Stow, David (DNB00)

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STOW, DAVID (1793–1864), educational writer and founder of the Glasgow Normal School, was born at Paisley on 17 May 1793, and was the son of William Stow, by his wife, Agnes Smith. His father was a substantial merchant and magistrate in the town. David was educated at the Paisley grammar school, and was in 1811 employed in business in Glasgow. Very early in life he developed a deep interest in the state of the poor in that great city, and especially in the children of the Saltmarket, a squalid region through which he passed daily. For these he established in 1816 a Sunday evening school, in which he gathered for conversation and biblical instruction the poorest and most neglected of the children. He became an elder of Dr. Chalmers's church, and was encouraged by him in his efforts. The experience gained in visiting the children's homes impressed him with the need of moral training as distinguished from simple instruction, and gradually shaped in his mind the principles which he afterwards elucidated in his principal book, ‘The Training System’ (1836). He was much influenced by what he learned of the work effected at the same time by Bell and Lancaster in England, and especially by Samuel Wilderspin [q. v.], the author of the ‘Infant System.’ At Stow's invitation Wilderspin gave some lectures on infant training in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and an association was formed under the name of the Glasgow Educational Society. In 1824 this society established at Stow's instance a week-day training school in Drygate. This school by 1827 developed into a seminary for the training of teachers, which was in effect the first normal college in the kingdom, although both the National Society and the Lancasterian societies in England had several years earlier admitted young persons who intended to become school-masters into their model schools in London to study for a few weeks the methods and organisation of those schools. By 1836 Stow was able to transfer the establishment to new premises on a larger scale in Dundas Vale, Glasgow.

In 1832, 20,000l. having been voted in parliament for the erection of schoolhouses, Stow's enterprise was aided by a grant, and he was invited in 1838 to become the first government inspector of Scottish schools. He declined this offer, preferring to develop his own system in the institution which he had founded. The success of the college attracted the special attention and sympathy of Dr.J.P. Kay (afterwards Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth [q. v.]), who visited it, and recommended in 1841 the further award of a government grant of 5,000l. on condition that the institution should be made over to the general assembly of the church of Scotland. This condition was fulfilled; but in 1845, when the disruption of the Scottish church took place, a change became inevitable. Stow and the directors and teachers of the institution were all in sympathy with Chalmers and the free-church leaders; with the whole body of students, as well as the pupils of the schools, they seceded, and were housed in temporary premises until the new seminary, known to this day as the Free Church Normal College, was erected. Of this institution Stow remained the guiding spirit until his death on 6 Nov. 1864. He married, in 1822, Marion Freebairn, by whom he had four children; she died in 1831. He married, secondly, in 1841, Elizabeth McArthur; she died in 1847.

The influence of Stow's normal college was not confined to Scotland. The Wesleyan education committee from 1840 to 1851 availed themselves of Stow's institution, and encouraged their students to go to Glasgow for their professional preparation. When the Wesleyan Training College was established in Westminster, Stow's methods were largely adopted, two of the principal officers of that college having been trained at Glasgow under his superintendence.

Stow placed religious and moral training before him as the principal objects to be attained in education. The playground or ‘uncovered schoolroom’ he especially valued as a place where, under right supervision, good physical and moral training might be secured. As to direct teaching, he made biblical lessons and instruction both in common things and in elementary science prominent in his system; and he attached special importance to what he called ‘picturing out,’ by means of oral description and illustrations, those geographical and historical scenes which appeal to the imagination rather than to the verbal memory. He sought to incorporate into his practice much of the best experience of Bell, Lancaster, and Pestalozzi; but the monitorial system appeared to him very defective from the point of view of moral influence, and the parrot-like enumeration of the qualities of objects which was so often to be found in schools professing to be Pestalozzian he regarded as often unfruitful. He was one of the first of our educational reformers to recognise fully the value of infant schools, and the importance of what he called the ‘sympathy of numbers’ and of collective teaching as a means of quickening the intelligence of young children. In the training of teachers he was one of the earliest and most effective workers, and the method of requiring all candidates for the teacher's office to give public lessons which were afterwards made the subject of private criticism by the fellow-students and by himself—a method now universally adopted in all good training colleges—may be said to have originated with him. His experience led him also to advocate the teaching of boys and girls together in the primary school, and to attach great value to this association on moral grounds. From the first he determined to employ no corporal punishment, no prizes, no place-taking, and he always regarded these as wholly unnecessary expedients for any teacher who was properly qualified for his work. He was not a great educational philosopher, and he never, like Rousseau, Comenius, Locke, or Pestalozzi, formulated a scientific theory of education. His system was the result of experience guided by a loving insight into child-nature.

In the light of later experience some of his methods have been superseded. The enormous gallery on which he delighted to see 150 or more children gathered to receive a stirring moral or pictorial lesson was found to be an ineffective instrument for serious intellectual work. Later teachers have also found that it is not safe to rely too much on oral instruction or to relegate, as he did, the study of language to a rank so far inferior to the study of material things.

His chief publications were: 1. ‘Physical and Moral Training,’ 1832. 2. ‘The Training System,’ first published in 1836, which reached a ninth edition, revised and expanded, in 1853. 3. ‘National Education: the Duty of England in regard to the Moral and Intellectual Elevation of the Poor and Working Classes—Teaching or Training,’ 1847. 4. ‘Bible Emblems,’ 1855. 5. ‘Bible Training for Sabbath Schools,’ 1857.

[The best account of his life will be found in the Memoir by the Rev. W. Fraser, a member of the Glasgow College staff, London, 1868; Leitch's Practical Educationists; J. G. Thomson's Centenary Address before the Educational Institute of Scotland, 1893.]

J. G. F-h.