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Art. I.--Reports of the Committee of the Home and Colonial In
fant School Society, for the Years 1841 and 1842. [Other Publications which have emanated from the Society to be noticed
in the course of the article.] There are some subjects so affluent of fact and suggestion, that one is perplexed how to enter upon them. What to reject and what to select are the questions that create the main difficulty. But should the subject happen to have been the occasion of keen controversy,-still more, should it labour under the misfortune of being the theme of present and contemporary conflict, then its exactions become severer and more formidable; so that a journalist who is desirous to avoid party warfare, may well feel doubly alarmed, when he finds himself called upon to discuss it. · Education at this moment may be instanced as one not only of the most pressing topics of the day, but that which is bringing into hostile array troops of ardent and able combatants, gathered from all quarters of the land. True, there are grounds for hope and gratulation in this state of matters; for better it is to be astir than dormant, regarding such a paramount affair,--the presumption being that light and life will arise out of the commotion, and that at length a right direction will be taken towards the full development of social order and individual worth as well as intelligence throughout the nation.
To us, in the meanwhile, however, it is matter of thankfulness that the immediate subject of the present paper cannot in any sound and candid mind remain a question of serious doubt and contention, the moment after it is fairly explained or its scope illustrated. This it will be our pleasurable duty to attempt, as guided by documents before us, and other evidence; although we cannot pretend to execute the task with anything like the fulness and closeness which the subject demands, and of which it is so richly susceptible.
The institution under review, which was established in 1836, not only professes and undertakes to train and to instruct children from a
VOL. II. (1843) NO. II.
very tender age up to their eighth or ninth year, but to present the most perfect system that has yet been devised and brought into practical operation, for conducting infant schools, -- not only to cherish and gently develope the opening faculties and feelings of the little ones, until they are able of themselves to regulate their own exercises with some degree of tension and profit, but to furnish a Model Infant School for the training and instructing of Infant School Teachers.
But before entering upon the character, functions, proceedings, and actual results of the * Home and Infant School Society,” whose establishment is now fixed in the neighbourhood of King's Cross, London, we have to admit that objections have been taken to institutions of the name,-nay, that errors of such a serious nature have attached to them, as to warrant opposition as well as suspicion. Let us notice the sententious dicta of that great literary talker, Coleridge, upon the subject of Infant Schools, and reported to have been uttered by him on July 24, 1832.
In “Specimens of the Table-Talk” he thus expresses himself :“ I have no faith in act of Parliament reform. All the great—the permanently great-things that have been achieved in the world, have been achieved by individuals working from the instinct of genius or of goodness. The rage now-a-days is all the other way; the individual is supposed capable of nothing; there must be organization, lassification, machinery, &c., as if the capital of national morality could be increased by making a joint stock of it. Hence you see these infant schools so patronized by the bishops and others, who think them a grand invention. Is it found that an infant school child, who has been bawling all day a column of the multiplication table, or a verse from the Bible, grows up a more dutiful son or daughter to its parents ? Are domestic charities on the increase amongst families under this system? In a great town, in our present state of society, perhaps such schools may be a justifiable expedient and choice of the lesser evil; but as for driving these establishments into the country villages, and the breaking up the cottage-home education, I think it one of the most miserable mistakes which the well-intentioned people of the day have yet made.”
It is for the bishops and others who patronize infant schools in which bawling all day a column of the multiplication-table, or a verse from the Bible takes place, to reply to him whose great forte, it has been said, was monologue rather than dialogue. Had he, however, lived to hold converse with persons actually acquainted with the “Home and Colonial Infant School Society;" or had he but for an hour or two visited in person the institution in Gray's Inn Road itself, he would not have run riot into any sneering generality, neither imaged to himself bawling children, nor aught of the mere parrot-practice kind.
We might object to the term driving made use of by the “old mun eloquent," as quite inapplicable to the system adopted by the institution more immediately under notice. But we hasten to remark upon the idea of breaking up the cottage-home education," -a thing so beautiful to the imagination, and so susceptible of being garnished with poetical sentiment; yet alas ! in the present day, so often unrealised, so grievously opposed to fact.
The objection is to the supposed confinement and restraint interfering with the healthy freedom of the homely cottage; to the artificial regulations supplanting the mother's fostering and natural care; to the cramming prematurely the tender mind with facts and ideas, instead of allowing it to enjoy the sweet method of development that has been ordained by an all-wise Providence. But how far must arguments of this description yield, when the objector visits an infant school, and becomes an eye-witness of the cheerfulness which there prevails among the young community; where, instead of imprisonment, he beholds the children placed in welleonsidered conditions for pleasurable training rather than of dall teaching; and where, in the place of quarrelling and bawling, or of rudeness and the indulgence of bad feelings, there is every syinptom of kindly affection, mildness, and order, that the dreamers about infant innocency can readily imagine, coupled too with that activity, glee, and sportiveness so essential in the spring of life. It must be admitted, however, that such an attractive spectacle would not entirely reconcile us to an organised institution of the kind, were it to be compared to the Arcadian picture which many form for themselves when speaking of agricultural districts, of a thriving peasantry, or the sunshine days of England's rural history. But look at the actual; and then, even in the sequestered nooks of the country, instead of homely guardianship and comforts, of maternal tenderness and natural training, you shall find at this day in very many instances something much more closely resembling desolation and abandonment; for the mother whose bosom may be hourly yearning towards her child, is obliged to betake herself to field-labour from morning till eve, in order to add a pittance to the weekly earnings of her hard-worked husband; that the little one, if cared for and watched in any measure at all, has been given over for the time to the notice of a neighbour; perchance to one of her own offspring, who is only a step higher than the infant, and who has to forego the needful schooling for his years in order to perform most inadequately, nay, perniciously to both, the office of nurse and parental guardian; or at best, some old, fretful woman in the vicinity, when unfit for aught else, is supposed fit to keep an infant seminary, and to her the child is consigned for nearly the livelong day, to be huddled up with other victims of a like age, and to learn anything but what is healthy to mind, soul, or body.
How much farther then must the objection yield when these circumstances are taken into consideration, even as relates to rural districts! But must not the case of infancy appear more desolate and desperate still if you conduct your survey to manufacturing districts and towns, where mill-labour usurps the mother's hours, and all the evils combine which have of recent years been brought to light, by the investigations of philanthropists, statistical societies, and boards of parliamentary commissioners; where indoor squalor and street-vice pollute and encompass childhood with a fell and irremovable leprosy? Or should the London-abiding citizen desire to have his convictions confirmed on the side of humanity and truth, let him institute in person his inquiries into the condition and manners of thousands in the immediate vicinity of the Infant School which is planted in Gray's Inn Road, and next direct his steps to that establishment; and the most sanguine friends of the system there in active operation, need not for an instant tremble for the verdict of the honest and intelligent visitor.
The Home and Colonial Infant School Society, although presenting to the candid and competent inquirer, an institution and system of training and discipline, as well as of teaching and positive instruction, that cannot, we think, admit of controversy or opposition, and therefore stands out in beautiful relief from the establishments and theories that are at present agitating the community, is yet a subject so teeming with fact and suggestion, that we are at a loss how best, and in a very limited space, to describe its character and indicate its promise. Even its literature is growing to an extent, that we cannot well embrace the publications, so as to notice each with any degree of minuteness in a single paper; nor is it improbable, before we can return to the topic, the increase may be so great and rich, considering the health of the institution, the vigorous talent buttressing it, and the cheerful zeal which animates its patrons and office-bearers, that we shall experience an utter inability to keep pace with the progress by outline strides. Ere that period arrive, however, there are firm grounds for the confident hope that the seedsowing shall have been so broadly cast, and the ripenings so golden, that all without explanation or pressure may read the facts as they run, and appreciate their value without book computation.
The institution under review, which has been honoured with the patronage of her Majesty, and that of many other persons distinguished by their rank or extensively known for their benevolence, has for its object both negative and positive good. Look at the preservative side of the subject. And here we quote certain observations in the Report of the year 1841, where the conimittee of the society enter at some length into what they consider should be the leading objects of early education, and into the manner in which it is attempted to carry out these objects of the Model School :
Is it a small gain that children are removed from the contagion of the streets ? that the first sounds they are accustomed to hear, are not those of profaneness and indecency ? that they ase, for a time at least, preserved from the effects of the capricious indulgence and harsh punishment of parents, who, in their ignorance, too often lavish the one without judgment, and inflict the other as a vent to their own ill temper. To show the need of such institutions as a preservative against physical evil, we have only to advert to a single statement taken from the public papers. It appears by the returns from the city and liberty of Westminster, and the city and eastern division of Middlesex, that during the last twelve months no less than 245 children have been burnt to death in those districts, chiefly owing to their parents leaving them alone in a room with a fire in it. The greater number were the offspring of the working and poor classes of society, whose business takes them from their homes.
The positive good is the setting forth the true principles of early education, “to supply lessons and materials for carrying out these principles, and to prepare teachers of known and decided piety' for the work.” Such is a short index of the objects and extent of the Society. Its labours and fruits have already been of no mean character or amount; for it has not only an average attendance of above two hundred children, but,—and this is a prime feature of the institution which we are anxious constantly to present,-about seven hundred teachers have been here prepared, many of whom have established efficient schools either at home or in our colonies. Nursery governesses have also been trained at the Model School ; while the system is making steady progress in the wide field of usefulness that is daily opening for its operation. And just as the field widens, experience improves, and plans mature.
The theory of Pestalozzi has been kept pretty closely in view by those who have planned and instituted the practices of the Home and Colonial Infant Schools. This enlightened philanthropist laid it down as a first principle that “ Education has to deal with the mind, the affections, and the bodily organs, and should simultaneously, harmoniously, and progressively, develope all the various powers with which man is gifted.” It is also a most important, an essential object of all training and teaching, that the affections of the young be influenced, beginning even with infancy. It is not enough that the principles of human nature be not allowed to remain dormant, but that the improvement of the disposition be from the first earnestly contemplated, although this latter idea has by the vulgar of all ranks been the thing least thought of. How much then must be undone in multitudes of cases when boys and girls are sent to parochial schools, before even a rightly conducted system of education for that period of age can effect a real improvement of moral principle and feeling, or be productive of permanent benefit! Hence the use of, and the necessity for, Infant Schools in the seats