Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/April 1873/Barbarism in English Education

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 2 April 1873  (1873) 
Barbarism in English Education
By Emerson Elbridge White

PROF. W. H. YOUNG, formerly of Athens, Ohio, now United States consul at Carlsruhe for Baden and Alsace-Lorraine, has sent us a very interesting epitome of the recent odd discussion in the English papers, chiefly in the Times, of the oddest feature of English public schools. The discussion contains so much that is English, unique, and suggestive, that we regret that we are obliged to condense the epitome to bring it within our space. We have made as few changes as possible, but, that Prof. Young may not be responsible for the sketch in its present shape, we have given it an editorial position.

The term public school is commonly applied in England to such schools as Eton, Rugby, Harrow, Winchester, etc., which correspond with an American endowed boys' academy on the dormitory plan. Each school comprises several "houses" and about six classes called "forms," and is under the immediate management and instruction of ten to twenty assistant "masters" presided over by a "head-master," and subject to a corporate board of control. In all of these schools Monitorial Discipline has prevailed more or less for centuries, with this striking feature, that all the boys in the lower "forms" are subject, not only in ordinary school discipline, but for personal service of whatever kind, as cleaning rooms, brushing clothes, bringing wood and water, all kinds of errand-running, etc., to the "sixth form," commonly limited in number from fifteen to thirty of the best of the most advanced boys, who are clothed with authority, and are held responsible for keeping order at all times, in study, in dormitory, on the playground, etc. This service by the lower form is called "fagging," and is enforced with rigor just as other discipline the—ashen rod being in constant use. Of the "sixth-form" boys a designated few, called in the school "preposters" or "prefects" and in sports "leaders" or "captains," are of still higher authority—a sort of court of appeal, and the real disciplinarians of the school. A boy when abused may appeal to these, next to an "assistant master" (teacher), and finally to the "head-master" or principal; but these appeals are, in fact, almost never made. The "code of honor" is against it, and an English boy will bear almost any amount of cuffing, kicking, and beating, before he will appeal. Of course such a system is liable to the grossest abuse.

Further, in these, as in other English schools, physical prowess in sports ranks little, if any, behind mental excellence. The "prefects" in the schools are "captains" in the field-sports, and feel themselves responsible, rather to the English sport-loving public, than to the school authorities, for the athletic proficiency of their several divisions. All of these sports involve a large amount of slang that must be familiarly understood to secure successful coöperation in such games as cricket, football, etc.

The case of discipline which gave rise to the recent discussion, is this. A prefect at Winchester sent for a "house" (the boys of a particular building) to examine them in their "notions," i. e., perhaps, in their general school-boy proficiency in matters out of study. One boy refused to come, on the ground that, being a senior fifth-form boy, he could not be fagged. The prefects held a meeting, decided his conduct rebellious, and that he must be "tunded"—that is, should be whipped with ground-ash rods. The boy appealed to the head-master, who told him he must submit to the "tunding." The number of "cuts" which a prefect may give, is theoretically limited to twelve; in this case thirty were given.

A Mr. Maude reports the matter to the London Times as a specimen of "licensed tyranny," worse than any "bullying" (by which the English understand a large boy imposing on a small one), a gross relic of past centuries, disgracing English public schools, and demanding the interference of English public opinion for its suppression. He says a "tunding" is far worse than any master's flogging; the ash rod is as large as the finger, three feet long, seasoned until tough as whalebone, and that not less than four must have been broken over the boy's back, leaving it in a condition horrible to be thought upon. The head-master, when appealed to afterward, condemned the decision of the prefects, pronounced the punishment excessive, but only required of the "tunding" prefect a private apology, instead of expelling him and punishing his associates. Mr. Maude had been five years at "Winchester, and remembered scores of these "tundings," but never one so gross as that described.

Next a Mr. Fischer, in the Times, applauds Mr. Maude's "admirable letter," condemning without stint the "cruel and cowardly iniquity" long prevailing at Winchester; could give cases where the punishment had been more barbarous than garroter-flogging at Newgate; for the latter was inflicted by law, within legal limits, and in the presence of responsible officials, while the former was in violation of all law, and in the absence of all authority or protection to shield the lad from the anger of his school-fellows; boys should be punished by the masters or in their presence, and the latter should not be allowed to delegate such authority to other boys; the system is brutalizing to punisher and punished—the one hardened by indulgence in cruelty, the other only maliciously biding his turn to inflict on others the harm he has received, and both made brutal and cowardly men.

A Mr. Lechmere deplores the public censure likely to fall upon his revered preceptors of a former generation as a result of Mr. Maude's painful letter. No such torture as "tunding" was known at this peaceful time; was four years a junior at Winchester, and never knew a severer punishment than a moderate knuckle rap on the head, inflicted by prefects deemed "bullies."

An "Old Wykehamist" (Winchester was founded by Mr. Wykeham), who recently spent six years at Winchester, admits the main facts of the "deplorable case" reported by Mr. Maude, but protests against his conclusions as to the general condition of things at the school. The power of the prefects is limited by the right of appeal and their own sense of a grave responsibility, and "tundings are rarely and reluctantly inflicted, and only for grave moral offences and grave breaches of discipline." The system is perhaps wrong, because liable to abuse, but the " brutality," which Mr. Maude had so justly stigmatized, was very exceptional, as was proved by its general condemnation by even the friends of the system.

These letters call out the "victim," who speaks for himself, avowedly of his own will and motion, "in defence of my school." He thinks that a "Winchester tunding" is not, as alleged by Mr. Maude, "the most dreadful punishment imaginable." He says:

"The tunding I received in the fracas, a month ago, had no such terrible effect as imagined. Played football after two days without the least inconvenience. Ground ashes not as 'tough as whalebone,' but slight sticks rarely lasting for more than three or four strokes. The punishment I received is universally admitted (and readily by the prefect himself) to have been excessive; yet I firmly believe, as does every one else here, that there was no tyranny or brutality in the matter. On the contrary, it was done in an honest, though mistaken impression, that serious insubordination was intended by my refusal to obey him; hence, while his action may be condemned, he himself and his motives deserve respect," etc.

In the letters to his father, which are published, he states that he was little hurt; that he cared nothing for the "licking;" had contended for a principle, and, when this was decided against him, he went promptly for his tunding. The prefect wanted to "argue the case," but he told him he had come for his "licking," and wanted it at once. It had since been admitted, on all hands, that the vote was wrong, and the punishment excessive in the number of strokes, but he was thoroughly disgusted with the fuss made over so small a matter.

In the course of the discussion, the "father of the victim" states that he had written Dr. Riddle (head-master of the school) immediately on hearing of the case, asking that the prefect be required, at least, to make a public apology to the boy. The doctor replied in a letter of twelve closely-written pages, admitting and deploring the facts, which were the result of "grave error of judgment and zeal for discipline." Not satisfied with this, he (the father) called a bishop into counsel, through whose intercession Dr. Riddle wrote again, saying the prefect had apologized to "the victim" in his presence, and adding, somewhat reprovingly, that the matter were better left where it was. He wrote again, offering to let the matter drop, if the apology were made known to the school. This letter being unanswered, after three weeks he resorted to the press.

These letters and statements subjected the system to a sharp discussion. "C. F." thinks the system not a bad one, if two things are clearly understood, namely, that an appeal will always be heard, and the prefect's punishing be limited to six cuts. The first rule would check abuse of power; the second would enable the prefects to settle many offences "out of court," thus preventing the brutality sometimes disgracing schools. "M. A. Oxon" was at Winchester five years during the "peaceful times," spoken of by Mr. Lechmere, and could testify that the "tortures of tunding" were then not infrequent. For "going out of bounds during playhours," he and others had once undergone a prefect's tunding, in which he received twenty-five to thirty cuts, "laid on with such a will" that his jacket was cut to ribbons, and was never worn again," and his "arms and back were black and blue with wheals. . . . We were not, however, milksops in those days, and we bore with Spartan fortitude, and without a murmur, a punishment which now makes a cowardly, rascally 'garroter' howl and cry to the attendant surgeon for mercy." He had, however, hoped, until enlightened by Mr. Maude, that these tortures were gone by—the relics of a less civilized age. He describes the system as it was in his day, and adds that, while he endured it and was none the worse, he would not like to have a child of his subjected to a similar discipline. "W." gives a chapter of his experience, from which it appears that he was subjected to the bullying of his school-fellows. He states that he can give many instances of "prefect tyranny." "An Older Wykehamist" answers "An Old Wykehamist," and asks, "What's the use of an appeal after a thrashing?" and adds that an appeal before would provoke the ire of the prefects and the jeers of companions. He states that it was only three years since a prefect tunded, at one time, thirty or more boys for some trivial offence, and that he himself had received more than one hundred and sixty tundings, of from four to sixteen cuts each, in seven and a half years' attendance at Winchester!

Mr. Maude writes a second letter, answering the charges of "exaggeration." He reasserts that there is no limit to the power exercised by the prefects, and shows that the right of appeal is of little value. He gives cases showing the barbarity of the system. About fifty boys ere "licked" one afternoon for being absent from an "irregular" roll-call, "the floor of the room looking like a fagot-yard." The headmaster disapproved of the irregular roll-call, but excused the prefects "on the ground of an excess of zeal in performance of duty!" In one case the prefect gave a boy several cuts on the face ("facers"), because he was supposed to be "padded."

Edmund D. Wyckham states that he frequently witnessed abominable cruelty in the "peaceful times" of Dr. Williams; once saw a boy tunded with a cricket-stump and lamed for life. The boys, on this occasion, rebelled, rescued the victim, and fell upon the prefects, and cuffed and kicked them out of the Commons' Hall. After the boy had sufficiently recovered, he was publicly flogged by Dr. Williams for having resented a prefect! "An Old Winchester Prefect" gives similar testimony, and adds that the system is "an indefensible and barbarous practice," which should be ended at once and forever."

The system is as vigorously defended. "An Old School Disciplinarian" believes tunding to be infinitely better than caning by a master and less dangerous than knuckle-hitting on the head; "save me from sly kicks and boxes." The system creates good feeling between the seniors and juniors—gives the former responsibility; the latter protection from bullies—and is "a good training for the world." Instead of making boys "weak milksops," it makes them "Englishmen like their ancestors." "A Wykehamist" is proud of the old school, and believes that prefects are high-minded, deliberate, and just. His family had been connected with Winchester for fifty years, and he had never before heard a complaint.

"W." thinks the less a master "thrashes" the better—it takes a rare man to counterbalance the mischief done by "perpetual lickings." When the boys do the flogging, the result is very different. They know each other's tricks and ways, and can be more just. The system protects boys from brutality. When in school he was brutally kicked by a big bully whenever sent above him in class. Such treatment was not possible at Winchester. "The great distinguishing character of every judiciously managed English school is, that the boys are sure of being properly kicked! . . . By all means let the masters control the system and effectually punish its abuse, but as 'kicking' will go on in every big school, let my boys go where it is reduced to a system, in the hands of a recognized class."

"A Civilian," one of Dr. Arnold's Rugby boys, is gratified that, while many see no cure for the abuse of the system but its abolition, others see a good use in the government of the public schools through prefects. He was six and a half years at Rugby, and only knew two or three cases of gross injustice or cruelty, but remembers scores of cases of sharp caning of "fags" for impertinence, neglect of duty, etc. "This punishment was infinitely preferred to one hundred lines of Homer or Virgil." Under this system, hundreds of boys govern themselves "without the continued interference of the eminent man at the head of the school."

"Expertus" contrasts, at length, the monitorial or prefectorial system with the "system of lock and key, usher and spy, and Jesuitical surveillance." While the former is liable to abuse and needs to be carefully guarded, it is "wonderfully strong in the argument from general success, from the characters which it has helped to train, and from the qualities it has naturalized in Englishmen."

A former "Acting Head-Master at Rugby," Sir Bonamy Brice, also thinks that the excellence of the system has been abundantly proved by its success. To train great schools to govern themselves is a task of great responsibility, and mistakes will occur, as in all human government. He asserts that it would be easy to array a terrible catalogue of abuses or failures in the opposite system.

A number of other letters, pro and con, have been published, among them a card by Dr. Riddle, stating that the whole matter had been referred to the Governing Body, then in session, for examination and action. The decision, which we have not yet seen, was looked for with great interest when our correspondent wrote. It is probable that this discussion will result in a modification of the monitorial system, but we do not look for its immediate abolition. It is too characteristic of the English people.—The National Teacher.

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