AQA English Language & Literature Spec. B
Anthology 'Education, Education, Education' Part Two Text Notes
The transcript texts in Part two are grouped together and will appear on a separate page. I have indicated missing texts accordingly in the listing.
Text 13 (will appear on the transcript page)
Text 14 To School Through the Fields - Alice Taylor
Like the 'Ancient History' poem
in part one, this text is written by an Irish woman and is a recollection of her
childhood experiences of school. No date of writing is given in the introductory notes, but
references to earth privies and class sizes indicate that the writer attended
school in the early part of the 20th century. Because I am a sly old thing with
broadband internet access, I found out exactly where and when this book was
written - also what it is about. You can see the review, if the hyperlink works,
by clicking on the live link below
The writer uses a very clear style in rather a
simple register which to an extent replicates speech, rather like a good old
gossip round the fire. This of course fits the theme ideally, being a personal narrative
about a rural childhood in a very simple and beautiful part of the Irish
Republic. There is a gentle tone to the extract, as though the author has
achieved a great enough distance of memory for her to be quite philosophical
about the privations and hardships of a dilapidated building; autocratic priests
and 'slaps across the ear'. This is often a feature of autobiography, where the
passage of time leads the writer to a more benevolent point of view when
thinking and writing about the past. Taylor's school was very primitive, in a
rural setting near the River Darigle and it is obvious from the beginning of the
extract that she did not particularly enjoy having to attend it every day. This
was not because she hated school, but rather that she loved the countryside
more. There is a similarity in this piece to the Laurie Lee book 'Cider with
Rosie', or Flora Thompson's 'Lark Rise to Candleford' - both books which
celebrate the idyllic nature of a rural childhood. Even when the weather was
harsh in the 'black days........when the wind howled' there is an obvious
affection of tone and flashes of wry humour 'when the occasional rat peeped up
to join the educational circle'. Resignation and stoicism are evident too in her
description of the nature of the educational process - 'learning was not
optional and the sooner you learned that fact the freer from conflict life
became.' Could we say that the stoicism is evidence that the writer comes
from a different era - one, perhaps, where acceptance of the authority of
teachers and priests was unquestioned? This would certainly be true in a
rural Irish Catholic community.
Note also the reference to families and neighbours, who were 'not spilt up' but 'could all go to school together'.
The extract is anecdotal (but that is a common
feature of this genre) and the anecdotes are amusing discreetly related,
especially the incident about the 'sex life of a cow' which manages not to
mention anything in the slightest to do with the sex life of a cow except that
it has one and the 'circles....to facilitate bottoms of all sizes' in the privy.
The attitudes and values in the world Taylor inhabited as a child are interesting. We see an obvious closeness of community and of family; specific gender differences which were well understood and firmly entrenched ('the boys played football at one side of the yard and the girls...cat and mouse at the other side') and a very clearly defined education system which was 'not child oriented' with huge class sizes ('open plan' education) and corporal punishment. A modern audience (a young modern audience) would find Taylor's school experiences quite bizarre - even primitive. An older audience would probably respond quite differently, perhaps from personal experiences of their own regimented schooling. It is worth thinking about what purpose a text like this serves as a writing genre. Is it a historical document? A piece of self-indulgence on the part of the author? Can we learn anything from it except that life and education were both very different in past times? As a contextual exercise, it might be interesting to compare this with, for example, the Christian Brothers College Brochure (Text 26) to see the kind of curricular provision, aims and objectives which a Catholic education offered to its students earlier in the last century.
Text 15 Mysterious! - Frank Richards
The 'Billy Bunter' novels appeared after the Second World War, although the character of Bunter had been around long before that in comic books. Set in a fictional English Public School (Greyfriars), the stories recounted the adventures of Billy Bunter, the 'Fat Owl of the Remove' and they were immensely popular with children for many years. Worth noting here is the fact that 'public school' characters were quite a common feature of children's literature throughout the early years of the last century. Enid Blyton (cross your fingers, quickly - I'm talking about a politically non-correct author here!) wrote a number of novels about the pupils of a girls' school called Mallory Towers and we mustn't forget the Queen of the Hockey Sticks, Angela Brazil ("Gosh, Molly, you're jolly good at lacrosse, old thing!"). Comics like the Beano (which you'll be reading about in Text 20) and also one-off satires like 'Down with Skool' (Text 19) also featured the public school boy (Molesworth in 'Skool' and 'Lord Snooty' in the Beano). Public School characters are appealing, especially when the purpose of the writing is for entertainment, which the Bunter books certainly were, or for satire, which is evident in the Williams & Searle extract. The problem for the modern audience, though, is possibly one of plain old fashioned 'old-fashionedness'. Children's literature has moved a very long way from the simplistic stories of Angela Brazil and Enid Blyton (although JK Rowling is making a heroic effort to resurrect the public schoolboy hero in the Harry Potter novels) and the values and attitudes which were easily understood as an integral part of English society within the genre have changed, too. It is not for us to investigate here whether this is 'right' or 'wrong', merely to be aware that a text like the Bunter extract might pose serious problems to a contemporary 21st century reader, particularly in terms of lexical choices and linguistic change. So let's have a look at some of the oddities of the text.
There is a great deal of archaic and field specific lexis here. Words like 'Remove' (a non exam class), 'cacchination' (loud laughter), 'cynosure' (the focus of all eyes) 'prep' (designated time set aside to prepare or 'prep' homework before school next day) and 'con' (construing or translating a Latin or Greek text out loud in class) occur within the first three paragraphs. There are numerous references to Classical texts and the whole point of the narrative incident is Bunter's faulty translation of Virgil's 'Aeneid' in the pun 'O dea!' ('Oh, goddess" in Latin) as "Oh, dear!" and later as "Oh, Goddess, fathead!" which is funny, but has greater impact on an audience familiar with Latin. This 'dates' the text, of course, to a specific time (from 1945- 1970) and to a specific audience, educated either in this type of school or in a Grammar School. (All Grammar schools taught Latin as part of the normal school curriculum - some also taught Greek). Also you will have noticed that the text is gender specific, set in an all male school where pupils are addressed by surname only and with references to traditional games like cricket. You might like to think about whether it has 'female-appeal' or not (and that might be a good topic for an A2 investigation - a comparison of gender specific texts across fifty years or so?)
Another interesting thing about this text is the way in which it creates an enclosed 'world' with a very rigid set of rules and patterns of behaviour. Boarding schools have traditions and values which are very different to the vast majority of state schools and Greyfriars gives us a glimpse into this type of world, albeit one which has probably changed considerably since the time when this extract was written. It retains a delightfully farcical tone, despite the archaisms and dated lexis, because the direct speech exchanges between the hapless Bunter and the terrifying Mr Quelch (note the onomatopoeic name which also puns on the ideas of 'squelch' and 'quench') are so convincing. Quelch 'booms', 'raps', 'snaps' and 'exclaims', while Bunter 'gasps', 'mumbles' and 'blinks'. There is nothing 'old-fashioned' in this unequal contest between the victim and the bully and the replication of speech patterns, with hesitations 'I-I-I've lost the place, Sir' or Quelch's 'Wha-a-t!' reproduce the intonations and flow of spoken language.
Educationally, the values and attitudes illustrated are easily recognised. The education process here is formal and authoritative. Pupils are regimented and teachers are severe (even though this is exaggerated for humorous effect, it remains a realistic representation of a specific time and place).
Text 16 Essay 50 - of Studies by Francis Bacon
Is this the one that keeps you awake at night? Me
Written by a lawyer and philosopher in the 17th century, it uses rhetorical devices, most notably repetitive patterns of three - three part lists and two part oppositions (antithesis). Confused? It will get worse.
Antithesis is the placing next to each other of words or phrases or clauses containing contrasting ideas, for example, 'My thoughts fly up, my words remain below' (Hamlet). Speakers and writers achieve two things by using antithesis
In Ireland men are oppressed by
In England, the Church is oppressed by men.
Bacon also uses a technique called 'parallel
phrasing' to reinforce an idea or to signal climax of an argument. This
technique uses matching phrases and clauses to express related rather than
You need to concentrate on the way he uses the three part list, though, as that is mostly the pattern you will find in the essay.
Simply put, he introduces three ideas, then expands each idea. Sometimes he does it twice. Why? Because elegant use of rhetorical language was the mark of a scholar.
So what is it that Bacon is telling his audience? Paraphrasing the original text will give you a simple enough answer - study is delightful, gives the scholar the ability to speak or write elegantly, with 'ornament' and enables a man (note how sexist this is) to conduct business efficiently. And that is quite enough of Mr Bacon for now.
Text 17 Getting That Post - Marius Rose
This is another 50's text, written under a pseudonym (Marius Rose is the assumed name of the Director of Education somewhere in the UK who wrote this sexist tripe - not that I'm showing any prejudice here at all, you understand). The title of the original work is 'The Intelligent teacher's Guide to Preferment' - fifties-speak for 'How to get a job as a Head Teacher'. Included in the anthology to infuriate all females, probably. It certainly infuriates me.
It is a very sexist, biased piece of writing, but to be fair it is typical of its time if we are considering contextual issues. The fifties were not a time of equality of opportunity in education - this piece pre-dates feminism by a decade or so. Written by a man for men - clothes for male candidates are deemed 'important' but 'when the aspiring head teacher is a woman' they are 'even more so'. This misogynistic, patronising attitude is sustained throughout the article - 'competence as a headmistress is not necessarily displayed by a shiny nose and unkempt hair' or 'outer garments should look as if they had been selected by the applicant and not inherited form an aunt' lead us inexorably to the final insult of 'above all avoid wearing a hair net and use the powder puff with a steady hand'. Male applicants, on the other hand, are advised to wear 'a tidy and well-pressed suit of quiet colour' and avoid 'Club and Old School Ties, unless extremely distinguished', although there is a warning against the 'unseemly levity' of a 'sports jacket and flannel trousers, unless they constitute the applicant's whole wardrobe'.
The writer's tone is pompous and authoritarian and the polysyllabic Latinate lexis and complex syntax reinforce the self righteous gravitas of the speaker. This is a local government officer exercising his petty authority at full blast! Note the Victorian convention of inventing imaginary place names - the county of Drabshire and the pseudo-scholarly hypotheses - 'If it is argued that this advice...........the painful fact must be recorded' - ''It should be unnecessary to suggest that......' and so on.
A twenty first century reader is almost certain to find this extract ludicrously outdated, with its references to shiny noses and hairnets, 'little hats and veils' or 'Old School Ties' and 'well-pressed suits of sober colour' as necessary qualifications for appointing a teacher, but as an example of attitudes fifty years ago, especially towards women in the workplace, it is a very significant document. You might like also to think about whether or not appearance is still an important 'qualification' for teachers in today's job market. On the other hand, the reader who chose to consult the instructions in the 1950's would have found them not only sensible, but probably quite helpful. It may seem strange to think that a female reader would believe that her chances of becoming a Head depended on skilful application of the 'powder puff' (another of the words like 'gay' that have shifted meaning in half a century) but I assure you she would probably have practised the art before the interview. (Incidentally, she would also have had little expectation of landing the job at all, especially if it was in a senior school, but let's not go into this too deeply - just do a bit of research on how things used to be pre-Women's' Lib. and you'll see for yourself) I think it's time to leave this text, along with Mr Bacon's and move swiftly on to a nice nineteenth century poem.......
Text 18 The Day-School Master - George Crabbe
A very early nineteenth century poem
indeed. In fact the style is more reminiscent of the seventeenth century (have a
look at some Swift or Goldsmith - the 'Deserted Village' extract about the
village schoolmaster is a famous poem about a country schoolteacher and you'll
find the 'mock-heroic' style is similar to this one).
This is part of a much longer poem which examines the life of a town in the South East of England - this being a 'pen-portrait' of the day-school master. The job was not a prestigious one - he would probably be very poorly paid and would almost certainly have a huge number of children of various ages and abilities to teach, probably with limited resources and an inadequate building as well. Day schools were often founded by subscription and were for the purpose of teaching poor children in a parish. The teacher had to be licensed and his wages were paid out of the school funds. Evidently this master's pay is not generous, as the second half of the poem reveals how worried he is about paying his own household bills - 'he fears himself - a knocking on the door' (the bailiffs) and seems concerned about the amount he will have to pay to the parish rates (a kind of primitive income tax).
The first fourteen lines mislead the reader into thinking that this is a portrait of a stern and autocratic man. Note the imagery of God and King - the reference to 'Babel' and the description of the teacher's 'insignia of the monarch' lying on the desk beside him. He is the 'master' and 'none stand by him afraid'. He is 'judge' and also 'tyrant'. All these images carry powerful suggestions of a strict and forceful man, but the poem pivots in line 14, when we learn that 'he feels the father's and the husband's fear' and the second half of the poem shows us the vulnerability of a person who has another life outside the classroom, with many serious domestic fears and worries of his own.
A detached observer's 'voice' - a kind of unseen commentator invites the reader (using the inclusive pronoun 'we' in line one) to look at the room, with its 'soil'd' books in 'various heaps' at break time when the pupils (workmen) have 'fled' from the 'Babel'. We are given very subtle clues about the man at the desk, alongside the more obviously misleading descriptions of his tyranny, like the fact that his wig is 'askew', as though he had been very much agitated and slowly we are shown the truth - that the pupils who fear the master know absolutely nothing about him as a man. The reader is privileged to see what the children do not, because we are 'shown' his 'other' existence. The final couplet is very poignant as we learn that 'half the ease and comfort he enjoys, is when surrounded by slates and books and boys'.
This is really quite a beautifully crafted poem and despite the archaic language and stylised form, the sentiments are extremely relevant today. The idea that a teacher plays a role in class, having to act a part, is something that is not always acknowledged or understood, especially by the pupils (and if truth is told, by the parents as well). George Crabbe was an ordained priest, so it is not surprising that he chooses to consider a spiritual idea by metaphorically looking at the soul of the school master.
Text 19 A Tour of the Cages (from 'Down with Skool') by Williams & Searle
Ronald Searle was the one who drew the cartoons.
He was most famous for creating the dreadful St Trinians girls and you can read
about him (and see some of the cartoons) if you click the link here. http://users.netmatters.co.uk/ju90/ron.htm
Williams wrote the words, but both of them contributed to the content, which is
something of a classic reference text for superannuated schoolteachers of a
certain age! Like the Bunter books, this one dates from the middle half of last
century (1954) and once more takes the public school as its model. The central
character, one Molesworth, is hugely entertaining, if only because of the
absurdity of his spelling and depth of ignorance of all things literary. In the
book, Molesworth holds forth on almost every aspect of education, all of it, in
his eyes, a total waste of time, energy and effort. In this extract he attacks
English Masters (another male oriented text - I wonder why there are so many in
this anthology? Maybe you should analyse the reasons for your A2 coursework?)
Now if we are to be pedantic here (and we are to be, because you have to be in the exam) we should mention the orthography, which is very amusing and throws us into 'exstasies' because we 'kno' all about spelling, don't we? The illiterate Molesworth cannot spell, nor can he punctuate and his grasp of 'Peotry' is not secure at all BUT, CHIZ - he is FUNNY! There is something inexplicable about the effect of graphology like this - when you see phonetic (and eccentric) words with no punctuation, it makes you laugh. If you've come across the idea of 'stream of consciousness' in Literature studies (when the author 'pours out' the workings of the mind onto the page as they happen, with no conventional punctuation) then you'll realise that this is the style of Molesworth. When James Joyce does it, it's Irish genius - when Molesworth does it - we all fall about laughing.
Of course the text only works really well if the reader has the literary knowledge to appreciate the references. If you don't 'kno' t. s. eliot cristofer fry auden etc. etc' or other 'sissy stuff that rhymes' then you don't 'get the joke' and the impact of the text is diminished. So the text is being carefully 'placed' by the writers - Grammar School pupils again, I'm afraid. Sorry.
But on the other hand, there is enough farcical
anarchy in Molesworth's attitude towards all teachers, but English Teachers in
particular, to appeal to any audience that has suffered 'Peotry' study of
any kind, which is why Penguin Classics still publish and sell copies in all
good bookstores. True, there is some outdated lexis (what exactly 'CHIZ' means
is a mystery. Will some baby boomer out there get in touch with me and
translate, please?) but Molesworth's defiant 'I COULDN'T CARE LESS' must
still be a familiar and welcome response to the study of Shakespeare for many a
trembling exam candidate. How many of you would gladly 'spray them (us?) with
200 rounds from my backterial gun' while yelling 'boo to shakespeare'?
No surprise that this text is next door to the Bash Street Kids, which does in graphics what this text does in words. This is the anarchy of childhood with brilliant cartoons as illustrations (look at the expression on the Roman soldier's face). The poor old teachers don't stand a chance.
Text 20 The Bash Street Kids - 'Beano' Comic
http://www.beano.co.uk/index2.htm that's the url for the official 'Beano' site, complete with amusing sound effects! You can research the history and so on there and have a good laugh at the same time. Just click it, but remember you have an exam and you have to come back to read the rest of this.
The Bash Street Kids appeared in 1954 in the very popular 'Beano' comic, so you can see straight away one of the reasons why this text appears along with the Bunter extract and the Molesworth - all from the same mid 20th century period. The interesting thing to note is that the Bash Street Kids (the name itself is self-explanatory with its connotations of 'lower class' and violent behaviour) were created as an antidote to the 'upper class' characters like Lord Snooty (in the Beano and pre-dating the BSK's) and Molesworth and Bunter. Post war social changes and the advent of a Labour government after the war probably account for the move towards a kind of 'social realism' in literature. The Kids are working class. They wear caps and baggy jumpers and their teeth stick out, or they have holes in their clothes and spiky haircuts. Stereotypically 'lower class', in other words. They don't behave politely and they certainly don't show a 'proper' respect for authority. Their long-suffering teacher (who doesn't even have a name - just 'Teacher') battles to control them in every episode and rarely wins. If we were to be speculative (and why not, eh?) we might say that this new textual 'realism' fits in with the tremendous artistic upheaval that happened during the post war years. Do some research on things like the 'Angry Young Men' who transformed British drama at the same time and maybe even the advent of (whisper it) rock and roll and you might get an idea about how things changed. It was quite an exciting time, especially for young people. The adults didn't like it much, though. So the Beano was (and believe it or not, still is) a seminal influence on young readers. Did it encourage juvenile delinquency? Probably not, but you can see how anarchic it is and how threatening it possibly was at the time. (Go back and read the 'Intelligent Teacher's Guide' and see how adults were meant to behave and you might appreciate how terrifying it must have been to have a class like the Bash Street Kids in front of you)
So, let's look at how it's done. The Kids were always given the centre two-page spread in the comic and you have a classic one here, although this is not from the weekly edition, but from an Annual (they were so popular that whole books were produced for Christmas featuring favourite characters from the comic.) It was always in colour (the rest of the comic except for the front & back pages was produced in black and white) and traditionally BSK was black and red, although later editions used a wider colour palette as technology improved. The 'set up' to the mayhem was a one page, conventional story board, with six or eight squares to get the class and the Teacher into a situation where chaos happens. In the extract here you have the visit to an aviary (and aren't we predictable - you have a bit of 'Our Day Out' which is set in a zoo - what a surprise!) followed by the chaos inside the bird cage, then the resolution with 'Teacher' giving up on educational visits and taking the Kids to a fast food Chicken Grill (probably meant to be KFC). This extract is dated 1976, although one of the most impressive things about the style of the graphics is the way that they don't make any concessions to fashion. The Kids look and dress exactly the same as they did in 1954 and do now. Some of the accessories change and some of the references (like the allusion to KFC and Fast food here, for example, but the basic appearance and behaviour is always static. Why so? Probably because the emphasis is on the universal idea of kid versus authority, which hardly changes at all.
The representation uses conventional semiotics (signals) specific to the comic strip, with arrows labelling items, events, expressions ('pained expression') and sound effects written in upper case ('PARP!') Direct speech is enclosed in 'bubbles' and sound effects appear as well. The reader automatically recognises the paralinguistics and 'edits' them out of the dialogue. The jokes are either puns on bird names and the antics of the Kids, or deliberate distortions of semantics. 'Hey, you gannet' says Fatty to a gannet and 'I don't know who's the biggest gannet' says the observing keeper. On the centre spread the eye moves naturally up and down to 'read' each set piece between pupil and bird so conventional eye movements are useless - another piece of anarchic trickery by the graphic artists who made the page. As a media text, this is a very easy one to decode. It juxtaposes the whole conventional symmetry of teacher in charge of class and human as observer of wildlife, to human as animal and animal as observer of wildlife (children) and teacher as victim of children (who have no power at all over the animals). To anticipate the Russell text - 'Who's watching who's watching who?'.
Text 21 The Examiner-Of-All-Examiners (extract from 'The Water Babies') by Charles Kingsley
There is a website called 'The Victorian Web, and
the link here will put you straight on to the Charles Kingsley page. You can
research him very extensively if you have the time. Worth a look, because this
text is quite a complicated one. http://www.scholars.nus.edu.sg/victorian/authors/kingsley/kingsleyov.html
This is an extract from the biography which gives an overview of the novel:
"The Water-Babies touches upon most of Kingsley's favourite themes: the working conditions of the poor, in this case those of chimney sweeps; education; sanitation and public health; pollution of rivers and streams; and evolutionary theory. In the central character's spiritual regeneration, Kingsley presents a vision of nature as the tool of divine reality, which Thomas Carlyle and F. D. Maurice had taught him underlies the imperfect human world. Viewing nature as governed by a redemptive spirit allowed Kingsley to remain untroubled by Darwinism."
Don't be confused Darwinian references. The theory of the origins of man (evolution) caused a great controversy at the time it was formulated by Darwin, because it seemed to argue that man was not, in fact, created by God. This was seen as an assertion that God did not exist - a heresy in many people's opinion. Charles Kingsley was a 'Church of England parson, novelist, Christian Socialist and Protestant controversialist' according to his biographical notes, but he was able to 'remain untroubled' by Darwinism because he believed that nature was 'governed' by a 'redemptive spirit' - a neat way of calling God by another name, in other words.
You can see that the extract from this children's book is an allegory (a fable or a story that has a moral purpose 'underneath' the narrative form) and a useful exercise to do is to try to decode the allegorical images that Kingsley uses throughout it. Don't worry about the 'Water Baby' idea - a child reader wouldn't be particularly bothered about how Tom could live under water without drowning (just think how readily you probably accept the idea of a schoolboy fighting a dragon with a bit of wood in Harry Potter, or some four foot hairy-footed Hobbit trudging up a mountain in Middle Earth). Similarly, you need to remember that the Latinate lexis and quite complex syntax were standard forms in Victorian times, too, so the style, although odd to a modern reader, would be quite comprehensible to a Victorian child.
For us there are some very interesting neologisms, most notably in terms of character names. Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid are invented proper nouns, but of course they are imperative sentences with the words run together to make a single noun form. Allegorically they both represent moral figures (mother figures, in fact) who embody two different moral imperatives - both Biblical. 'Do as you would be done by' in the Bible is 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. The opposite - 'As ye sow, so shall ye reap' embodies 'Be done by as you did'. Victorian morality (at least on the surface) was underpinned by strict Christian principles, so there is no surprise in two characters like this in a book written by a clergyman. Twist the idea another way and you see that allegorically one figure is redemptive and embodies salvation while the other is judgmental and embodies the idea of sin and damnation. Strong stuff in the nursery.
Which brings us to the Examiner-Of-All-Examiners and the poor little radishes and squashed turnips exploding all over the place (called 'Tomtoddies' - another neologism). Obviously the tormented vegetables are allegorical children, because of the constant references to 'mama' and 'parents'. The parents (vegetables themselves) are ogres - 'foolish' people who cram their offsprings' brains with learning instead of letting them play. The resulting damage is graphically described with horrible images of rot, 'weeping', decay and brains 'running away'. The dreadful Examiner, like a Victorian bogey man is the 'idol' (of the parents?) who is 'coming' to test the children and 'there is no escaping out of his hands'. All this is told to Tom (the chimney sweep-turned-Water Baby) by another allegorical character in the form of a big stick (that, at least, is quite a recognisable image) which will 'have the thrashing' of the Examiner, on the orders of Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. Tom quite understandably runs away when he sees the Examiner who looks 'big and burly and dictatorial'. This daunting image of the Examiner could be intended to be a symbolic teacher and we can clearly see that Kingsley's aim is to deliver a sharp attack on the didactic, authoritarian method of teaching which was very much the norm in Victorian education.
The author, then, is staying true to form as a Christian, criticising the cruelty of 'foolish' parents 'cramming' their children with facts rather than letting them 'dance round the gooseberry bush as little children should'. The nightmarish, bizarre imagery (which is sustained throughout the novel) is certainly in keeping with the Victorian style of moralistic writing, although present day readers may not find it particularly attractive. Kingsley, as a Christian Socialist and reformer, is writing for a contemporary audience of children and their parents. The clever creation of the 'unreal' world' of the water babies would almost certainly fascinate a child (and possibly serve as a sharp reminder of what happens to bad little boys and girls who don't behave) and it would most certainly be understood as a moral message in allegorical form by the parents who read it to their offspring (including Her Majesty Queen Victoria, it would seem). The 'message' about education is both clear and relevant to a present day reader - let little children play and develop naturally, or cram them with facts and risk destroying them completely.
Text 22 Sharon: Incest by Liz Lochhead
You need to think about form here and also about
the way the writer has produced something that is both for reading and for
listening. (If you haven't started your AS coursework yet, then the monologue is
a very good choice for your listening piece and Lochhead is exceptionally good
at it, so you could pick up some tips, too!)
Lochhead is an ex-teacher and a performance poet and this piece was written for the stage. The character, Sharon, is a Scottish sixth former, 'doing the Bronte Heroes'. Note the use of capitals to signify emphasis on common nouns like 'Heroes', 'Dark' and 'Moody', which serve as 'stage directions' for the intonation of the performer and also as markers for the reader, who will naturally pick up the twin allusions to Victorian style and also adolescent affectation in speech. That device recurs throughout the monologue and the reader can 'hear', by implication, the variation in pitch, sometimes the 'inlift' (Mr Fleming had Denims on') and the distinctive intonation of a stereotypical teenager. (she's one of our Star Sixth Years.....')
Note also how Lochhead reproduces the Scots dialect, in the lexis and the syntax, with phonetic spelling of words like 'modren' (modern) and 'mibbe' (maybe) and inverted sentences like 'It was an absolute sin for the Bronte sisters, but!' (Have a look at some of Alan Bennett's monologues in the two 'Talking Heads' collections and you'll see that he does the same with various English dialects.) You would naturally expect to find a very demotic, informal register, too, and this is evident with phrases like 'dead lived in' and 'he's dead nice'. Many features of spoken language are used, with incomplete major sentences, hesitations, repetitions and some self repair, 'He's really...I mean, he's dead nice, Mr Fleming. Really.....intense....' Lochhead creates a very convincing characterisation, with a distinctive idiolect and clever paralinguistic features.
The theme of the monologue is certainly intriguing. Sharon (note the name - stereotypically 'lower-class'?) is a 'Star Sixth Year' according to Mr Fleming, but her grasp of the Brontes seems to be more 'Hello' magazine than Oxford University Press ('Bramwell was really mental', 'I was reading this serial in my Mum's 'Woman's Own' and this French Comte was.....dead Dark, and Moody............) 'Dead nice' Mr Fleming's interest in her might be genuinely altruistic - he might really have invited Sharon round to lend her a book but the audience/reader is never sure, especially when sharp tongued Mrs Fleming blows the cover about the 'what's-His-Name English lecturer' who was always 'on about' incest at 'Uni', revealing Mr Fleming's own lack of originality in the classroom and establishing her claim as the wife-in-residence. ('not tonight, Sweetheart, I'm right on target') The gullible Sharon (and we must remember that one of the most significant things about the monologue form is that you only get one side of the story) is obviously very smitten by a teacher who 'treats you like an Adult' but the dramatic irony of course, is that the audience sees quite another side to the story. 'Fat' Mrs Fleming is the one who 'sees off' the intruder and the implication is that it is not the first time she's done it.
One of the features of the genre is that the audience never knows the full story, because events are 'edited' by the speaker (as in real life). We only hear what Sharon wants to tell us, but the sub text (that which is not said, but which we surmise through what is said) gives us a 'window' on life outside the classroom in the form of a sharp piece of satire on unstable marriages and the murky waters of illicit pupil/teacher relationships.
Text 23 Zoo Song (from 'Our Day Out') by Willy Russell
Something of a favourite for easy-to-do school
performances and written by the same author who brought us 'Educating Rita' and
'Blood Brothers' . I have attached a short biography of the writer here which
gives you a clear idea about where he is 'coming from' with regard to this
particular extract and the views it expresses about education and 'factory
Willy Russell was born in Whiston, just outside Liverpool, in 1947. Fifty one years later Russell still lives in Liverpool, but now in an elegantly restored Georgian house bought with the proceeds of his playwriting career of the last twenty five years, in which time he has enjoyed a meteoric rise and is now the fourth most performed English dramatist after Shakespeare, Ayckbourn and Godber.
At primary school he enjoyed reading, football and gardening, but at his secondary modern school he was consigned to the factory fodder D stream. It was in this surprising environment that he conceived the idea of being a writer. Dismayed at the prospect of factory work he failed to obtain a printing apprenticeship, so at his mother's suggestion he trained to be a women's hairdresser. He worked at his trade for five years (in this way acquiring his ear for the way working class Liverpool women speak) eventually running his own salon. There on slack days he would write sketches, poems and songs.
Seeking a career which would give him a greater opportunity to write, he decided to become a student, having now passed O Level English at night class. No Local Education Authority would give him a bursary, so he spent some time girder cleaning at Fords in order to fund his college O and A level studies. In 1970 he trained as a teacher and, at the prompting of his first girlfriend Annie (now his wife) who originally interested him in the theatre, he studied drama at teachers' college and began writing plays there.
Three of these early one-act efforts under the collective title Blind Scouse were performed at the 1972 Edinburgh Festival fringe and were spotted there by the established playwright John McGrath. Russell was quickly commissioned by the Liverpool Everyman Theatre. He was also asked to rewrite a Manchester written documentary about the Beatles, but said he was only interested if he could write his own piece on them, and thus was born his first big hit, John, Paul, George, Ringo . . .and Bert (1974) which quickly transferred to the West End, was given two awards as Best New Musical and ran for a year. He has been a full-time writer ever since.
His subsequent works for the stage, most involved in some way with a character's quest for self-fulfilment, are: Breezeblock Park (1975), One for the Road (1978), Stags and Hens (filmed as Dancing Through the Dark) (1978), Educating Rita (1980 Society of the West End Theatre Award as Comedy of the Year) and Shirley Valentine (1986). In 1983 he wrote two musicals, Blood Brothers (named Best New Musical that year by London critics) and Our Day Out. The latter is based on his 1977 television play of the same name. His other television credits include One Summer (1983), King of the Castle (1973), Break In (1974), Death of a Young Man (1974), Boy with the Transistor Radio and The Daughters of Albion (1979) and Terraces (1993). In 1983 the Open University awarded him an Honorary M.A. in recognition of his work as a playwright. He is currently at work on two novels.
Educating Rita was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and premiered by them at their London studio venue, The Warehouse, in 1980. The production starring Julie Walters and Mark Kingston was quickly transferred to the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End and ran there for three years. The film version featuring Julie Walters and Michael Caine was released internationally in 1983.
This is an edited version of Mr Alister Mcdonald's article, 'Seeking Fulfilment in Liverpool: The Plays of Willy Russell', which appeared in Critic, 65, 2 (1 March 1989), pp. 14 - 15.
'Our Day Out' was originally produced for television as a 'play with music', then transferred to theatre in 1983. The plot is simple - a 'bottom class' out for a day trip to North Wales from an inner-city Liverpool school, so there is an immediate similarity here with the Bash Street Kids idea (see notes on Text 20).
You should comment on the conventions of stage script layout here, because this extract is the only play script in the anthology, so look at stage directions given in italics and characters' names designating who speaks to whom. Remember that a play script is a working document for actors, not a piece of transcripted speech or a piece for a reading audience. What appears on the page is a set of instructions for the actors' voices and movements and also for designers and technicians (lighting, props and so on) Don't forget, either, that the script is a vital thing for the poor old backstage prompt who has to sit in the wings with a pencil torch and hiss the lines to the people on stage if they forget their words. The best way to get the feel of the thing is to read it as actors would do on a 'read through' in rehearsal - you won't be able to do the song (unless you've been in a production at school, of course) but you will be able to appreciate the intonation/pace/rhythm of staged speech.
Because there is a song here, you might like to think of it as a poem and look at poetic devices like rhyme, alliteration and metre (or rhythm) - the 'beat' in other words. You'll see that it's a chant, with heavy emphases on alliterative repetitions like 'But it's borin', it's really borin', which suggests the playground. Note also the dialectal element, with elision and non-standard spellings like 'shoulda' and of course the colloquialisms and very informal demotic lexis, 'smelly', 'telly' as well as the simplistic, childish doggerel of the rhymes.
The dialogue, primarily between Mrs Kay, Mr Briggs and the various children on the trip, reveals a great deal about attitudes and values and brings us into the heart of Russell's play. Much of his work deals with social issues and concerns and this play is no exception. The interaction between the two teachers and the children clearly points out the differences in attitudes of a teacher (Mrs Kay) who is a pragmatist and one (Mr Briggs) who is a 'traditionalist' towards the pupils. Mrs Kay is realistic - she 'knows the score' (my phrase there) about what to expect from the children, while Mr Briggs does not. He is concerned about behaviour 'now walk properly, properly.......' and doubts that any of 'these people' can be 'trusted' without close supervision. Mrs Kay (probably much older and more experienced than Briggs) shows a much more tolerant attitude. To her they are not hooligans and the trip is not the 'chaos' described by Briggs. For Mrs Kay they are 'kids with a bit of space around them, making noise' and the trip is just a 'good day out'.
You need to look at the dialogue between Briggs and the children (lines 42 - 78) first to see how Russell illustrates the way the children see themselves and their world. Russell uses a simple metaphor of zoo animals in captivity to illustrate the 'captivity' of the children - in this case their metaphoric 'captivity' in their deprived urban 'zoo'. Looking at the 'dangerous' bears in the pit, Briggs tells Ronson not to forget that an 'animal like this would have been born into captivity......so won't know anything other than this sort of existence'. Ronson answers his own question as to why the bear would 'kill people' with an acute (if uncomprehending) statement that because the bear is 'kept in here' it is 'bound to go mad' when it 'gets out'. The audience makes the connection between 'urban' and 'natural' captivity, but poor Ronson doesn't. Dramatic irony, there. This idea is cleverly expanded in the argument later between Mrs Kay and Briggs, with her impassioned speech about the grim realities of the children's lives. 'It's too late for them', they were 'rejects the day they came into the world' and the chilling, 'You won't educate them because nobody wants them educated.' leads into a scathing attack on the British education system. 'You'll never teach them', she tells Briggs, 'because nobody knows what to do with them.'
Remember that although you 'hear' Mrs Kay, Mr Briggs and the children (much more clearly in a scripted piece for the stage than in conventional writing) you are also 'hearing' the voice of the playwright, Russell, whose intention here is to attack social injustice through the generic medium of stage performance. He does it with passion - you must judge whether or not he does it with or without objectivity.
So now you need to think about audiences. A play, especially one written originally for television, is bound, as a mass media text, to reach a very wide audience. You need to look carefully at the effect of Russell's polemic (political opinion) on that wide audience. How would it appeal, say, to a middle class suburban, professional viewer, compared to a grown up version of Ronson? What would a teacher make of it? How would a top set pupil react to the Kids? Would a Northern viewer have a very different reaction to one from London or the South and why?
Finally, there is the question of how this text presents ideas about the education of children (from both 'sides' - teacher and pupil). Briggs seems to be idealistic, which supports the idea that he in inexperienced, perhaps new to the job, while Mrs Kay's passionate opinions about 'factory fodder' and the state of education indicate that she is, older, more experienced, more informed, or just plain cynical (or a combination of all of these). As a teacher, I'm inclined to venture the opinion that she has seen far too much and spent far too long trying to make bricks out of straw, but that's subjective, so don't quote me, please. As far as the kids are concerned, they represent everything that Mrs Kay mentions in her outburst. They are inarticulate and unruly and unmotivated (everything in the zoo is 'borin') but they display a sharp, if unformed understanding of ideas about cruelty and captivity and by implication the injustices of both.
Look, also at the way the two girls try to link Mr Briggs and how he avoids the contact. They are probably just being spontaneously affectionate, but even their physical presence is something Briggs cannot tolerate as it is, in his eyes, inappropriate. We do not see Mrs Kay doing anything affectionate in this extract, but Russell strongly implies that linking arms with the students would be something Mrs Kay would do to show her affection and maybe also her pity for these unfortunate captives of the urban zoo.
Text 24 Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College - Thomas Gray (1724)
The Penguin Dictionary of LIterary Terms & Literary Theory defines an ode as follows:
ode - (Greek - 'song') A lyric poem, usually of some length. The main features are an elaborate stanza-structure, a marked formality and stateliness in tone and style (which make it ceremonious) and lofty sentiments and thoughts. In short an ode is rather a grand poem; a full dress poem.
It goes on to talk about different types of ode -
public and private. Public is used for 'ceremonial occasions, like
funeral...state events' while private odes celebrate more personal occasions and
tend to be 'reflective' or 'meditative'. The origin of the form is Classical and
both Greek and Roman poets developed it. Naturally enough it became a
significant form of 'Literature' in many cultures including our own. The one we
study in the anthology is from the 18th century, although you will find numerous
examples from earlier times, if you care to do some research.
Gray was a famous scholar with a Classical education (Eton and Cambridge) and the age in which he lived and wrote is often called the 'Augustan Age'. It was a period of literary excellence which harked back to the Classics (Greeks & Romans), particularly the time of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus and the great poets and philosophers of his time (Virgil and so on). You might also see it referred to as the 'neo-classical' age, which means 'new classical', i.e. a 'new look' at Classical thinking and sentiment. It was characterised by an elegant style which was fluent and tasteful, with a great deal of refinement. Writers were sober and poised and wit was stylish. In other words, the output of the Literary scholars of the time was 'high culture'. You might also see the phrase 'golden mean' or the Latin via media (middle way), both of which describe the literary attitude of mind at the time.
To an extent, the Augustans were something of an antidote to the wild excesses of the post Restoration period (1660 onwards) which was characterised by excessive bawdiness and vulgarity. In embracing a more sedate and lofty style of writing, thinking and philosophy, the Augustan scholars were, in a sense, setting a 'good example' and distancing themselves from the vulgarity of 18th century life.
If you have thought at all about the meaning of 'Art' or 'culture', then you will probably have come across the adjectives 'high' and 'popular'. The Augustans considered themselves to be culturally 'high' and the Gray poem here shows this quite clearly. Gray is contemplating his old school, Eton College - one of the most prestigious and oldest established schools in the country and reflecting on his time as a pupil and on the lives of pupils past and present.
The style is obviously 'lofty' - note the constant use of apostrophe (a Classical figure of speech where a thing, a place, an abstract quality, an idea, or a dead or absent person is addressed as if present and capable of understanding). Gray 'talks' to Eton College, Windsor Castle, the River Thames (personified here as 'Father Thames') and bids them look, with him, on the 'little victims' (the students) as they 'play'. Gray here, seems to 'place' himself above the scene, like a benevolent God and characterises himself as an old man with a 'weary soul'. He outlines the actions of the tiny figures below, who 'urge the flying ball' (a reference to the playing fields of Eton, which are very famous indeed) and whose lives are 'gay', with 'buxom health of rosy hue'.
The tone of the poem at first is nostalgic and benevolent, with references to the thoughtless joy of the young students with 'spirits pure' and 'slumbers light', but the ode changes its mood in line 51, with the reference to the 'doom' of the 'little victims', who have no idea of the 'ills to come'.
A catalogue of nightmarish figures, personified abstracts like 'Passion', 'Anger', and 'Shame' (a Classical convention) stalk the students and Gray predicts how each will destroy its 'little victim' in later life. Eventually the 'griesly troop' (archaic orthography - modern speling 'grisly') of Death's 'family' are introduced, with the inevitable idea of the end of existence.
In line 95, Gray turns the mood once more, with a deliberate rhetorical question to the unseen reader 'Yet, ah! why should they know their fate?' The unseen 'God' will not reveal the realities of mortality to the innocent children, for 'thought would destroy their paradise.' The poem ends with one of the most misquoted epigrams in English poetry 'No more; where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise.' (An epigram - from Greek 'inscription' is a Classical device - a short, witty statement which may be complimentary, satiric or, as here, aphoristic.)
Yes, I'll define 'aphoristic'.
An aphorism is a concise statement of a truth. An insight. A piece of wisdom. Gray tells the reader the truth - if the students don't know the truth, why spoil things by telling them? Gray is 'wise' - the students are 'ignorant' ,but he would be foolish in his 'wisdom' to spoil their 'bliss' (happiness) by telling them the truth about life and death, so he chooses not to do so.
So you need to put this into a context. As far as the topic of the anthology is concerned, we have here an interesting and unusual point of view. The pupil as an old man (and a scholar) contemplating the innocence of youth and the joy of schooldays and also the inevitability of the passage of time. It would be easy to dismiss this poem as 'old fashioned' and irrelevant to the present time, but to do so would be to miss something very significant. Gray deals here with universal questions about life and death; youth and age. He addresses the ode to the students (himself included) of Eton College, but the sentiments apply equally to any student in any school. Leave out the specific contextual references to Eton, Windsor and the River Thames and concentrate on the philosophical ideas about how lives change as people grow up and you will see how relevant Gray's points are.
Linguistically, you will notice things like elision - a common stylistic point of the Augustan poems; rhetorical devices like apostrophe, aphorism and epigram and also the archaic use of personal pronouns like 'Ye' for 'you'. You may also comment on the Latinate lexis, and remember that this, too, was an essential ingredient of neo-classical writing.
Elegant, scholarly and very Augustan. Don't dismiss this one.
Text 25 The First Time - Evelyn Waugh (from 'Decline and Fall')
The novel 'Decline and Fall' from which this
extract is taken, was first published in 1928. Waugh spent some time as a
teacher and the experiences of the central character, Paul Pennyfeather, are
obviously based on Waugh's own. The 'first time' referred to in the anthology
title for this extract is the first encounter a new teacher has with a class of
adolescents in a small Welsh private school and very unpleasant it is, too.
The use of the word 'mob' by Grimes (the Head) sets the mood at the beginning. Paul's anxiety is clearly indicated - he is 'dumb with terror' as he enters the classroom, having just heard the 'burst of applause' from Prendergast's pupils in the next room. He has also been told to 'keep them quiet' and not to 'try to teach them (note the italics) anything'. The boys have 'eyes bright with expectation' which clearly shows the reader what is coming next.
The encounter between Paul and the pupils is a classic example of 'teacher-baiting'. (My students all confessed to having witnessed exactly the same kind of thing - some even admitted they had been involved practically, the naughty things!)
Paul is given the 'run-around' by the boys, with typical tactics. Repetitive greetings, "Good morning, sir"; contradictions ""No, sir, I'm Tangent." and deliberate 'misunderstandings' quickly lead to classroom chaos and a fight. Paul is outnumbered and completely controlled by the mob - a classic case of intimidation. His response, also, is predictable - he loses his temper and shouts at the class, which only makes the mayhem worse, until he is 'rescued' by Grimes, who appears with the walking stick.
Armed with that and resorting to a combination of browbeating ("I shall keep you in..." and "I shall very nearly kill you with this stick") and bribery (There will be a prize of half a crown......") Paul manages to survive until the end of the lesson.
Paul does not 'teach' the class anything, but learns a valuable lesson in crowd control. As soon as the stick appears, the class settles down. The task they are given is meaningless - Paul himself says the prize of half a crown will be awarded to the longest essay 'irrespective of any possible merit' and Grimes' instructions to 'set them something' show that the object of the lesson is only to restore a semblance of order. You may want to wax lyrical in an essay about the injustices of this, but think about it before you become philosophical. What Waugh is writing about here is absolutely realistic. Classroom discipline is based solely on a mutual respect and understanding between teacher and pupils. Clearly in this school (and in most schools at the time this novel was written) corporal punishment is the main sanction available to teachers. Once Paul has the stick in his hand, the implication is that he will use it if he needs to. The pupils understand this and so they settle down - self-preservation comes into play. Paul may not like the way he has to restore order (indeed his 'despondent' gaze out of the window clearly shows how demoralised he feels) but he knows and the class know what the rules are. Note also that the mayhem starts quickly but it stops quickly, too. Once the pupils have a task (and it doesn't seem to bother them what the task is) they settle down to write the essay and 'all was silence until break'.
You need to think about whether or not the situation written about here is relevant to the present day. I would suggest that it very probably is, apart from the absence of corporal punishment. The teacher here is young and inexperienced - unknown to the pupils. There is no established relationship and it becomes very clear that the class, with its established solidarity, is a very real threat to the individual put in charge of it. The balance of power shifts, but only when the threat of punishment is introduced and imposed. What 'punishments' work in present day education? You might like, also, to look at a reader's reaction to the extract. How would a teacher respond to this? How do you - as a pupil - feel about Paul's ordeal?
Text 26 Christian Brothers' College Prospectus
One of two prospectuses in the anthology - both
from fee paying Catholic schools and both selective (they 'pick' their pupils).
This one dates from the early part of the last century (1907) although it is
clear that the values and attitudes written about are more Victorian than
Edwardian, rooted firmly in nineteenth century ideology.
The Christian Brothers is a religious organisation, founded by Edmund Rice in Ireland in the late 18th century. I have included a short biography below:
A Very Short Introduction to Edmund Rice
Edmund was born in Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1762. As a young man he came to the bustling port city of Waterford and worked in his uncle's business. He was talented and energetic, and soon became a very wealthy man. In 1785 he fell in love and married Mary Elliott. However, his happiness was shattered with the tragic death of his wife just four years later. Mary died in childbirth and Edmund was left with a handicapped daughter.
This shattering experience was to mark a decisive turning point in Edmund's life. He spent more and more time in prayer and in helping the great numbers of people in Waterford who suffered poverty and injustice. In 1802 he set up a free school for poor young people. Having provided for his daughter, Mary, who was cared for by his family, he left his comfortable house and lived over the school.
Influenced by the work of Nano Nagle and the Presentation Sisters, he gathered around him a group of men, forming a religious community of Brothers dedicated to "raising up the poor". Today he is honoured as the Founder of both the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. Many others were attracted by his vision and generosity, and the educational mission of the Brothers spread throughout Ireland and many parts of the world. This mission continues today on all five continents. The Brothers along with Associates and lay colleagues seek to alleviate poverty and injustice. All followers of Edmund Rice are committed to education as liberation.
The first thing you need to do is read the section called "Our Ideal". There you will find the ideology that underpins this school. ".....it is true that in every good Christian school worthy of the name 'Religion alone brings into accord our intellectual, moral and emotional nature.'" Please remember that you are studying this as a piece of writing and you need to be very objective when you comment on the attitudes and values expressed here. The Christian Brothers are motivated (they still exist and have a number of schools in the UK and around the world) by Christian principles. You need to understand what those principles are, whether or not you have a Christian belief. Put simply, we are talking about obedience to the Ten Commandments and also the 'New Commandment' taught by Christ to 'love one another'. Edmund Rice's biography also contains the following information, which may help to make these principles a little clearer. (The emboldened text is my addition, for emphasis)
Edmund read and interpreted the Gospel of Jesus Christ
mindful of the moral, social and political realities of his day. He saw the plight of the Catholic children of his town and looked to
restore their dignity through a process of liberation through education. He longed to see them rescued from:
an oppressive political situation
an aggressive system of religious discrimination
a future without the prospect of employment
a life of ignorance and exploitation
a life starved of spiritual nourishment
the closed circle of anti-social behaviour
a life of poverty and powerlessness
a life of economic dependence
Look back at the notes on Charles Kingsley and
you may see that we are dealing here with a similar type of person - a social
and moral reformer, motivated by Christian principles. So what are the values
and attitudes expressed in 'Our Ideal'? basically the school's ideology is to
'educate' far beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge. Abstract words like
'will', 'courage', 'seriousness', 'love of truth', 'respect' and 'reverence'
figure significantly in the statement, together with a very serious intention to
foster religious faith, described here as the 'inexhaustible fountain of hope'. Idealistic
it most certainly is and written in a very lofty tone, too, with references to
'true men' and 'honest striving'. There is, as you would expect, a Victorian
'ring' to the words, together with allusions to the Empire with 'honourable
positions' in 'distant lands'. The emphasis on 'health', 'drill' (primitive
P.E.), 'cricket & football' and 'recreation on Brandon Hill' are
typical of the Victorian ideas of 'healthy minds in healthy bodies' and as you
would expect from a religious school, there is emphasis also on 'Religious and
Moral Training', although it is also interesting to note the exemption from
prayers at parental request. The 'Moral Training is extended to all' but it is
not imposed so it would seem that the fee paying parents still have some
If you look at the 'Detailed Curriculum (and I assume that this is only an extract from it, because there is no mention of Science subjects, despite the pictures of the laboratories) you can see that the Maths is very dated and traditional and geared towards elementary book keeping or elementary University science, while the English is very firmly rooted in Grammar skills and the English Literary canon (that's Shakespeare and the Great Writers). This would be quite normal for the time and teaching is obviously by traditional methods. Note the layout of the classrooms, with their rows of desks and chairs and the master at the front sitting at a high desk. There are no pictures of the 'recreation on Brandon Hill', probably because parents would want to see evidence of more 'serious' activities.
Another quaint touch is the picture of the 'College Boys' on p52 which was taken in the holidays, but shows a very large number of pupils still in school. This suggests that the College is a boarding school as well as a day school and perhaps that the parents of the pupils are themselves in 'distant lands'. It was very common for married couples in India, for example, to send their children 'Home' to England to be educated - often not seeing them for many years. The poem is particularly sentimental, but again it is very typical of the time.
Note also the florid layout of the brochure, which uses a number of different fonts and flourishes in the Art Nouveau style. This is odd to modern eyes, but would be quite up to date and appealing in 1907, as would be the references to the 'latest hot water system' which heats the classrooms. Compare the layout of this brochure to the one from St Bede's (text 31) and see how things have changed. There are no quotations from satisfied parents here, for example.
The Christian Brothers' brochure clearly targets a specific audience of Christian parents whose aim is to secure a moral and spiritual education for their children. You should not comment on whether this is 'right' or 'wrong', but you should be able to make some comments about the different ways education is perceived by those who run schools and by those who send their children to them.
Text 27 - Life at Rugby School - Louis Stokes
A very poignant collection of 'letters home' from a public school boy, Louis Stokes, written in 1912, just before the start of the First World War (1914-18). As you will notice in the introductory notes, he was killed at the battle of the Somme in 1916, barely a year after he left full time education. It is therefore possible he was little more than 18 years old when he died.
The first thing you will notice is the ingenuous (childish/innocent) tone of all the letters. Tone is one of the most difficult things to assess in English, because so much depends on knowing about the context of the writing. Here we have the childish babble, almost, of a young boy whose life is privileged and untroubled. At the time of writing England had enjoyed almost a century of peace and prosperity and was a dominant world power with a huge Empire. Within six years, all that was utterly changed. The carnage of the Great War destroyed a generation of young men and left a troubled and uncertain legacy. Have a look at the photographs of the family on pages 62 and 63 and try to assess what kind of life they must have lived. (Look back at the Christian Brothers brochure and read again the passage headed 'Our Ideal', to refresh your memory of what was expected of 'youth on the threshold of manhood') It has to be remembered, as well, that Rugby School was (and still is) one of the most important of the English Public Schools, so you might also like to look at Grey's Ode on Eton College and think about the way in which he suggests privilege and elitism as well as the irony of the references to what awaits the young boys playing on the College Green. As readers 'in the know', so to speak, it makes the letters from this young boy all the more affecting. He is so innocent of what awaits him - all his concerns are about whether or not the toast is burnt, but we know what is going to happen to him. (Have a look on the contents list and read the articles on irony - which is what I'm getting at here.)
The next thing you might like to consider is the
writing style. Louis uses a very contemporary colloquial register. In fact, you
might be able to argue that there is a good deal of field specific lexis here,
too. The references to 'fagging' were (understandably) quite amusing to my
students, who have a completely different understanding of the meaning of the
term! Here it refers to the business of younger students doing errands for older
ones, in Louis' case, making toast, taking papers to teachers and cleaning out
the rooms (dens) of the Sixth form. Once that was clear, they stopped making
references to activities of a sexual nature (nice bit of euphemism, there!) The
point is that anyone who understands the contextual use of the word responds in
a different way to a reader who doesn't.
Back to the slang, then. For the modern reader, much of it is outdated - some of it is now obsolete - but for the contemporary reader (in this case the boy's family) it would have been perfectly understandable. You might make the point that it wouldn't have been regarded as 'proper' language, even by his devoted family - Louis is 'talking on paper', so he uses a very informal register, because he knows (as we all do) that you can be 'natural' in a letter. he would certainly not have used such a large amount of slang if, for example, he had been speaking to a Master. Notice also how the syntax is erratic and how the sense of what he says is often quite elliptical. Again, this is because we have an example almost of conversation, with some false starts and repairs.
So what do we learn about 'education' in these letters? Have a look at what Louis says about 'Physics, which is Newton's fault' and we see a real precursor of Molesworth. 'I can't' says Louis, 'see the good of lessons at all.' Nothing very much different in 1912 to 2003, then? Sport is important (even though it's quite an obscure reference to 'Fives', rather than the more recognisable football) and it is 'great fun in the House.' By far the longest letter we have here goes into great detail about the 'codes of conduct' which are obviously very much a part of the Public School system. Notice how important, for example, it is to walk the right way round the table to take the toast to the Sixth form and also the reference to the 'best part of the fire' with a specific way of 'bagging' (seizing) the hottest part. You will be tempted, maybe, to dismiss this as a specifically 'upper class' thing, but have a think about the codes of behaviour that exist in all schools and perhaps you might see that doing things in a certain way, or saying things in a certain way are still important in all schools, whether private or State, so maybe things haven't really changed at all - only the language and some of the customs. 'Doing it like everyone else' is probably just as important today as it was in 1912.
Text 28 - The One Thing Needful' - extract from Hard Times by Charles Dickens
This is the opening chapter of a Dickens novel,
published in 1884. A social reformer, (remind yourself of the Kingsley extract),
Dickens wrote a great deal about the plight of the poor and the injustices of
the Industrial Age. What you will find in all of his work is tremendous detail
and a great deal of figurative language. Here he uses a metaphorical image to
describe the central character, Mr Gradgrind, comparing him to a square building,
like a factory. You obviously see the similarity to the theme of the 'Water
Babies' extract, where poor little dead chimney sweep Tom meets the exploding
turnip-children who have been over-stuffed with 'facts'. Here Dickens uses a
similar idea, but without the allegorical fantasy. Mr Gradgrind (notice the
conceit of the name - a typical Dickens trick) is all too real. We could almost
say (if we were VERY brave and didn't mind the Dickens Police knocking on our
door at three in the morning) that the description is a little laboured - maybe
even a little too long and even that there is rather too much repetition of the
'square' imagery. We could, but we will remind ourselves that this was entirely
in keeping with the writing style of the author who in turn gave his readers exactly
what they wanted which was lots of detail and a cracking story line.
Dickens wrote in episodes, for a variety of magazines and so he was always writing to a specific word count. The readers (and they numbered millions) expected value for money and so that's what they got. Huge numbers of characters; multiple, interlinking plots, intricate detail and Victorian sentiment by the bucket load. If you feel like a little diversion, have a look at one of the most famous of his 'set-pieces', the death of Little Nell from 'The Old Curiosity Shop'. Apparently public anticipation of this particular episode was at fever pitch and there is a story that the harbour was besieged in America when the ship arrived with the latest consignment of magazines for the fans! Several people apparently fell into the sea! Go on, then.......here's another - when Dickens did his reading tours (all over the country reading out extracts from the novels) his rendition of the murder of Nancy by Bill Sykes in 'Oliver Twist' used to make women faint with horror. (I bet it was the tight corsets, though.) If you want to research the man, go to the Victorian Web by clicking on the link but be warned - you may never return...http://18.104.22.168/victorian/authors/dickens/dickensov.html
So what is there to interest us in this very
short extract? Obviously you'll see the Latinate lexis and the very complex
syntax - typical of the genre and the author. You could also comment on the
extended metaphor (line 8 - line 24) with which Dickens describes the physical
appearance of Gradgrind. Note, too the repetition of the imagery of 'squareness',
as well as the use of simile within the metaphor. You can say that
Dickens does strain at times to keep the description credible (the reference to
the 'crust of a plum pie', particularly, is quite clumsy). The children,
described as 'little vessels ready to have gallons of imperial facts poured into
them' is rather a neat allusion perhaps to the Victorian Empire (ask yourself
whether there is some irony intended here from the author?) The tone is quite
austere and harsh and the alliteration with its sibilant repeated 's' sound,
Education in Gradgrind's world (and his school) is a harsh, dry, repetitive process. The children are not even described as humans, but 'vessels'. Gradgrind, as the name suggests, is a brutal, dominant master. The 'schoolmaster and the third grown person' are pale shadows - not developed here at all. It is the central ogre of Gradgrind who is obviously meant to be in charge. He is not the teacher, note, but it is quite clear that he is the power in the school. So is this educational scenario typical of the time the novel was written? It is exaggerated, certainly, but the novelist is allowed artistic licence (and Dickens certainly liked to take a LOT of artistic licence, so it's not untypical of his work). Victorian education ,especially for the poor, was rigorous, when it occurred at all. The setting of the novel is the urban industrial city, so we can assume that the 'vessels' are not from the privileged upper class, but the children perhaps of artisans (workers). The extract does not give us a picture of learning as pleasure, but rather the idea that children are little more than 'reasoning animals', which suggests that education for them was a form of brutal torture.
Texts 29 & 30 appear on the transcript page (still in preparation)
Text 31 - St Bede's College Prospectus.
This is an interesting text and the first thing
you must think about is the intended audience. Obviously this is informative
writing, but is the information for the pupils or their ambitious parents?
(There are no prizes for the right answer.) You might like also to think about
the persuasive purposes here, as well. 'St Bede's is the leading Catholic
Grammar School in the North West' (what an imposing set of proper nouns to start
the document off) and the prospectus (note the Latin derivative - this isn't an
information leaflet or a brochure, but a 'prospectus' - a very deliberately
academic and 'prestigious' choice of word) carries on in a very lofty and rather
patronising tone which is sustained throughout. Pick out some of the descriptors
- 'leading', 'occasional', 'essential', 'rigorous', avowedly', 'extensive',
exciting' - all designed to reinforce the idea of sustained excellence.
A rather topical and fashionable style trick here is the use of the 'pull quote' in emboldened italics, to make it highly visible and to draw the eye to the comments of 'satisfied customers'. The comments, though, are manufactured and appear to be invented. How many first year pupils really talk like that (page 68). The tone of the narrative is very assured, too. The 'voice' here is obviously intended to sound like a confident Principal, although there is no mention of any staff member by name. The applicant parent is being addressed by the Head and the Head is the one with the power!
Any teacher will tell you that this writing is full of educational jargon - 'facilities', programme of activities', 'extra-curricular', 'committed staff', 'guiding principle' and so on and so on. There is also a relatively small amount of religious lexis, but compare the very specific references to religious education in the Christian Brothers document to this one and you will see that St Bede's, the modern Catholic school, talks a great deal less about Christianity and a very great deal more about academic achievement and passing exams. Note, too the exclusivity in the comments about 'Committed Christians from other denominations' and the 'rigorous education' in an 'avowedly Catholic framework'. Religious as well as academic elitism? Non - Christians and average intellects, presumably, need not apply.
This is a piece of writing intended to impress adults. What effect it would have on a pupil is hard to gauge. In fact if you think about some of the inferences in other texts about the harm done to children by stuffing them with 'facts' it would seem that little has changed in the past hundred years! Something else you might like to consider is the stubborn reluctance of sections of the British education system to discard the selection process. Grammar schools were supposedly phased out in the early 1970's to make way for a more egalitarian system (see earlier comments about Comprehensive schools) but a number of areas managed to retain selective education and St Bede's is part of that number. This has led to a three tier system, with the private sector at the 'top' - the maintained and Church schools as a kind of 'top tier' of State schools and the comprehensives for everyone else.
As you can obviously see, this extract, like the dreadful Text 17, can have a very polarising effect on a reader. Ambitious, middle class Catholic (and Committed Christian) parents would probably kill to get their child into a school like this and would respond to the very biased, exclusive tone of the brochure in a positive way. Unfortunately the process of selection involves 'rigorous' entrance examinations, so the hapless child is once more at the mercy of the ambitious parent - stuffed with 'hard facts' in order to fulfil parental ambition and a desire for prestige and privilege. This is not, I fear, the best way to inspire a love of learning.
© Val Pope March 2003