Friday, August 22, 2014

percival keene

I am in the midst of reading one of Frederick Marryat's books Percival Keene in which he describes the exploits of a young man growing up at the end of the 18th century in England. His books, being out of copyright protection are free on Google play. His character, Percival is a mischievous boy, full of pranks, and his grandmother, to get even for his escapades, made certain he was sent to a school in which he would suffer from corporal punishment. You may remember the old saying, "spare the rod, spoil the child" and Percival's grandmother and the teacher shared that line of thought.The teacher in Percival's first school had three ways of inflicting pain. One was the ruler, which would be hurled across the room at whomever he thought was deserving of it at the moment. Once hurled, the teacher would demand that it be returned so that it could be hurled again. If a teacher were to try that these days, safety glasses would be required for the object at the time was for the child to be hit in the head. The second tool of enforcement was a stick with a hole at one end and this was used to slap hands and rap knuckles. The third tool of inflicting pain and embarrassment was the birch rod, which would be used to whip bare bottoms of the children the teacher felt most anger toward.

Percival learned quickly that the 3rd, the birch rod, considered worst punishment was best, for by being beaten regularly, it was lessened in effect. Once the butt became hardened and if the child hollered convincingly, it was almost the same as getting off scot free. Not one to simply allow himself to be hurt without consequence, Percival devised ways of punishing the teacher as well. In one incident, he stopped the teacher from taking his sandwiches at lunchtime by putting poison in them along with the extra mustard the teacher demanded. As a final prank, he put the teacher out of business by blowing him up. The teacher had confiscated all the boy's' fireworks on Guy Fawkes day, and put them safely under the crate that served as his dais. Percival added half a pound of gunpowder to the mix and a trail that he could light. The result was that the professor was blown to the ceiling and the tenement in which the school was housed was burned to the ground.

In any case, Marryat, the author, had some interesting things to say about education, based on his own personal experience of such:
"Commence with one child at three years and with another at seven years old, and in ten years, the one whose brain was left fallow even till seven years old, will be quite as far, if not further advanced, than the child whose intellect was prematurely forced at the earlier age; this is a fact which I have since seen proved in many instances, and it certainly was corroborated in mine."
I am always astounded that those who have practical experience in the world may have a different view of education than so many who have taken a purely academic approach to learning. In the US, educational  policy makers assume that if kids are not reading by the time they reach first grade, they need to force them to read in Kindergarten. Then if children aren't reading by Kindergarten, they want to force them to learn reading in pre-school. All this is made interesting when we compare the US to Finland, where by starting children to read in school at age 8, they far surpass American children (according to PISA testing) in 30 percent less time, while also learning English in addition to their two national languages.  It is noteworthy that our own that over 21% of American children live in poverty compared to under 5% in Finland.  But Americans seem to regard other Americans living in poverty not being a concern for national interest, whereas forcing students to achieve in schools is.

Those who have been chained to desks are thus the least cognizant of what it takes to learn in the world. Marryat, as a young man had run away from home three times in his efforts to go to sea. His parents, exasperated, finally allowed him to become a midshipman in the British Navy, where he distinguished himself through a variety of daring exploits, finally retiring as a Captain, and making a number of important contributions including a code for communication between ships.

The point I would make is that there is no such thing as a brain being "left fallow." In Percival's case, he was a mischievous child, one who prior to schooling carefully navigated means through which to have fun. Fun and play are the true source of most effective learning.

Today I did a bit of woodturning at my old school shop, perhaps my last creative act in that space, and I am continuing to move tools from the old school wood shop to the new. I turned the ball and cylinder for the book on Making Froebel's gifts.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Doug. Enjoyed your post (yet again). Where will woodshop be housed now? Do you have any pictures?