Letter Courtesy of the Armitt Trust
Often times I hear people say that Charlotte Mason was only for elementary children, and the P.N.E.U. was only for the wealthy and upper middle classes. And, there really is not much proof that Mason’s educational theories and practises worked with economically and socially deprived children. In 2014 Andy and I went to England to visit our daughter and after our visit with her, we went on to the Lake District to connect with friends for a week. While at the Armitt I stumbled across this letter which seems to have been written by the head of a school in Middlesbrough which is on the Tees estuary and between Newcastle upon Tyne and Whitby, England in the UK. The writer of the letter identifies the school as a P.N.E.U. school and wishes to add to the “measure of the effect of these methods in Elementary Schools.” Based on what the letter indicates, the school is in a very poor neighbourhood and serves children and parents that have a hard time in life.
Notice that the author (unknown) uses words that today we find offensive. Nevertheless, if you read on into the second half of the letter, I think the heart of the author comes to light. The change in the school seems to be radical.
I have included a copy of the letter as photographs. And I have typed the letter as I understand it with only a very few minor spelling changes.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
29 November 1922
Copy of Letter from Lower East Street Boys School, Middlesbrough
We are approaching the conclusion of our third term’s attempt to carry out P.N.E.U. methods and whilst I know you already have some measure of the effect of these methods in Elementary Schools, I think further testimony may be of interest.
This is a slum school, two hundred yards from the river and docks, surrounded by the lowest type of brothel “doss” house, drinking bars and farthest removed of any school in Middlesbrough from green fields and lanes.
Most of the children are unshod, illclad, under-fed and live in over-crowded rooms – very often unfurnished – without conveniences for the ordinary decencies of life. There is an entire lack of discipline – mental, moral, physical – in the homes and surroundings.
In the schools there is much repression and excessive corporal punishment (I often wonder if you realise the tawdry and soulless sham that passes for education in many urban elementary schools) and this school was no exception.
The day I took charge (2nd May, 1921) there was an uproar in the street. A boy had been severely punished and had slipped out of school and roused the neighbourhood. A semi-drunken slut rushed into the school “to twist the – – – – teacher’s – – – – neck.” Daily squabbles with parents about punishments were taken by the Staff as a matter of course.
—— — — — — — — — — — — — — — /Now, teachers . . . .
Now teachers and scholars are bright and eager in their work. Irregularity and unpunctuality are reduced to a minimum and there is no corporal punishment. The work to the scholar is becoming a much more important thing than the teacher is.
And there you have what is to me one of the most important features of the P.N.E.U. methods — they compel the teacher to study the child — in setting this task and discovering the why of that failure: and with this study “all the other graces follow in their proper places.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Does this spur questions in your mind like it does in mine? For example, do our educational practises elevate children the way the application of Mason’s practises do? What about her methods so often, even today, elevate children to a higher way of living (thinking and acting)? Should we not take note of her ideas and beliefs? Could what happened in this Lower East Street Boys School not happen now? Or are we willing to allow Mason’s beliefs to be only for certain people? Through her theories and practises do we not have the means to change our society? I hope we don’t just worry about our own, but that, as I believe Mason did, we are concerned about all children throughout the whole of society because we are only as strong as our weakest link. There could not be more evidence of this, than there is today.
© 2015 by Carroll Smith