A Centenary – Edmond Holmes: ‘What Is and What Might Be’ and ‘The Tragedy of Education’ Revisited

INVITATION:  A Centenary – Edmond Holmes: ‘What Is and What Might Be’ and ‘The Tragedy of Education’  Revisited

The 2011 Summer edition of the Journal of Personalised Education Now is to celebrate the centenary of the first book of two books by Edmond Holmes.  They were What Is and What Might Be (1911), followed by The Tragedy of Education two years later). The man responsible for supervising the first National Curriculum of over 100 years ago, along with its testing, standards, and heavy inspection regime was the Senior Chief Inspector, Edmond Holmes.  When he was forced to retire he analysed all that he had been doing for the last thirty years, and admitted his sense of shame for being a part of it.   When he retired he wrote books condemning the whole wretched package of his previous thirty years work.  He said that if Britain wanted to have an education system fit for a new century, it would have to stop telling children what to do and compelling them to do it, since this produced only passivity, lassitude, unhealthy docility or, in the stronger, more determined spirits, ‘naughtiness’.  Teaching had become a debased activity.

Members have already been invited to submit articles of 500 or 1000 or 1500 or 2000 words to go in this edition. We’re also opening this up to the wider CPE-PEN network and blog readership.

Let Peter Humphreys know if you’d like to contribute via personalisededucationnow@blueyonder Send a title and outline summary for approval.
Final copy date will be 1st May 2011.

For reference:
 Some quotes from; ‘What is and what might be’, Edmond Holmes 1911

“… the externalism of the West, the prevelant tendency to pay undue regard to outward and visible “results“ and to neglect what is inward and vital, is the source of most of the defects that vitiate Education in this country. (referred to later as ‘Code despotism’.)  It had many zealous agents, of whom I, alas! was one.”

Part one: What is, or the Path of Mechanical Obedience

Chapter  one: Salvation through mechanical obedience
In contrast, Holmes proposed that,
“The function of education is to foster growth” (p3)

“The process of growing must be done by the growing organism, by the child, let us say, and by no one else.” (p4)  (In contrast to teachers who try to do everything for the child.)

Holmes observed that under a National Curriculum approach, learning and teaching became debased:
” In nine schools out of ten, on nine days out of ten, in nine lessons out of ten, the teacher is engaged in laying thin films of information on the surface of the child’s mind and then after a brief interval he is skimming these off in order to satisfy himself that they have been duly laid.” p,56

Holmes saw examinations as a kind of disease:
“In every Western country … the examination system controls education, and in doing so arrests the self-development of the child, and therefore strangles his inward growth.” p.8

“The Western belief  in the efficacy of examinations is a symptom of a widespread and deep-seated tendency, – the tendency to judge according to the appearance of things, to attach supreme importance to visible “results,” to measure inward worth by outward standards, to estimate progress in terms of what the “world” reveres as “success”. p.9

The undue stress on examinations creates deceit:
“In a school which is charged with the examination incubus, the whole atmosphere is charged with deceit. The teacher’s attempt to outwit the examiner is deceitful; and the immorality of his action is aggravated by the fact that he makes his pupils partners with him in his fraud. The child who is being crammed for an examination, and who is being practiced at the various tricks and dodges that will, it is hoped, enable him to throw dust in the examiner’s eyes, may not consciously realise that he and his teacher are trying to perpetrate a fraud, but will probably have an instinctive feeling that he is being led into crooked ways.” p.65

“When the education given in school is dominated by a perodical examination on a prescribed syllabus, suppression of the child’s natural activities becomes the central feature of the teacher’s programme.” p.66

“To give free play to a child’s natural faculties and so lead him into a path of self-development and self-education, demands a high degree of intelligence on the part of the teacher.” p.68

“The objections to the hope of reward as a motive to educational effort are of another kind … The prize system akes a direct appeal to the vanity and egoisem of the child.  It encourages him to think himself better than others, to pride himself on having surpassed his classmates and shone at their expense.” p.72

Quotes from: ‘The Tragedy of Education’, Edmond Holmes 1913

“For, with the best of intentions, the leading actors in it, the parents and teachers of each successive generation, so bear themselves towards their children and pupils as to entail never-ending calamities on the whole human race – not the sensational calamities which dramatist love to depict, but inward calamities which are the deadlier for their very unobtrusiveness, for our being so familiar with them that we accept them as our appointed lot – such calamities as perverted ideals, debased standards, contracted horizons, externalized aims, self-centred activities, weakened will-power, lowered vitality, restricted and distorted growth, and (crowning and summarising the rest) a profound misconception of the meaning and value of life.”  (From the Foreword)

Chapter 1. The Poison of Dogmatism

“When I say that he imposes himself on the child, I mean that he adopts towards him an attitude of dogmatic direction to which he expects the child to respond with an attitude of mechanical obedience, in adopting this attitude of dogmatic direction the adult is true, not only to his own false philosophy of education, but also to the tradition of thousand ands tens of thousands of years.”  p.14-15

“Stated more briefly, the dogmatic attitude amounts to this: “My part is to lay down the law and issue orders and directions.  Your part is to obey these and carry them out.” p.16

“The constant tendency of dogmatism is to arrest growth and devitalize life.” p.25

Chapter 2. The Malady

“The adult who has been dogmatically educated, has had the mischief done to him in his childhood.  The iron has entered his soul.”  p.42

“Based, as it is, on a complete mistrust of the child’s nature, education , as we know it, makes it its business to encroach, persistently and systematically, on the freedom which is indispensable to healthy growth.” P.43

“To invite the child to regard his classmates as rivals instead of comrades is to do him a great and far-reaching wrong.  It is to dam back the pure current of unselfish sympathy at or near its source.  It is to unseal the turbid fountain of vanity, of selfishness, of envy, of jealously, of strife.” p.50

Chapter 3. The Remedy

“The teacher will of course have much to unlearn and much to learn. Nor will it be easy for them to find appropriate help and guidance. There will be things for them to do, directions for which are given in no current manual of pedagogy. Here are some of them:
· to efface themselves as much as possible,
· to realise that not the teachers, but the children, play the leading part in the drama of learning,
· to put unbounded faith in the nature of children, in spite of its early weaknesses, crudities, and other shortcomings,
· to feel sure that its higher tendencies, if allowed to unfold themselves in due season, will gradually master and control the lower,
· to give children as much freedom as is compatible with the maintenance of the reality rather than the semblance of order,
· to relieve children from the deadening pressure of the discipline of drill, and to help them to achieve the discipline of self-control,
· to provide outlets for all their healthy activities, taking care that these shape their own channels, as far as may be possible, and are not merely directed into ready-made canals,
· to place at their disposal such materials as will provide them both with mental and spiritual food, and with opportunities for the exercise of their mental and spiritual faculties,
· to give them such guidance as their expanding natures may seem to need, taking care that the guidance given is the outcome of sympathetic study of their instinctive tendencies, and interferes as little as possible with their freedom of choice,
· to do nothing for them which they can reasonably be expected to do for themselves,
· to abstain from that excessive fault-finding which the dogmatic spirit (always prone to mistake correctness for goodness) is apt to engender, and which paralyses children’s initiative, and makes them morbidly self-conscious and self-distrustful,
· to help them to think more of overcoming difficulties, and doing things well, than of producing plausible and possibly deceptive results,
· to foster their natural sincerity, and keep far away from them whatever savours of make-believe, self-deception, and fraud,
· to study and take thought for their individuality, so that they may realise and outgrow themselves and at last transcend their individuality, in their own particular way, the way which Nature seems to have marked out as best for them,
· to help them to develop all their expansive instincts, so that their growth may be as many-sided and therefore as healthy and harmonious as possible,
· to realise, and help them to realise (should this be necessary), that healthy and harmonious growth is its own reward, and so relieve them from the false and demoralising stimulus of external rewards and punishments,
· to discourage competition between child and child, with the vanity and selfishness which this necessarily tends to breed,
· to foster the children’s communal instinct, their spirit of comradeship, their latent capacity for sympathy and love.

I could easily make this list longer, but I think I have made it long enough. Perhaps I have made it too long, for after all it is an idea that I am setting before the teachers of the future, not a theory, still less a fully elaborated system. If the idea commends itself to teachers in any respect or degree, they must interpret it (both in theory and practice) in their own individual way. I should be false to my own first principles if I tried to do for them what, if it is to have any lasting value, they must do for themselves.”

 Lightly edited version of, p.73 -75.

For a lucid account of the contribution of Edmond Holmes see:Edmond Holmes and ‘The Tragedy of Education’ by Chris Shute               ISBN 1-900219-12-3
Published by Educational Heretics Press, 1998, price £8-00, p.& p. incl

About the author

Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress | Two Thirds Design