Discipline Victorian Style

One of the things that fascinates modern children who visit our Victorian School is the discipline. It seems to me that modern pupils have little or no concept of the ways in which children were disciplined in years gone by.

caningThe first thing to say is that discipline was very strict. In some ways it had to be, because school classes were often large, and were led by one teacher with assistance from monitors or pupil teachers. But also there was a belief that children had to be trained to do good.

Some of these beliefs came from religious views. Christian teaching said that people were born with a tendency to do wrong and therefore needed training to do right. We are all familiar with proverbs such as “spare the rod or spoil the child”, and “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  The Victorians fully embraced this thinking and believed that it was essential that children be taught to keep to the rules.

This is quite different from modern thinking, where children are taught to question everything they are taught, and quickly learn how to push at the limits. In addition, parental discipline has  declined, and schools have had to follow the pattern.

In modern schools a cane is considered almost barbaric and any form of physical punishment is termed abuse. The Victorians had no such scruples and  used canes, the slipper, the ruler and even the belt, to discipline wayward children. Undoubtedly there was some abuse, those who used the punishment excessively, but there were also many who exercised their authority fairly and with restraint.

Interestingly enough, many modern children seem to think they might prefer some form of mild corporal punishment to the sloppy and ineffective punishments meted out in schools today. I have heard of school classes that have descended into chaos because teachers have been unable to maintain control, with their only weapon being the detention. I have wondered, for many years, whether a detention has done any good. I have never spoken to anyone who has said to me, I really appreciated those detentions, they got me back on the right path, but I have had several who have said to me that corporal punishment kept them on the straight and narrow.

You may have gathered by now that I am in favour of corporal punishment, as long as it is carried out fairly. My belief is that a short sharp shock is often sufficient correction to point a child in the right direction, and it is quickly over. Often the possibility of punishment is sufficient deterrent in itself. In my view, the detention is a feeble punishment that achieves very little and results in a fair number of naughty children growing up into uncontrollable teenagers and anti-social adults.

I’ll come back to the subject later.

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 2:20 pm  Comments (17)  
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Visiting schools with the Victorian experience

Although I volunteer as a Victorian Headmaster in a real Victorian School, I have been aware for some time that it is not always possible for schools to visit us. Undoubtedly there is a lot of work involved in organising a coach outing, and some schools are too far away or just don’t have the resources to come to us. For a while I have been wondering whether I should go out to schools and provide some sort of Victorian Day.

If I were to do that, I would have to acquire a number of props that could be transported. I wonder how I could carry a full size blackboard and easel, for example. Unfortunately it is impossible to find a stick of chalk in most modern schools, let alone that vital bit of school teachers equipment, the blackboard. Some of the other things are easier, slates, books and a selection of Victorian artefacts. I would probably also need clothes, since dressing up is a vital part of the Victorian experience. I have a genuine gown, mortar board and cane as part of my outfit, and I try to wear other clothes which are not too incongruous. One of my predecessors had a Victorian frock coat made up, which must have been splendid, and which I envy, but I have not managed to raise the necessary finance for that yet, and nothing has come up on Ebay in my size!

I wonder how many schools would want me anyway? It would have to fit in with my other work: I am a self employed publisher, so I can usually move things around to accommodate my Victorian School work, so it is not too much of a problem. I think I might try to dip a toe in the water and see what happens. In the meantime if anyone reading this wants a visit then they can contact me at admin@victorianschool.co.uk.  I suppose I ought just to say that I live near Minehead in the South West of England.

Published in: on April 29, 2009 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Another school visit

Had another visit to our Victorian School today, the second this year. I always find that the first two or three visits of the season are a little challenging, as it takes me time to get into the character of a Victorian headmaster. After two or three times I seem to be able to perform more easily.

It makes a great deal of difference which school visits, because some groups are easier than others. We generally take children at KS1 and KS2, which for the benefit of the uninitiated ranges from 5 years old up to 11 years. Some of our volunteers prefer working with younger children and some prefer the older ones. Personally I like working with a variety of ages, because each group has something to offer. The school today was mainly children of ten or eleven, and they managed to ask some quite inquisitive questions, which meant that they were thinking about what we were teaching them. There are certain questions which crop up regularly, of course and the technique is to make sure you don’t sound bored when you answer.

The Victorian school  life is so far removed from that of a modern school pupil, that it is difficult to grasp how hard it must have been. Some Victorian teachers were cruel and harsh to their pupils and discipline could be hard. Learning was more repetitious and rather boring, yet most children did gain from their school the knowledge that their teachers attempted to impart. In our area, I wonder how much education benefited the pupils, since most would have gone on to menial labour work in agriculture, but perhaps there were some who went on to more demanding jobs, and undoubtedly those able to read and write would have used those skills even in a rural setting.

Of course in a short visit, which usually lasts no longer than three or four hours, it is impossible to do more than dip into things of the past, and all one can really hope for is to awaken an interest in history, and in our case Victorian history. Just now and again a school pupil visits the museum again with their parents.

Published in: on April 29, 2009 at 9:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A sample of Victorian School life

In a recent conversation, I was discussing how many traditional skills have been lost over the years. Even in my own lifetime I can think of skills that have declined if not actually disappeared. Things like woodwork, cooking and knitting are no longer everyday skills, and many of the everyday talents of a Victorian Schoolchild would just astound the modern child. Take for example, handwriting. Many modern children can’t write legibly, can’t spell, and make elementary grammatical mistakes. You don’t need to look hard to find words like tomato’s, do’nt, could of done, and even grammer. But even more, the beautiful copperplate handwriting of Victorian and Edwardian times has been replaced with an illegible scrawl. No doubt part of the reason is that computers are a component of everyday life, and spell and grammar checkers take away the need to learn, but the real issue  is that children are not taught these basic skills in school.

Sampler from Strangers' Hall, Norwich, Norfolk, England,

Sampler from Strangers’ Hall, Norwich, Norfolk, England

I am sure I will take up the subject of writing skills in future posts, but what I really want to mention here is the Victorian sampler. For those who are not informed, a sampler is a piece of needlework, so called because it demonstrates the stitching skills of the creator. It was not uncommon for samplers to include pictures and text, and these are highly sought after and valuable. As a typical male, I can’t tackle more than basic sewing, but then neither would Victorian boys or men. The Victorian lady, would be another story, because from an early age they would have been taught to sew, and by the age of ten or eleven they would produce a sampler of a quality that would defeat most modern needlewomen. Actually I have never seen a modern sampler, I wonder if anyone still makes them, I would be interested to know. But the Victorian sampler is an amazing demonstration of  needle skills and dexterity.

I suppose that in the modern world there is no need to produce a sampler, but what a proud achievement it must have been for the Victorian child. I can’t help but regret its passing.

Published in: on April 17, 2009 at 12:32 am  Comments (9)  
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SATS tests and the Victorian Headmaster

The current disturbances and protests about SATS tests raise many issues and concerns. Do we test our children too much? Should the school curriculum just be based on academic skills or is it as important to teach other skills as well?
The Victorian school child was certainly tested and the results were every bit as important as SATS tests are today. On the other hand, there was a recognition that scholastic achievements alone were not the total of all that school life was about. The Victorians placed a great deal of emphasis on moral teaching in the classroom, and children were brought up with a very black and white view of right and wrong. Perhaps the teaching was too intense and too monotone, but at least there was guidance. Unfortunately many of the young people leaving schools today have a very confused view of right and wrong. Whether they are brighter is open to argument.

Published in: on April 12, 2009 at 11:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Victorian Headmaster

When I was young I always wanted to be a teacher. I never dreamed I would make it to become a headmaster. I am a Victorian headmaster. And I am not over 100 years old! Well maybe I feel over 100 years old sometimes, but that’s another story. No, I am a volunteer headmaster at a Victorian School. And great fun it is. In the next few posts I’ll tell you some more, and also make some comments on schooling and education as well.

Published in: on April 12, 2009 at 1:59 am  Comments (7)  
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