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THE BELL AND LANCASTER SYSTEM_WHAT THERE IS
IN IT FOR THE SCHOOLS OF THE SOUTH,
By G. B. MORRISON.
The method of instruction known as the Bell and Lancaster system carries forward the work of the school, including instruction, order, and discipline, by the mutual activities of the pupils, under the supervision of ono master. In this system the pupils teach one another; the more advanced of each grade are selected to teach those of the next lower. This method of instruction does not belong exclusively to Bell and Lancaster. It is as old as the human race; it has been practiced in all ages and is still in vogue. Wherever children congregate there exists a school of mutual instruction, wherein the knowledge possessed by each child is imparted to those not already in possession of it. Children in the home teach one another. The first steps of the baby are often directed by the older children, and in every wellordered home each child is made to feel in a certain way a responsibility for the safety of the younger and more inexperienced members.
Mutual instruction is natural. Knowledge is contagious and will spread wherever artificial conditions are not set up against it; wherever the vacciue of pedagogic proscription is not thwarting it.
The mutual or monitorial method of discipline and instruction was in vogue in the schools of the Hindoos as early as 1600. It is said of John Sturm, a teacher of the sixteenth century, that he employed monitors both to perform the work of instruction and to attend to the practical details of the schoolroom.
In 1565 Trotzendorf in his school at Goldberg appointed monitors from his highest class—which he taught himself-to teach the lower and less advanced. He gave two reasons for the practice: (1) That his financial resources would not permit the employment of assistant teachers, and (2) that by teaching the papil-teachers learned more, and more thoroughly, than they possibly could by being continually instructed.
As early as 1680 the Abbé de la Salle, in order to relieve the pressure of large numbers of pupils at Rheims, inaugurated a system of mutual instruction which rapidly spread throughout France.
But a complete history of this system is beyond the scope of this paper. I shall therefore limit my remarks to some of the leading facts in the life work of Andrew Bell, of Joseph Lancaster, and of William Bently Fowle.
Andrew Bell was born in St. Andrews, Scotland, in the year 1753. At a very early age he showed a strong inclination and ability for learning. In school he was an apt pupil. He learned his Latin well, but had a decided proference for scientific and
mathematical studies. While a pupil he manifested a dislike for the inethods and practices of the schools, and sought to correct them. He managed, however, to keep in school, and had one or two favorite teachers who understood him and offered him encouragement. He maintained himself in the further pursuit of his studies by private teaching. At the age of 21 ho came to America. Concerning his stay of about seven years in this country little is known except that he was engaged a part of the tine in private teaching. At the time of his return to Europe he was private tutor in the family of Carter Braxton, a wealthy merchant of Virginia. Two of Mr. Braxton's sons accompanied their tutor to St. Andrews, where they pursued their studies with him, both as teacher and fellow-student, Mr. Bell attending the classes with them. This experience gave Mr. Bell the opportunity of seeing the advantage of serving at the same time as pupil and teacher. He soon afterwards took orders in the English Church and was sent to India, where he received an offer to tako charge of a military male orphan asylum, situated at Madras. At the " asylum he found ono master and two ushers employed in teaching less than twenty boys.” These teachers knew nothing of school management, and, notwithstanding the small number, the pupils had only one lesson a day. The boys seemed dull and stupid, and the work was formal and spiritless. Dr. Bell first tried to educate the teachers, but soon found that with qualification for their work came dissatisfaction with their positions.
While endeavoring to devise some plan to overcome these difficulties, Dr. Bell chanced one day to pass some Malabar children who were writing in sand that had been strewn for them on the ground. Like Archimedes when discovering the law of floating bodies, Dr. Bell went back to his school saying, “Eureka! I have found it!” He at once directed that his ushers try the sand process. This they did against their own wills and under protest. As might be expected, they soon pronounced that method of teaching a failure.
But Dr. Bell was a man of clear head and determined purpose. He saw that the success of his plans must be reached through control of the minds of his assistants. He therefore appointed a boy of 8 years to teach the alphabet class. (This, let us remember, was before the “word method” came in vogue.) The immediate effect of this experiment filled Dr. Bell with hope and a determination. He saw before him a great principle; he saw Frisken—the boy first selected-rise suddenly from dull-eyed indifference to something like manly pride and dignified responsibility.
The littlo children, under their youthful teacher, at once showed an interest, seeming to see that, after all, the alphabet was not so far off if Frisken could teach it. They saw that one of their own number had been honored, and they were full of hope for their own possibilities. Being relieved from a feeling of distance which they had felt existed between them and the ushers, they wrestled with Frisken and the alphabet as they would with sticks and stones in building a dam across a stream. They soon learned their letters and were ready and anxious for more victories. The ushers became disgusted, leaving the field to Dr. Bell and the pupils.
From this time the work of appointing teachers from among the pupils became the distinctive feature of the school. The success of the plan is thus spoken of by Dr. Bell in one of his official letters: “Let me add,” says he, “that having had the charge of this school almost six years, from its infancy, and feeling all that interest in its welfare which arises from my situation, from the years I have spent, and the toil I have bestowed upon this favorite object, I can not conceal my joy and satisfaction in observing that since the late dereliction of our masters the school has improved beyond what it had ever before done in the same period. A new teacher from among the boys, whom I had trained for the purpose, had been introduced, and the more the boys teach themselves and one another, the greater I have always found the improvement. Nor has their comfort, in every other point of view, been less promoted.”
Dr. Bell resigned the school to other hands and returned to Europo in 1796. He published a voluminous report and several pamphlets on his system, which has ever since been known as the Madras system-'a mode of conducting a school by the medium of the scholars themselves." His writings attracted wide attention, and the plan was taken up and tried by many leading educators of the time. All of these trials were made in connection with the education of the poor, who, on account of the expense of tuition, would not otherwise have received any educational advantages,
Another important feature of the system was the industrial element which entered into it. Dr. Bell organized a school at Swanage almost wholly on the industrial plan, tho manufacture of straw plait being the medium for the exercise.
From about the year 1800 the Madras system assumed a religious significance, and was used and fostered for the promotion of political, educational, and religious ends. This new impulse was probably excited by apprehension for the work of Joseph Lancaster (of whom we are soon to speak), who was educating thousands of poor children by a similar monitorial system and under dissenting auspices.
The efforts of Dr. Bell and many other high churchmen resulted in the organization of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. As a result of this, large sums of money were raised and expended in the establishing of schools on the Madras plan in various parts of Great Britain and Ireland. The system did not end with the lower but was carried to the teaching of the higher branches, and, according to the testimony of those who practiced it, with much success.
Thus wrote Dr. Russell in 1818: “It is now about five years since the Madras system was first introduced into the Charter House School. The difficulties which we encountered at first have gradually decreased, and I have no hesitation in declaring, after the experience of five years, that the system is as well adapted for tho communication of classical instruction as it is for the education of the poor in the first elements, and I observe the interest and attention of the scholars increases in proportion to their advancement in learning.”
Dr. Bell was a financier as well as educator and philanthropist, and the large fortune which he amassed was devoted to religious and educational institutions, the most noted of which is the Madras College of St. Andrews.
Closely allied to the work and methods of Dr. Bell was that of Joseph Lancaster, who was born in London in 1778. This unique character was the exact opposite of Dr. Bell, except in his insight into and faith in the system of mutual instruction. His parents wero respectable, but not wealthy; he was possessed of an earnest, sincere, and philanthropic nature; he was a reformer by instinct, fervid in his aifections, and had an abounding love for children. He saw the condition of the children of the poor and opened a school, free to those who could not pay, in his father's house.
Mr. Lancaster's school soon became so large that after several changes he had a building erected at his own expense. His pupils, both boys and girls, soon numbered over 1,000. Over the entrance to his door appeared this notice: "All that will may send their children and have them educated freely; and those that do not wish to have education for nothing may pay for it if they please.”
Mr. Lancaster joined tho Society of Friends and made the Bible a part of the courso of study. His school attracted much attention and excited great interest. The idea of pupil-teachers did not occur to Lancaster before he opened his school. Tho mother of his invention, as in the case of Bell, was necessity. Bell first used it to improve the quality of the teaching in a school previously existing. Lancaster devised it to meet the demands of large numbers with small expense, and both were inspired at its results.
Lancaster soon found himself with three prominent possessions, viz, some strong friends, many bitter enemies, and numerous debts. His generous nature and lack of financial ability involved him so deeply in debt that he went to prison in default, but was soon released through the kindness and faith of his friends. Ho even attracted the attention of King George III, who gave him money to extend his system by travel and lectures. Mr. Lancaster's friends—those that stayed by him in adversity-were few, but they were of the right sort. It is not always the number of a man's friends, but the character of those that he has, that speak most for his real character. Lancaster was fortunato in bis. Among these were William Allen, William Corston, and Joseph Fox. They paid Lancaster's debts, amonnting to £4,000, and afterwards, by the aid of others, raised £11,049 with which a new school was built, in which thousands of poor children afterwards receivel the elements of an education. These ste:ufast friends were all business men noteil for their piety, integrity, and philanthropy.
Mr. Allen thus describes his first visit to Lancaster's school: “I can never,” he says, “forget the impression which the scene made upon me. Here I beheld a thousand children collected from the streets where they were learning nothing but mischief, all reduced to the most perfect order, and training to habits of subordination and usefulness, while learning their lessons and the great truths from the Bible. The feelings of the spectator while contemplating the results which might take place in this country and the world in general by the extension of the system thus brought into practice by this meritorious young man were overpowering and found vent in tears of joy.”
Lancaster's embarrassed financial affairs were assigned to trustees. The British and Foreign School Society was formed, and Mr. Allen became treasurer. The Borough Road School, as Lancaster's school was called, became, under the auspices of this society, "the model training school."
The society became one of the greatest educational forces the world has over known, sometimes spending during a singlo year the sum of $100,000. This powerful organization to carry on the work started by Lancaster was, like those of Bell, ostensibly for the education of tho poor. Both were Christian, and made Bible teaching an important factor. The Bell organization was under the Established Church. That of Lancaster was an organization of the friends of humanity in gen eral, and was much broader and more liberal in its scope. The fundamental rule of the Bell society was that the catechism was to be taught. The fundamental rule of the Lancaster was that it should not be.
These facts are here given merely to show the great amount of good which has been accomplished through the agency of mutual instruction under earnest and intelligent leadership. It is unnecessary here to detail the weaknesses of Mr. Lancaster and the misunderstandings which sometimes existed between him and his best friends; neither is it to our purpose to discuss the validity of the respective claims of Bell and Lancaster as to the rights of possession and priority in the use of the monitorial system. In its time the controversy was tinged with bitterness, but at the present we can afford to give credit, free and unstinted, to both of these men for doing a great and good work. It was in 1818 that Mr. Lancaster came to America; he came to introduce his system into this country. His reception here was by some cordial and by others hostile. The hostility was chiefly from the teaching class, whose practices and methods Mr. Lancaster did not hesitate to denounce.
Lancaster had the faculty of enlisting the cooperation of the influential classes. As an illustration of this, I quote from De Witt Clinton, governor of New York, in a speech which he made on the opening of a free school in New York City:
“I confess," he says, “that I recognize in Lancaster the benefactor of the hunan race. I consider his system as creating a new era in education, as a blessing sent down from heaven to redeem the poor and distressed of this world from the power and dominion of ignorance. Although the merits of this apostle of benevolence have been generally acknowledged in his own country, and he has received the countenance and protection of the best men in Great Britain, yet calumny has lifted up her voice against him, and attempts have been made to rob him of his laurels.”
Among Lancaster's many friends in America were John Adams, Cadwallader Colden, Dr. Hosack, Thomas Scattergood, President Nott, and Robert Vaux. By a class this movement in America was called a delusion. In the vivid educational parlance of our own time the same class would have called it a fad or a craze.
Monitorial schools were established in Albany, Boston, Hartford, New Haven, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, Quebec, Washington, and other cities.
Mr. Lancaster was again overtaken by poverty and ill fortune and was again, as he had been in London, partially relieved by friends. He was reduced by sickness and discouragements, and was finally, in the fifty-first year of his age, run over and killed in the streets of New York City.
The monitorial system in the United States underwent changes from time to time, never being popular with the rank and file of the teaching class. It has long since lost all of its original characteristics, and may now be counted among the things of the past.
The value of the system in this country may be fairly judged by studying the work of William Bently Fowle, of Boston. A bookseller by occupation, Mr. Fowle had good opportunities for study. A self-educated man, he could look at the prevailing methods without that blinding prejudice with which love of Alma Mater usually veils the vision of the stock product of the schools.
Mr. Fowle studied Mr. Lancaster's methods, listened to his lectures, and shared with him the belief that prevailing methods were not perfect. He also shared the rocky road of all that class of heroes who sacrificed popularity and personal comfort for a principle. But, like all men of true motives and a determined purpose, he found friends and supporters. He was appointed a member of the lower school committee, whose duty it was to look after all those schools in which grammar was not taught.
There being many children in the town for whom the schools did not provide, the city council was finally induced to appropriate $1,000 to try an experiment on the monitorial plan for their benefit. After making several unsuccessful attempts to procure a master, Mr. Fowle undertook the task himself. By the personal assistance of Mayor Quincy an appropriation was made by which the Hancock schoolhouse was fitted up so as to be adapted to the application of the monitorial system.
The public teachers now opened hostilities, and by smooth maneuvers known only to the politician united to down Mr. Fowle's school. They hunted up every preju. dice and worked it to its full carrying capacity. These teachers were true to their advertisement—that the Boston schools were “the best in the world.” Mr. Fowle defended his school by a series of articles in the newspapers, wherein he clearly showed up the inefficiency of the grammar schools and the great waste of time and money occasioned by them. Mr. Fowle gained by the controversy. The course of study was greatly modified, and he was placed on a grammar master's salary, and allowed to go on with his experiments.
Mr. Fowle's school was composed of the worst juvenile element in the town, but notwithstanding this fact, corporal punishment was entirely abolished. Pupils of all grades were taught in the same room, and every child kept busy.
In the Boston schools at that time it was the custom to spend about a month to prepare especially for the examining committee. Mr. Fowle mado no preparation, but nevertheless his pupils easily passed the ordeal anil took their places in the next grade. Mr. Fowle then resigned from the public schools.
The great success of this school led to Mr. Fowle's promotion to a higher grade of work, and 100 wealthy and influential citizens raised a fund sufficiently large to equip a building with philosophical and other scientific apparatus, superior to any school then in existence in the United States. Some of this apparatus was imported, but the most of it was made under the direction of Mr. Fowle especially for his school.
The school was called the Female Monitorial School. It opened with about 100 pupils, and was conducted on the mutual plan, modified to suit the existing circumstances.
The great success of this school aroused the professional spirit of Boston's educators to such a degree that the school board was induced to build a high school for girls on the monitorial plan. The number of pupils who presented themselves in