W. Catton Grasby.

Teaching in three continents; personal notes on the educational systems of the world online

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an expression of impatient fearful misery, or a dreamy, far-off
expression telling of a mind seeking in a distant sphere the
employment it should get in school, is, in my opinion, not
order, but cruelty. I do not wish to see a class of boys or
girls looking like the puppets in a street show, which move
simultaneously, and to order, as the showman pulls the string.
I did see examples of this modern form of inquisition — ex-
cepting the backless seats — in America, but they were few. On
one occasion, I was taken to see the " best disciplined school

in ." I did not see what was promised^ but I saw

much to cause reflection. In this case, there was a look of
supreme satisfaction alike on the face of teachers and pupils,
as though asking, "Did you ever see anything like it?"
The action on the part of the pupils in thus inflicting
inconvenience on themselves — it developed through the
application of another sort of infliction — is an interesting
phenon;ienon. Originally obtained by harsh measures,
which are always available shouhl the other motive in any
individual case fail, the so-called discipline now rests almost
entirely on the highly cultivated love of display. The boys
and girls take as much pride in the "show off" process as
do the teachers. A fitting designation would be "school of
hypocrisy," and that surely is not needed.

In bright contrast to this humbug show was an English
Voluntary School in South London, under the control of
the vicar of a neighbouring church, who is an enthusiastic


258 Teaching in Three Continents.

member of the London School Board. The happy brightness
of these children, the apparently unconscious courtesy with
which the teachers treated the pupils, and the polite bearing
of the children, was a pleasant change from the brusque-
ness, I fully believe, unintentional, but not the less
objectionable, which I noticed in connection with so many
English teachers. What is exceptional in the school of
which I speak, is the ordinary condition in the American
schools I visited. During a conversation with Dr. Harris,
the United States Commissioner of Education, I mentioned
the impression I had formed, and asked whether it was
correct, and if so, the cause. He informed me that the
system of having separate rooms, so far as relates to America,
was first introduced in Boston, and is the secret of the mild
discipline of American schools. In St. Louis, when the old
plan was in force, as many as one hundred cases of corporal
punishment were recorded in a week ; later, during his
superintendency, it got down to about ten cases in a term
of ten weeks for schools of seven hundred children. The
average now is about one case per week for two hundred
and fifty pupils.

The schools I visited in Paris and Germany were all on
the separate class-room plan. I had several very interesting
conversations on this subject with schoorofficials in England,
who, strange to say, usually omitted the only reasonable
excuse they have for clinging to the obsolete method of
long rooms. The original plan of school-room, many of
which still survive in Voluntary Schools, was to have a long
room wath pupils facing the middle. This, with a partition
run down the centre, formed a long, narrow room, still more
objectionable with frequent back lighting. This has been
again and again modified, until the best development has
been reached in the London schools, with a separate room
for each class, and left-hand lighting by means of large plate
glass windows. Still, the pupil-teacher system renders it

Schools and School-Houses. 259

necessary to so construct the rooms that the head master can
overlook them without undue disturbance or effort.

The argument generally advanced in favour of the plan
was that, by having large rooms and a system of general
assemblies, teachers become trained to command large
bodies of pupils. One gentleman remarked : " Have you
considered the training our system gives for head masters ?
What power of command does the system you describe as
being in operation in America develop, which will be of
use to a man on assuming the functions of head master ? "
My reply was, that I had evidently mistaken the function of
a school. I was not aware that its use was to train head
masters, who could act as military officers on a small scale.
I had looked at the matter from another standpoint, con-
sidering the object was to educate the pupils^ and every
means should be used which would conserve the energies
of the teachers so that they might be directed to that pur-
pose ; and that, with the changed conditions, the functions
of a head master also changed.

I think that school-rooms in America and Australia
present the most cheerful appearance of any I have seen.
The construction, or rather the arrangement, of the latter
being dependent on the pupil-teacher system, is not of the
most satisfactory type, but the inside appearance of the
rooms is very pleasing.

Australian school-houses are of one or two storeys only,
and are similar in character to many of the English build-
ings. In arrangement they follow the same model, and same
tendency. I do not know that the single class-room plan
has been adopted to any extent, but there is a decided
tendency thereto. The fittings are also similar. The
terraced floor is generally adopted ; and, in the newer schools,
dual desks and seats with backs are always found. I regret
that many of the old-fashioned and uncomfortable forms
are still in use, to the injury of the children. At the same
R ?.

2 6o Teaching in Three Continents.

time, I must say that the school-rooms ahiiost invariably
present a bright, cheerful appearance ; and have none of the
oppressiveness which I noticed in the Paris schools.

No doubt the beautiful atmosphere of the sunny South
has much to do with this ; but the art of the architect and
painter has more. The rooms are well plastered, and when
they are painted and coloured in bright, well-harmonised
tints, the effect is very pleasing. Since my return I have
visited several schools in Adelaide, and have been struck
with this each time.

By way of contrast to this, I will give my impressions ot
Parisian schools. When I first visited Paris some years
since, during the brightest season of the year, I was delighted
with the artistic surroundings of the place, and thought
that the Parisian could hardly help his artistic reputation.
I have always retained pleasant recollections of my stay in
the city of revolutions, and wished to renew my acquaint-
ance. In some reports I have read of frescoed walls,
rooms decorated with art treasures, and many other
desirable accessories of an educative value not usually
found in elementary schools, and I looked forward to my in-
spection of such model schools with considerable expectancy.
Provided with a letter of introduction from the British
Ambassador, I called on the Minister of Instruction, and
was by him introduced to the authorities controlling the
Parisian schools. They kindly provided me with a list of
representative schools, some of which I had heard of, and
asked to be permitted to visit, while others were suggested
by the genial and courteous Director of Primary Instruction
for the Department of the Seine. I was unfortunate. I
did not find the frescoes ; and, although the schools proved
very interesting and the manual training more than
ordinarily so, the appearance of the school-rooms was
nearly always cheerless and depressing.

The first school I visited was a comparatively recent

Schools and School- Houses. 261

building of large dimensions. Towards the street it looked
like an immense factory or barrack ; but this, I knew well
enough, had little significance in Paris, where the best view
of a pile of buildings is frequently to be had from the
courtyard. Facing the street there may be nothing but
massive walls and frowning gates, maybe with Liberte,
Egalite', Fraternite above, and guards, with fixed bayonets,
in front. Pass the symbols of liberty, equality, and brother-
hood, and a wealth of beautiful architecture discloses itself,
surrounding a lovely court. The reference to sentinels, of
cours'e, is limited ; but the same change from forbidding
exterior to light and ornamental interior is frequent, not
only in France, but in Italy and other parts of the Con-
tinent. History provides an explanation of the origin of the
style ; custom continues it, and, indeed, the history of Paris for
the past generation does not prove that the necessity for
protection against revolutionary citizens has ceased.

On the ground floor of this, as of the other buildings
constructed especially for school purposes, there is a large
hall, where I saw the children having their dinners. It is
also used for purposes of drill, and physical exercises ; and,
on wet days, for play. In boys' schools part of the hall is
devoted to industrial or manual work. The first and
second floors consisted of a long corridor or passage, with
class-rooms opening on 07te side^ with a room for the teachers
at the end. The class-rooms were well ventilated, and
lighted from the left by ample sash windows. The floors
were level, and provided with strong though very plain
dual oak desks, sufficient for fifty pupils. This number w^as
never exceeded in any room I visited. The doors had one
glass panel to allow the- principal, or Inspector, to overlook
the clas's without disturbing it. The teachers were provided
with a platform raised some fifteen inches, on which was a
combined stool and chair. In nearly every room behind
the door a small case about twenty inches square, with a

262 Teaching in Three Continents.

glass front, was fixed on the wall about five feet from the
floor. In it were sets of metric weights and measures,
always ready for illustrating arithmetic. Instead of black-
boards, a long panel, perhaps twelve feet by four feet, was
prepared on the wall behind the teacher. Nowhere outside
America did I find such ample provision for chalk work ;
but unfortunately the plaster had been badly prepared and
was frequently much cracked.

P'or all these arrangements and materials, I have nothing
but praise ; yet the atmosphere of the rooms was de-
pressing. Whether I entered a school during or after
school hours made little difference ; the brightness, light-
ness, and joyousness I expected to find in Paris schools were
absent. The walls were coloured in a dull buff, without
any brightening effects ; the furniture looked dirty ; and
there was an absence of the splendid maps, pictures,
diagrams, which I know the French produce better than any
other country, and which I have several times seen at
International Exhibitions in connection with the French
educational exhibit. I found that these are usually,
I believe always, available in the building ; and, of course,
the teachers cannot be always using such things ; but the
absence of anything to brighten the sombre effect always
depressed me. When the pupils were there the result was
even worse. I always think that the best ornaments of a
school-room are the children ; but imagine a gloomy room
peopled with teachers and pupils all in black — all wearing
very dark or black blouses. I should add that my visits
were made in February.

The children frequently began to talk as soon as the
teacher's attention was drawn from them, and I saw what I
had not witnessed anywhere outside England and Australia
— children standing in the corridors for punishment (?) I
sallied forth at half-past eight one Thursday with a long
day's programme, but found that all schools were closed,

Schools and School-Hocses. 263

that day being kept as a close holiday, as Saturday is in
English-speaking countries. As I had several schools on
my list, which I should not be able to visit any other day, I
looked over the buildings. In one I found a small class
of boys of various ages, at work under a teacher, who in-
formed me that their parents were poor, and had to be away
all day at work, so they were cared for at school.

Nothing strikes the visitor to Parisian schools more than
the solicitous care which the authorities bestow on the
children. The schools are free and compulsory, and no one
must be excluded from any school on account of poverty.
If their parents have to go to work early, the school is open to
receive the children at any hour, and they can be cared for
until the parents return in the evening, receiving their meals
at the school. If the parents are unable to provide them with
respectable clothes, an order is given on the Government con-
tractor, who supplies them at a stated price ; and there is
nothing to show that they have not been bought by the
parent in the ordinary way. This prevents the saddening
sight seen in England — I am glad to believe very rarely — of
children attending school barefooted and forlorn. And I am
sure the money would be readily provided to clothe all the
ragged and poor of English cities, if there could be any
certainty that they would not be pawned the next day for
drink. How this contingency is guarded against in Paris
I cannot say.

Dinners for Parisia7i School Children.

The paternal care of the French authorities is best shown
by the system of school dinners ; and no better illustration
can be given of the skill of the French in economical
cooking. After the children have worked hard all the
morning — and I have reason to believe that they do work
hard — a good dinner becomes a necessity for health no

264 Teaching in Three Continents.

less than to prepare for the afternoon school. It is of little
use to send the majority home. Their mothers are either
away, or are too busy to attend to them : besides, it is more
economical to provide for several hundred than for one or
two. Every communal school therefore has its kitchen ;
and at noon long tables and benches are set out in the
large hall which I have mentioned, and all who do not
wish to go home are provided by the Director with a
dinner-ticket. If they are able, they pay ten to twenty
centimes [from a penny to twopence] ; if not, they get the
check all the same. In this manner, all appear equal
when they enter the dining hall. They file down, and as
they pass the kitchen each receives a basin of splendid
soup, and a plate of meat and vegetables. Each one brings
bread with him ; and, generally, a flask of wine and a napkin
as well. I understand over eighty per cent of the children
take the midday meal at school. The average cost per
dish is barely three farthings — that is, about seven centimes.
For a school of five hundred pupils I learned that, during
two months, five thousand two hundred and sixty dishes
were provided, of which one thousand one hundred and
forty were given away. The total cost was three hundred
and sixty-seven francs eighty-five centimes, of which one
hundred and sixty-two francs had to be provided by the

There is no appearance of charity. In a school held in
an adapted — or shall I say ill-adapted? — old convent, situated
in a poor part of the city, I witnessed the serving of a penny
meal. The food was excellent, all the arrangements were
orderly, everything was very clean. The majority of the
pupils had very cheap but clean serviettes^ in which the
bread they had brought had been wrapped. The children
were chatting, but were not noisy ; and they partook of their
meal in as deliberate a manner as can be expected from
boys. There was none of the ravenous, wild-beast-feeding

Schools and School-Houses. 265

character, which I have seen in connection with dinners
for the poor elsewhere.

The French Infant School.

"Every commune of a population of two thousand, where
an aggregate of at least twelve hundred are congregated in
one locality, is bound to build and maintain an infant
school." The schools are usually limited to about one
hundred and fifty pupils. No child can enter the school
without a certificate that he has been vaccinated, and is in
good health ; and a doctor, appointed by the mayor, visits
the school once a week, and enters his report in the school
register. The schools are divided into two departments,
which we may call the juniors and seniors. The work may
be somewhat loosely classified under six heads: — i. Exercises
in language and recitation ; 2, play, including marching
accompanied by singing ; 3, manual or physical exercises \
4, first principles of moral education ; 5, chats about
common objects ; 6, elements of drawing, reading, writing,
and arithmetic. I have put play second ; as a matter of fact
it should be first so far as the juniors are concerned. Mat
making, plaiting, building with bricks, and such busy work,
form an important part of the earlier occupations.

Instead of slates, I found the children using a substitute
made of two sheets of ground glass, with a sheet of white
paper between, set in a neat frame. One side of the paper
was ruled in small squares of about one-third of an inch,
and the other had parallel lines also about one-third of an
inch apart. They write with an ordinary lead pencil.
Numerous devices are provided for interesting the little
oneSj who may be at school from seven a.m to seven p.m. in
summer, and from eight a.m. to six p.m. in winter. This is
to take care of the children during the absence from home
of the parents — indeed, this was one of the primary reasons

266 Teaching in Three Continents.

of their being first established. A mid-day meal is provided
at a cost of one penny for those able to pay, and free fo
others. The schools as nearly as possible are intended to
provide a substitute for a mother's care, and arc called
"Ecoles Maternelles."


In the newer buildings in all the countries I visited, the
most careful attention has been paid to the proper ventila-
tion, lighting, and warming of school-houses ; and, probably,
no one can be more conscious of the defects of the older
structures than the authorities themselves, who have often
spent large sums in trying to adapt to modern hygienic
requirements buildings which, when opened, were no doubt
considered as nearly perfect as possible. One generation is
lauded for what the next condemns. I have already stated
that I consider the American school-house best adapted for
teaching purposes, on account of its arrangement and
fittings. To this I must add that it also appeared to me to
be the best lighted, ventilated, and warmed. I, of course,
am speaking generally, but I imagine that the cost per head
of accommodation is greater in America than elsewhere. It
is difficult, if not impossible, to compare one country with
another in this respect, the purchasing power of money
varies so greatly. I have not been able to satisfy myself
sufficiently to insert comparative figures, which, at the best,
are unsatisfactory : there are so many considerations
influencing the comparison which cannot be summarised.
For example, the genial mild climate of Australia renders it
unnecessary to make any elaborate provision for warming
schools ; and proper ventilation can be secured without the
application of machinery. In the southern portions of the
continent, open fires or stoves are used, more or less, for
two or three months, or from June to August, but frequently

Schools axd School-Houses. 267

during this season no fire is necessary after the first hour or
two in the morning. The problem how tnts.

her care for five years. I would not require anyone to tell
me of that lady's power for good. It was seen in her pupils.
Her character was written on her class.

It is this sort of education which will regenerate the
people. Could we but have the whole of our schools
— I say "our" without reference to country — under such
management, all our children under such teachers,
then in the great mass of humanity there would be
a realization of the beautiful conception, "And God
breathed into him the breath of life, and he became a
living soul," and the mythical Eden of the past would
become a reality in the glorious Eden of exalted man. I
have often thought that this same principle is the secret of
the greater proportion of splendid men who are produced
in small country schools, with poor appliances, whose teachers
either have not the learning or the power of command
sufficient for a city school. They do not produce the
brilliant superficialities of towns ; but they imbue their
spirit of trust, inquiry, and thoroughness. The pupil knows
not that he is clever ; but in his slow way he grows, and, as is
beautifully idealised by Hawthorne in his " Great Stone
Face," is honoured by that portion of mankind which is
always seeking for the best men to lead and teach it.

Nu7nber of Pupils under a Teacher.

Few statements are more deceptive than averages ; but
averages are frequently the easiest — if not most correct —
form of comparison. So difficult is it to prevent miscon-
ception, that it is only on account of the strong and general
interest I have found everywhere on this point, that I have
decided to insert notes on the subject of the quota of pupils
to a teacher. I will first quote figures from reports or
averages drawn from official sources, and then give a few
of the numbers which I jotted down when visiting different

Organisation of Schools. 277

schools. The average number of pupils in daily attendance
to a teacher in England is twenty-nine, in the United States
twenty-four, in four chief colonies of Australia, twenty-
seven. There are so many conditions affecting these aver-
ages peculiar to each country, that the similarity is somewhat
remarkable. I am, unfortunately, unable to give the aver-
age attendance per teacher in France and Germany.

A more suggestive comparison can be made between the
number of pupils allowed as a basis on which to cal-
culate the staff required in a school. This varies very much,
so that I shall take two or three centres in each country
which I think may be considered fairly typical.

The London School Board count thirty pupils in average
attendance for the head master, sixty for each assistant, and
thirty for each third and fourth year pupil-teacher. Candidates
on probation, and first and second year pupil-teachers, are not
counted in calculating the staff required in a school ; but as
they assist in teaching, and are paid, they lighten the work
of the other teachers, and must be taken into consideration
when making a comparison. The average number of pupils
to a teacher in London is forty. I have not taken any
account of the difference between pupil-teachers and pupil-
teacher probationers.

The Huddersfield School Board allow twenty-five for
the head teacher, sixty for each assistant, and twenty-five
or each pupil-teacher. The average number of pupils in
average attendance for each teacher employed is thirty.
This result proved so much less than I expected, that it
caused me to go over the figures a second time. Even
then I could not at first understand the great difference
between the two places. I certainly did not notice any
difference in the size of the classes in the schools under the
two Boards, except that in London there are many schools
without pupil-teachers. This led me to examine the figures
again, and I found that in Huddersfield forty-one per cent.

278 Teaching in Three Continents.

of the whole body of teachers are pupil-teachers, while in
London — counting the probationers and first and second
year apprentices who are not included in fixing the staff,
only twenty per cent, of the total of teachers under the
board are pupil-teachers. I state this as another example
of the deceptive nature of averages.

In South Australia the Department allows a pupil-
teacher for every thirty, and an assistant for every sixty
pupils in average attendance. The average number per
teacher is twenty-five. The number of small schools in the
country under provisional teachers makes this general
average of no value for comparison with the schools of
London or Huddersfield, where all the schools are large.

In Massachusetts the average number of pupils to a
teacher is thirty ; in New York, twenty-seven ; in Missouri,
thirty-two ; in the District of Columbia, forty ; in Dakota,
twelve. These numbers illustrate the principle, that as soon
as the schools of thinly-peopled territory are taken into con-
sideration the average number of pupils to a teacher falls.
In the District of Columbia, for example, there are only a
few small schools where it cannot be arranged so that each
teacher shall have her requisite number, from thirty-five to

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Online LibraryW. Catton GrasbyTeaching in three continents; personal notes on the educational systems of the world → online text (page 22 of 28)