TRAINING BRITAIN'S YOUTH
AN ADDRESS BY MR. JASPER H. STEMBRIDGE, F.R.G.S.
Chairman: The President--Mr. J. P. Pratt, K.C.
Thursday, March 2, 1939.
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen of The Empire Club:
Through the courtesy of the Oxford University Press we are to have the privilege of hearing today an address by Mr. Jasper H. Stembridge, of London, England, a noted biographer, author and lecturer. Mr. Stembridge is travelling across Canada from coast to coast for the purpose of studying our history and also observing social and economic conditions in Canada, with a view to making use of the material which he thus gathers in addresses for British audiences, in the hope of dispelling any wrong idea-if any does exist-in the mind of the average British person. In his address he will speak to us upon the subject, "Training Britain's Youth," as contrasted with the methods adopted by certain other European countries, which we are sorry to note seem to feel that a man is born to be shot by a citizen of another country, though he, himself, has no quarrel with that citizen. I am sure that it is indeed a privilege to have Mr. Stembridge with us, and I now introduce him to you. Mr. Stembridge. (Applause)
MR. JASPER H. STEMBRIDGE: Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen: I should like to say how much I appreciated your kind invitation to lunch with your Club today. If I may say so, I accepted it with considerable diffidence for I am no after-luncheon speaker. On those few occasions when I have spoken at luncheons the coming ordeal has usually given me indigestion. At times like this one is always faced with a dilemma: whether to be wholly serious, which I must confess I always find a little difficult, or whether to try to be wholly amusing, or whether to attempt a judicious blend.
I remember one occasion when I was announced to speak on the work of an Inspector of Schools. During the lunch the Chairman turned and looked at me extremely dubiously and said, "I trust, Mr. Stembridge, you will try to make your talk as light as possible. We don't want anything too heavy at these gatherings." Well, the lunch was heavy, both literally and metaphorically, so I tried to make my talk light and spoke about the lighter side of school inspection and I thought I did rather well. When I had finished a Head Master who was present got up and after a few polite remarks, he said, "I trust Mr. Stembridge never comes to inspect the geography in my school, for I am sure he would have a most demoralizing influence on the boys."
Of course, school inspection, like other jobs, has its lighter side, especially if one is blessed with a sense of humour. I remember one occasion when I was going to inspect the work of a small country school. When I arrived the children were having an arithmetic lesson. By way of a start I thought I would lead up, as I hoped, skillfully, to a question as to the cost of so many gallons of petrol. I said: "I have just motored forty miles. How long do you think it has taken me?" There were various answers, ranging from a quarter of an hour to two hours. If they had seen my car they would have known that two hours was nearer the mark. Then I asked, "What liquid do I buy every morning?" There was a pause and one small and a little timid girl put up her hand. I said, "Yes, my dear, what is it?" She said, "Please, Sir, whisky."
Of course, as an Inspector, one has to be very careful. I well remember one day motoring along a winding country lane. Here and there were wider places where one could pass. In front of me was an oldish man on a tricycle, who seemed to be very stubborn. Would he move? He wouldn't budge. There were plenty of places to pass but he kept in the middle of the road and there I was, crawling behind, and getting hotter and crosser as I went along. At last I did get by. As I was passing him I put my head out of the window and said, "You silly old ass, why don't you get out of the way?" I went on and I finally arrived at the school I was about to inspect only to discover that the silly old ass was the Head Master.
But now I have retired from the official inspecting of schools and I am here more particularly as an unofficial educationalist and especially as a geographer. Perhaps you will therefore bear with me if I say a few words about education in general and geography in particular. I am here also as a stranger and a learner. No amount of book learning can make up for actual personal contact and I feel assured that during the few months I am in your magnificent country I shall learn much about it and return home to England much better qualified to speak and to write about it than I am now.
I once got into hot water for saying at a meeting that I thought more rubbish was written and spoken about education than any other subject. I still think so and I hope my words won't rise up against me now. Everyone who has given thought to the question seems to have a different definition to give of education. That is only natural. Such a vital and important subject must, of necessity, have many different facets. I suppose most of us realize that school education is only an addition to the much greater education of street and home. The road from school is often a greater teacher than the school itself, and the average education of a town bred boy in this highly mechanical age is, I sometimes think, rather one-sided. Of course the pupil looks at education in a very different way to the teacher, and the parent from a different angle than the prospective employer. But I think most adults are agreed that popular education must provide not only for the needs of the child, but also for the needs of the nation. We all have our own ideas about what children should be taught and how they should be taught it. I sometimes think that our school time tables are overloaded and that we should do better if we concentrated on pure subjects, for, as a shrewd, if caustic Head Master once remarked, "Young people are narrow-necked vessels into which you cannot pour much at a time without waste or running over." That is quite true, but I can assure you the modern teacher has acquired the art of filling these vessels to the very brim.
In England people have often said to me that the children in our schools waste their time over learning unnecessary subjects, that they are not taught to write properly-I am sure they are in Canadian schools-that they cannot add, that they are unable to spell, and that they do not know where New York or Melbourne or Montreal are situated. Well, we cannot all know everything, but there are certain subjects about which I am convinced every child should know something and I am quite certain that every child in this Empire of ours should know something about the world-wide organization to which he or she belongs. Here, you will perceive, comes in my pet subject, geography. I will not worry you with a dissertation as to my views on the nature and aims of modern geography, so very different from those our fathers held. For them, of course, it was a matter of dry facts, lists and tables. Today, we think it important to discover the bearings of these facts and to consider the moral and intellectual problems arising from them. In short, we wish to study the reciprocal relationship between man and nature. Perhaps I might illustrate my point by a short anecdote.
Some years ago I went into a country school where the Head Mistress was on the point of retirement. She was no longer young and beautiful. She was, I should say--I don't wish to guess at ladies' ages-well over sixty. She had done remarkably good work. Toward the end of the afternoon she said to me, "Mr. Stembridge, may I tell you a naughty story?" Well, of course it is unusual for Head Mistresses or teachers to tell naughty stories to Inspectors, and I was rather relieved when she said that the Vicar had told it to her. So I replied, "Carry on." She pulled me behind the blackboard and this is what she told me: One evening an old doctor was walking across the village allotment. I suppose out here you call them lots. In England most villages have a certain portion of ground set aside where the people in the village can grow their own vegetables and fruit. Well, this old doctor was walking across the allotment. As he went along he saw a plot of ground that had been previously neglected and there, hard at work, was a young labourer. He was doing very well and had some fine crops on the plot. The old doctor said, "Good evening. Do you know, I have never seen this plot of ground look so splendid and so magnificent all the years I have lived in this village?" The he paused and said, "Isn't it perfectly wonderful to think of this co-operation between you and the Almighty?" The young labourer straightened his back, wiped his hands across his brow and said, "Aye, Doctor, but you should have seen it when the Almighty had it by Himself."
Well, I think this does illustrate one of the ways in which man co-operates with Nature and how he makes use of the great gifts which nature has bestowed on him. As I see it, that is one of the aims of our geographical training.
Some months ago a Canadian visitor to England wrote to one of our leading papers, the "Daily Telegraph," complaining that English people knew very little about Canada. She said, "For example, I come to England. I can distinguish quite well between the speech of an Irishman, a Scotsman or an Englishman, but over here everybody takes me for an American. I have the greatest admiration for the United States but I don't want to be taken for an American."
Thereupon, an Englishman who had lived ten years in Nova Scotia wrote to the paper and said, "I have lived ten years in Nova Scotia and I cannot distinguish between the speech of a Nova Scotian and a New Englander."
Well, I am not qualified to speak on that matter, but that many English people are ignorant about Canada is regrettably true, though there are also a vast number who do take an intelligent interest in Canada and in your great Commonwealth and who realize that the political philosophy that underlay the development of our Empire during the last century will no longer suffice. The Empire is not static. It is dynamic. It must be dynamic if it is to survive. But is it not essential that side by side with a growing sense of nationhood among our component states there must also come a closer unity, for otherwise we shall become a mere collection of nations, united only by our allegiance to a nonpolitical throne? We have developed under an era of liberty but if that liberty we all treasure is to be preserved, then I, for one, feel that it must be backed by the united strength of all the nations composing our great Commonwealth.
We have a supreme advantage over the dictatorship states for, despite all their successes, all forms of autocracy in the end tend to crush out of their subjects that moral courage and independence which is the real strength of nations.
The great civilization moved from east to west, from Mesopotamia and Egypt to Greece, Rome and Western Europe and the British Isles, whence men came across the seas to found states in this new world, states whose culture was based on the old traditions, but on traditions reinvigorated with the spirit of the pioneer and it is perhaps not altogether idle to speculate, as we do sometimes in England, how long it will be before Canada becomes the heart and centre of our Commonwealth. We, in England, do realize that you are the greatest single unit in the Empire and that outside the British Isles you have the largest white population. We do know something of your vast resources and of the way you are using them to develop your great heritage. Our interest, naturally, will be stimulated by the forthcoming visit of the King and Queen, and whatever may be the shortcomings of our adult population, our younger generation have a very wide knowledge of the Dominion. In fact, I think no part of the Empire is better known to our youngsters than Canada, and I should like to say in passing that our knowledge is fostered by that remarkably useful publication, the Canadian News Sheet, issued by the Press Officer of Canada House, London. It is a very valuable document that is sent out monthly to our schools. This example might well be followed by other Dominions.
A few days before I left England I went into a village school and there on the wall was a large Pictorial map of Canada, made by the teachers and the children, on which they proposed to follow the King's journey across the Dominion. That, you will say, is only a small thing. You are right, but it is typical of much, and this interest in the Dominion is of no vague or transitory nature.
For instance, when I was head of the Geographical Department at Denstone College, where I was for some ten years, I encouraged groups of students to collect information about different countries of the Empire, and about different parts of the world. Later, when I became Inspector of Schools, under the Board of Education, I also suggested to the teachers in Staffordshire County, where most of my work lay, that the different schools should collect similar information as well as local information about our own Staffordshire industries. This method was followed. It resulted in the gathering together of much valuable material and not only did it stimulate the interest of the children in the schools, but aroused the enthusiasm of the parents and other people connected directly or indirectly with them.
This interest culminated in the Staffordshire Geography Exhibition, the largest educational exhibition ever devoted to a single subject that has been held in Britain. It might interest you to know a little about one or two of the Canadian exhibits. One consisted of a diorama of the Canadian National Railway that took up the whole of one side of the corridor. It was made by the schoolboys and was complete with a working model of an engine and train which ran at stated intervals.
Another exhibit consisted of material illustrating your great lumber industry. That was arranged on a platform about the size of the one on which I am standing. We had large photos illustrating the different aspects of the industry, specimens of wood and models and photos of lumber camps and a large chart which showed the ramifications of the industry-the paper industry, the rayon industry, and so on.
A third exhibit consisted of a collection of letters written by school children in Nova Scotia to those in Staffordshire schools. Another exhibit was arranged by a Head Master who had a relative in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company. He got into touch with him and obtained a suit of Eskimo clothes. He also had a model made of the kayak used by Eskimos. This exhibit centred around a large model of an igloo, complete with an Eskimo family, composed of some of the children in the school. The model was extremely popular, although I regret some of the children were ill, owing to the sweets given by the visitors.
The Staffordshire Geography Exhibition serves to show one of the ways in which we are training the children in England. I am mainly concerned with the method of teaching geography. Most of you gentlemen here, I dare say, are more concerned with results, but should not a pupil, who is going into business on leaving school, have some knowledge of the outside world, and know something of the life work and environment of other peoples? Such an interest is of enormous value because it helps a boy to understand the other man's point of view and in these days who would dare to say that this is not of the first importance to us all, not only because we have to deal with our potential customers, but .because we have to deal with our fellow men and women. In short, we have to become citizens of the Empire and citizens of the world. We, in England, still have much to learn. We don't think we know everything, but I sometimes feel that other nations do not know quite so much about our little island as we would wish.
For example, in an American textbook used in the Middle West, this is all that appears about the British Isles. It won't take long to read it: "The British Islesa small set of islands in Europe. Too large a population. Too great an opinion of themselves and far too big a navy." Of course there is some truth in it.
In passing may I say, and I hope I am not being insular, that many of us in England are beginning to think our navy is not big enough. For, after all, it was the British Navy that made it possible for the nations of our Commonwealth and, indeed, for others as well. to develop along the lines of unrestricted freedom and democratic government during the last century.
(Applause) In England our educational system is in the process of being overhauled. Some years ago there was published a report called the Haddow Report, which dealt with the education of children up to the age of a little over eleven years. We call it there eleven plus. That dealt primarily with the work of the children in what we call elementary schools which are free and in which the bulk of our children receive their education. Now, in these schools the pupils remain, as I said just now, until they are a little over eleven. Then they have an examination, on the result of which depends their future educational progress. The brighter ones pass to our secondary schools. Those who are not so bright pass to what we call senior schools. In the secondary schools fees are paid. The senior schools are free and in the senior schools training is largely of a practical nature. The boys learn carpentry and in some of the town schools, engineering, and they do remarkably good work. The girls learn cooking and needlework and other subjects of that nature.
Now, in the secondary schools the training is on the whole more academic. Our secondary schools, of course, are based on our old grammar schools, which go back for centuries--several hundred years--and our old grammar schools were originally founded to give instruction in Latin. They were designed for no particular class, but in practice they catered for the children of the wealthier people, or anyway, those fairly comfortably off, and I suppose the ancestors of many of you gentlemen were educated in these old grammar schools.
Now, in addition to these main grammar schools, which serve a restricted area-for instance, one might have a grammar school which would serve a small country town--there are others, called non-local grammar schools, and to these non-local grammar schools boys come from all over the country.
Well, as the years went by these non-local grammar schools developed into what we call our public schools. That is, famous schools, like Winchester and Eton. I often find some confusion among people who don't live in England, over the term "public schools," but in the public schools the education is much the same as it is in the grammar schools, except that these schools, as a rule, cater to boarders and are somewhat more expensive.
Other types of schools grew up side by side with the grammar schools. Such were semi-vocational schools which were established three or four hundred years ago by the sea coast and where, in addition to Latin, the boys were taught the art of navigation and mathematics, so they might become officers in the Navy or the Mercantile Marine.
Then there were the non-Conformist Academies. You know, in England several hundred years ago people who didn't belong to the Church of England suffered many disabilities, so the non-Conformists determined to have schools for their own boys who were sent to these Academies.
So you see our secondary school system is very varied. But, as fees are graduated according to income, the parents of about half the children do not pay any fees and three-quarters come from our state-aided schools.
Now, just before I left England there was published a remarkably able report-the Speno Report on Secondary Education. This report aims at bringing all our secondary schools under one unified system.
It also suggests that there should 'be established a new type of school, called the Technical High School. Now, in these new schools, boys will be trained for industry and the aim of these schools will be to use industrial training as a foundation for a liberal education. The report also says that more attention should be paid to English and English subjects than is done today. It also suggests that less attention should be given to acquiring facts and more to gaining what one might call experience. In the words of the report, "Education should be thought of in terms of activity and experience, rather than of knowledge to be acquired and facts stored."
Well, that sounds attractive, but to my mind, facts must not be neglected, neither must the acquiring of knowledge, for I do think it is important today that our children should have a substantial knowledge on which to base their future life when they go into the world and become citizens. But still the report has been very warmly received in England and it will lay the foundations of educating our children to play their part in a great democratic country for, after all, 20th century education will only be doing its part when it trains our youth not only for the privileges, but also for the duties of the 20th century life.
So I think I may say that in England our outlook has become more and more progressive and that we have gone very far from those days when an old Scottish Head Master of the very conservative type always called the junior members of his staff together at the beginning of each school year and gave them three pieces of advice: "Firstly, ram the facts home. Secondly, see that every boy knows every one of the facts. And, thirdly, whatever you teach, make sure your pupils hate it."
You Canadians and we English share in common our culture and our educational traditions. I should like if possible to see a greater interchange of teachers and professors and also of pupils. I should like to see an extension of that scheme whereby some of our boys pass a year or so in some of your leading schools here, while in exchange Canadian boys pass a year or so in England. I should like also to see more letters interchanged, more correspondence between the children in our schools.