I have written about Household before. Thanks again to the excellent archival work of the team at Charlotte Mason Poetry, I have just read another of his speeches from the time when he was Director of Education for Gloucestershire in the 1930s. So much of what he says still rings true today. I would love to know more about this man: he comes across as so broadminded, with a good and generous nature. And he expresses himself so beautifully. To think that the equivalent of today’s head of education in a rural County Council could write and think in such terms!
The full speech is here. A few excerpts below..
Under the pressure of examinations, and the demand for certificates, there may be an appearance, an increasing but deceptive appearance, of efficiency; there may be an increased absorption of information, which serves its main purpose if it is retained till the examination week is over; but I gravely doubt whether there is a greater percentage of intelligence or of culture.
It is the tendency to exaggerate the value of oral teaching, of uninspired text books, of manipulated information, that we have to guard against to-day. The ideal pupil of the moment is he who will not let his school down in the examination room, who can be relied upon to get his school certificate, who has handy all the information necessary, and has responded to the anxious drill in the use of it. Whether that wonder has been stirred in him out of which philosophy is born, whether he has caught the spirit of the great writers—poets, essayists, dramatists, historians—whose works he has begun to read, whether he has developed imagination, a trained intelligence, a cultured interest in the things of the mind, that will stand by him for life—there is hardly time to think of that with examinations always in the offing.
There was this to be said for the old way of Greek and Latin. It was a slow and painful road, but the books had stood the test of two millennia. Great minds spoke from their pages thoughts that compelled attention and begat thought. We might have done better perhaps if we had had more English, and if we had thought less, as we read laboriously, of difficult exercises to come in prose and verse, and more of the substance of the book; but at any rate we were spared the empty clatter of the oral lesson, and its sequel of ingenious but unprofitable questions.