Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 04.djvu/155

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Bell
Bell
151

1807, indeed, Mr. Whitbread's Education Bill had passed the House of Commons, but evidently on the faith that the lords would throw it out (Life of Romilly, ii. 67). On the one hand the dissenters were too powerful to suffer education to pass into the hands of the church, and on the other the opinion was still widespread–was held even by Bell himself–that the poor should not be educated overmuch (see the passage, together with his later explanation of it, in Elements of Tuition, pt. ii. 416). Despairing of state help, the church party in 1811 formed the 'National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales,' which in 1817 was incorporated by royal charter, and which is still a flourishing institution. Bell was appointed superintendent, with the fullest powers to carry out the Madras system, and having already in 1809 exchanged his living at Swanage for the mastership of Sherburn Hospital, in Durham, which did not require residence, he was able to devote his whole time to the work. Henceforth his life was identified with the history of the society. Its progress was rapid, and within Bell's lifetime the number of its schools exceeded 12,000. The bulk of the work of organisation fell on Bell's shoulders, and he laboured indefatigably, finding teachers, training them at the central school in London, constantly moving about through England and Wales, visiting Ireland, and trying, though with little success, to plant the system in Scotland. In 1816 he made a journey abroad to spread his ideas, and met Pestalozzi, whom he describes as 'a man of genius, benevolence, and enthusiasm;' but the British and Foreign School Society (which had developed out of the Royal Lancasterian Institution) had been beforehand, and though his methods were adopted in several places, he never exercised much direct influence on the continent. When Horace Mann made his educational tour in 1843, he found a few monitorial schools in France, and some mere vestiges of the plan in the 'poor schools' of Prussia. 'But nothing of it remains,' he says, 'in Holland, or in many of the German states. It has been abolished in these countries by a universal public opinion' (H. Mann's Tour, ed. Hodgson, p. 44).

Though he never made any serious change in the Madras system, Bell was ever on the outlook for ways of improving it in detail, laying special stress on the necessity of doing away with corporal punishment, and on the importance of teaching reading and writing simultaneously, on a plan which was known as ilto. The name, made up of the simplest letters of the alphabet, was intended to convey the further idea that all instruction should proceed from the easy to the difficult. (For a summary of the general plan adopted in the National Society's schools see Bartley's Schools for the People, p. 50.) Towards the schoolmasters under him he played the part of a despot, sternly repressing every attempt to deviate from his own methods, and enforcing obedience by threats of diminishing their salaries; and his perpetual interference, together with his harsh and overbearing manner, made him, says his secretary, 'almost universally dreaded and disliked.' His ideal, in short, was to turn elementary schools into instructing machines, whose automatic action the teacher should not disturb. He inspired others with his enthusiasm. Wordsworth and Coleridge encouraged him; Southey had the most extravagant belief in him; and every year saw the number of his schools increasing. His services in the cause of education were certainly great; but the actual results achieved were less valuable than he or his friends supposed. After Bell's death the schools of the society were examined by government inspectors. 'The teachers, it was found, were inefficient and ignorant; the use of monitors required that the instruction should be almost entirely by rote, and on its moral side the system led to evil, encouraging favouritism and petty forms of corruption; and 'the schools were generally in a deplorable state in every part of England.' (See Report of the Education Commission, 1861, p. 98, and Essays by the Central Society of Education, vol. i.) Bell exaggerated both the novelty and the value of his system. (For cases in which it had been applied before his time, and particularly for the work of the Chevalier Paulet, see American Journal of Education, June 1861, and La Borde's Plan d'Education, chap. i.). It greatly diminished the cost of teaching, and led up to the later pupil-teacher system, which dates from 1846; it was capable of being usefully applied to certain parts of school-work; and it fostered the habit of self-help and the feeling of responsibility. But as a complete system of education it failed. Bell ignored the powerful influence which the full-grown mind can exert upon children; and, following out a good idea in a pedantic manner, he may be said to have as much retarded education in one way as he forwarded it in others. (The monitorial system is discussed in most books on teaching: e.g. in Currie's Common School Education, p. 157; see also Donaldson's Lectures, p. 60, Stow's Training System of Education, p. 313, Essays on Education by the Central Society, i. 339, Dr. Potter's The