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THE NEW DEAL IN EDUCATION.
Modern Methods at Work in Dorset School.
By Brian Jones.
T^OREDOM which reigned with such, *-* smug security over the schooldays of most of us, is threatened in the public schools of England with a challenge to its
luthonty. its strongnoios are menaced by a peaceful penetration of the ideas behind the New Education, and new schools have sprung up since the war which have definitely embraced the re formist doctrines and have made head way in spite of crisis and depression. The central hypothesis of the New Education Is simply that it is better to be inter ested than bored. In the forefront of the avant-garde is Bryanston School, Dorset. This school was founded in 1928, the youngest of the public schools of the old country and has a'oout 250 pupils today. A link with Australia is the fact that its flrst headmaster, Mr. J. G. Jeffreys, was iin Australian. The rather sumptuous school buildings were built by Lord Portman as a country seat in the '90's *nd he is said to have spent well over half a million upon them. It stands on ei beautifully wooded rise above the last big meander of, the Stour before it goes through the old market town of Bland - ford en route for the Channel. Stowe and Canford are two other pub lic schools founded since the war, and their buildings were also big country homes before increasing income tax and death-duties forced them into the mar ket along with so many other fine old English homes- At Stowe and Canford Did wine has been put in the new bottles. But at Bryanston the wine has a dis tinctly new and original flavour. Tho question is, is it any the better for that? Negative definitions often achieve something positive ones do not, and the outlook and spirit of the school can be suggested by a catalogue of characteristic features of the traditional system which are anathema to it. Here, then, are some of its pet aversions: — (1) The bored, pathlc, wool-gathering or sham-attentive faces, behind which minds are being slowly asphyxiated, in tbe lethal chamber of the average class-room. (2) Bullying, fagging, and also corp oral punishment, that easy non solution; especially when adminis tered by boys themselves, the beaten probably a sensitive boy suffering considerable psychological harm, the executioner probably something of a sadist, deluding himself that his emotions are righteous. (3) The barbarous old postulate that boys and masters must be enemies. (4) Tbe bogus-dignity of masters; their on-duty ' faces and off-duty faces, unidentifiable. (5) The pathetic spectacle of short sighted and incompetent boys being made to chase cricket balls about a field on priceless summer afternoons and loathing it. (6) Tbe gradual exasperation and pos sibly the ultimate extinguishing of an interest in religion by a welter of devitalised services and cretinously stupid religious instruction. These are typical, and will suffice to show that the wind is blowing towards freedom and commonsense, towards greater trust in the boy and respect for his intelligence, towards encouragement of self-expression instead of repression and inhibition. At a public school in Australia where -I taught recently I was told that I must on ho account allow boys to discuss religious matters dunng divinity classes. At Bryanston I found myself urged to encourage them to do so. On the one hand, fear and ob scurantist tyranny, on the other cour age and enlightened freedom. Now for something more concrete, first as regards the academic side of things.' In this as in other respects the indivi dual is' treated as an individual. This is not a mere catch-phrase. A boy's writ ten work., for example, is corrected per sonally, tete-a-tete with the master, and not on the blackboard, in a general holus-bolus fashion along with that of
twenty others or so, of different levels of ability. This is in effect an adapta tion of the University tutorial system. The emphasis is on learning and not on being taught. The idea is to get the boy to organise his own work and time rather than to treat him as a passive counter. No -master or boy can go on functioning properly, period after period, six or seven or eight of them a day. In a few words, the educational system' is this. Time spent in class-instruction (varying 'with subjects, more for mathe matics and languages, for example, than for history and geography) gets less and less as a boy moves up the ladder. Thus he has more and more time to himself, to be used in the main according to his discretion. He has an individual 'assignment' in each subject he is doing that covers a fair stretch of time, a fortnight or a month, it may be. If he has no class to attend and wants to get on with his English for economics as signment he takes himself and his books along to the appropriate room. If he gets 'bushed' he will consult the master, or perhaps one of his fellow students, which he is quite at liberty to do, within reasonable limits of time and audibility. Boys are constantly getting up from their places to get a book from the library, and so on, quite naturally, as in the lib rary of a University college. If it is a cold and frosty morning it is on the cards that boys' will get up now and again and (without any nursery fuss about 'may I have permission please, sir') go over to the fire and warm themselves a mo ment or two, working much more happily and efficiently in consequence. In the class-room, as in the life of the school generally, the atmosphere is astonishingly easy and natural; quite un school like, in fact, I once heard a visitor say 'This place isn't a school; it's a country club for boys whom their parents want to be rid of for three parts of the year.' Little is left of .the rigidities of the- old system, and none of that poison ous old feeling that masters are warders and spies waiting to pounce on 'the little devils.' It has been demonstrated that if a boy is treated sensibly, ration ally and in a friendly manner, trusted rather than regimented, and given a reasonable measure of freedom, he will respond with initiative, enthusiasm and enjoyment of things. But freedom is identified with responsibility. The more freedom of decision and action a boy is given, the more he becomes responsible for what he does. That must suffice as a fragmentary sketch of some of the features of the academic life of the school. But it should be added that such great impor tance is attached to the value of hob bies, both as an indication of a boy's natural penchant, and as the founda tion of a life-long interest and refuge, that they are regarded as an integral part of the educational system, and not as an appendix to it. Similarly engineering and agricultural work on the school farm are done by certain boys in ordinary in school hours. Some boys reasonably competent in attending. to the necessi ties of pigs and cows will never get past the first declension of Latin. A central feature of the school is that sport is voluntary. That does not mean boys can spend sunny hours fugging in doors or retiring behind a hawthorn hedge for a smoke. Every' boy must get his exercise in some fashion approved by his house-master. But it is held stupid to compel a boy to play games be loathes and cannot possibly be good at, in the 'nature of things. So boys join what clubs they wish, cricket, ten nis, rowing, riding, etc. Complete rab bits at games sometimes get their exer cise and a good deal of enjoyment as well' cycling to see some village in the neighbourhood, or chasing butterflies. The psychological benefit Is enormous. It is dreadful to think of the numbers of boys who have been deprived of all chance of losing a nascent inferiority complex and gaining self-confidence and poise through having been made to feel ridiculous and socially valueless as a result of being press-ganged afternoon after afternoon into playing cricket or football, activities for which providence did not design them. As with discipline the aim is that re ligion shall grow1 from within and not be imposed from, without. It is interest ing to find some attempt to make services more real for the boy of today; to hear, for example other literature being read in addition to the Bible — a poem of Blake, a sonnet of Shakespeare, a page of Lytton Strachey; ,to see a move being made towards a more truly contemporary idiom in the prayers, many of which have been included in a collection that has* just been made and published by the ex-chaplain of the school ,Rev. A. S. T. Fisher. Freedom is the corner-stone of the growing structure; freedom conditioned by responsibility. To interest rather than to bore; to encourage creation rather than to crush it; to make boys happy rather than unhappy; to treat them, as individuals and not as mere units to be merged and moulded by fa mass-production technique; to try to make boys think for themselves, act for themselves and work out a philosophy of life that will stand them in sufficient stead in the exceedingly difficult world they will enter in due time, these are the aims of the pioneers of the New Educa tion