Thursday, 14 October 2010

Play up and play the game?

The narrow public school curriculum? Thomas Arnold (Rugby 1828 – 1841) and Edward Thring (Uppingham 1853 – 1887) are credited with making changes to the stodgy diet of classics, classics and more classics.

Arnold transformed Rugby from a state of near anarchy towards order and discipline. Arnold's methods, prefects, uniforms, better pay for teachers and improved conditions in dormitories was used as a model by other public schools. The Rugby myth was heavily reliant on 'Tom Brown's School Days' and the biography of Arnold by Dean Stanley.

Arnold's main interest was inculcating 'Christian manliness' into the boys and cultivating a group of moral prigs in the sixth form. The main emphasis of Arnold's sermons was to attack fornication or 'beastliness'.

Thring turned Uppingham from a 'failing' grammar school into one of the pre-eminent public schools, he was the founder of the Headmaster's Conference in 1869. He did widen the curriculum at Uppingham beyond classics.

The general picture? The Taunton Commission (1864) was broadly supportive of the way that men of 'character' were turned out by public schools, however, they noted that boys left knowing nothing, 'ignorant of geography and of the history of his own country, unacquainted with any modern language but his own and hardly competent to write English correctly.'

In 1878 Harrow employed the following masters (teachers) Classics 21; Maths 5; Languages 2; Science 1; 'Modern side' 1.

Then there was the 'games cult'. Thring at Uppingham invested in a bathing pool, gyms, cricket grounds, football pitches and athletics tracks, all this was a useful diversion from his main fear about 'indecency'.

Leonard Woolf wrote about his time at St Paul's (1893 – 1899), 'Use of the mind, intellectual curiosity, mental originality, interest in 'work', enjoyment of books or anything connected with the arts, all such things, if detected, were violently condemned and persecuted.'

As SP Mais commented in 1916 public school boys, 'knew nothing, cared little, exhausted their keenness on games and considered anything but the most perfunctory interest in school work a gross breach of good form'.

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