Friday, June 14, 2013


Poor Tom

From an unsigned review (by Albert Taylor Bledsoe?), of The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay and John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, in Southern Review, Vol. XXIII, No. 45 (January, 1878) 193-198 (at 196-197):
The very poor results of average school instruction are due chiefly to the indifference or soft-heartedness of parents. We have ourselves taught big lads in this country who have wept over their lessons, and brought letters of excuse from their mothers for bad work for which they richly deserved to be flogged. Schoolmasters must have uncommon virtue and zeal for their profession, when they sacrifice, as they are continually doing, their own 'interests' for the sake of doing their pupils more good than their own fathers and mothers wish them to receive! But is it wise to offer a premium to a schoolmaster for carelessness and dishonesty?

'But poor Tom is so delicate—he cannot study so hard; his lessons are too long; and our physician warns us not to overtax his brain'. Poor baby! Is he too tired to sit up till ten or eleven o'clock at night? Does his feeble constitution yield to anything but school work? No; he is only imposing on your good-nature; he is not sick, but lazy; and the best medicine you can give him is a letter to his tutor requesting him to give 'poor Tom' twice as much to do.

It is quite possible for a spirited master to produce a fashion of hard work. Raise the average of lessons. Do it slowly, if necessary; a few lines or pages at a time. But it can easily be done. The clever, industrious boys will like it; and the dunces will be dragged up. Masters know far better than boys what the boys can do. Excuses may sometimes be accepted for sickness, or unavoidable absence; but excuses should only relieve a boy from punishment, not from the necessity of making up lost ground. No excuse can get him over the fifth proposition of Euclid's first book, if he has never learned the fourth; no knowledge of the subjunctive mood can possibly compensate for ignorance of the indicative. Failure should be made disgraceful; idleness should be regarded as a crime.

Moreover, a change of work is a rest—from ancient languages to modern; from mathematics to natural philosophy; from history to literature—and ample provision should be made for thorough recreation, out of doors and in; but never sheer idleness. If a boy is really tired, let him go to bed. Bed, for a lad who shams fatigue, is one of the very best of punishments. It is intensely disagreeable; it keeps a mischievous lad out of the way; it rests the body and soothes the temper; it commends itself to the reason as the very kindest treatment for an overtaxed brain.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?