern" education camp for her era.  She included modern languages and science.  She desired breadth in her studies - not a classical focus.  Today we consider her classical because she includes Plutarch and Latin - in her day this was seen as leaving the "classical" camp" because she didn't require Greek and included a variety of subjects in her studies - making room for science.  

I do think that she retains some of the depth of education because she advocates slow reading and often reads the same book over the course of years.  As far as I have seen this is unique to her approach.

2.  Faculties - what are they?

When we think of faculty we normally think of the teachers at a school.  In CM's day faculty had a specific understanding. The best contemporary definition that I have found of this idea is from The School World (February 1912):
The doctrine of formal discipline asserts that mental power developed in one subject is usable in any other.  The mind is conceived as consisting of unitary powers called faculties, such as memory, observation, judgement, and others, which undergo development when used upon any material requiring their use.  
If you have ever read about CM's thoughts about faculties and not understood what it meant - this is what "developing the faculties" means.  Here is a further explanation:
It is thought, for example, that constant practice in the memorising of the multiplication tables makes it possible to memorize poetry or dates with a facility equal to that acquired in the memorising of the first material.  (sic) 
Do you see how this allows you to study just a few subjects but yet feel that a child is being fully educated?  In this situation, the content is not nearly as important as these underlying "faculties". Another article by Charles Myers of the University of Cambridge in the same Journal explains that
the materials whereby the faculties are trained is of quite secondary importance
His article argues that the understanding of "faculties" is undergoing a fundamental change in this era because of the growth and development of psychology as an area of study.  CM is not alone in moving away from "the faculties" being the primary way of understanding how children are educated.

The rest of the previous The School World article is a study arguing that faculties is a faulty proposition and doesn't really reflect how children actually learn.  Memorizing Latin declensions does not transfer over to memorizing scientific processes.  There might be some general principles that can be gleaned but the subject matter - matters.  Based on his new understandings he says
An immense amount of historical and geographical minutiae must, in the elementary school, be omitted; their bulk should not be allowed to obscure those living facts which function in actual citizen life. 
Mason had very similar sentiments in her writing. Memorizing is not a faculty she wished to develop for its own sake.  This clearly counters the "neo- classical" approach to classical education which has grown out of an understanding of Dorothy Sayer's famous essay.  They support the idea of the elementary student as being a part in the poll-parrot stage where they love to learn and memorize and thus their learning should center around this faculty.

The conclusion of The School World article, which is written by a teacher trainer of the time, is very similar to the practices that CM advocates:
Physical education will receive a tremendous extension. . . express his own emotions through the medium of a store of good songs and well-memorized literature. . . understand more fully the meaning of, a modern world of steam and electricity, of telegraph and telephone . . . to do this we must enable our children to hear good music, to see good plays, to visit picture galleries, and buildings of architectural beauty, to frequent the woodland and the field.   Thus some of the beauty of the world will become the child's possession. . . 
CM's curriculum is not classical in the parlance of her era - she is very modern.  She also is not classical in her understanding of how the child learns.  Her first principle is that a child is a person - a full person. She constantly speaks against the idea of faculties because, by its nature, it limits the child and the curriculum.  She de-emphasizes the role of memorization and encourages the "science of relations" which is rooted in story and the child thinking about what they are learning - not just parroting back what they have heard.  Her conceptions are not necessarily unique for her time but they clearly are not classical - then or now.  

Her curriculum honors and encourages the Western tradition - but not using the Classical curriculum or methods of her day.  She is more modern than we often give her credit for - in the best sense of the term.  Her program was much more expansive and liberal than the "classical" education of her era.

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