Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 6. Projected Reforms of Schools

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XV. Education

§ 6. Projected Reforms of Schools

In the eyes of reformers, seventeenth-century schools were defective in their studies and insufficient in number. Professional opinion occasionally deplored their neglect of the mother tongue; the complaint appears in the writings of prominent schoolmasters like John Brinsley and Charles Hoole. The latter (New Discovery of the Old Art of teaching Schoole, 1660) suggested that a school should be placed in every town and populous village to prepare little ones for the grammar school, and, also, for the benefit of those who were too dull or too poor to cultivate scholarship, to teach arithmetic, writing and the reading of English so as “to sweeten their otherwise sour natures.” But lay reformers, while desiring to establish schools accessible to the mass of the people, were intent on changes more radical than commonly crossed the minds of schoolmasters. They desired to curtail the time devoted to Latin and Greek, and so find room within the school course for some knowledge of natural objects and phenomena— “real knowledge,” as Locke called it, together with the history and geography of modern times, and the application of mathematics to the practical concerns of daily life. To those who objected that, not under any circumstances, could time be found in which to teach all these things, they answered that the ability to learn could be wellnigh indefinitely increased if teaching followed the natural processes of the child’s mind, instead of forcing upon it subjects and modes of study better suited to more mature intelligences.