Treasure of the week no. 28: A pot of green feathers and problems in schools

‘A Pot of Green Feathers’ by T. G. Rooper and ‘Typical Merits and Defects of Schools’ by A. Watkins: Two Papers Read Before the Bradford & District Teachers’ Association, circa 1890. Printed by J. Toothill of Bradford. 40 pages.           

JND 1/19 (Please quote this number if requesting this item when we are open again.)

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Image from ‘Oeuveres complètes de Jean Jacques Rousseau’ 1788 p. 144 https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary) Flickr Commons

A young child was shown a pot of beautiful fresh green ferns by a student teacher. The teacher asked the child to say what it was. “It is a pot of green feathers”, the child answered. “Poor little thing! She knows no better”, commented the student teacher to her supervisor.

Some time later the supervisor, Mr Roper, who happened to be an Inspector of Schools, addressed a meeting of Bradford teachers and referred to this incident. “Did the child really suppose that the ferns were feathers?” This got the inspector thinking and researching. The lecture was the result of his labours. Big questions emerged: What do we know of the outer world? Of what is not self? Of objects? How do we know anything of the outer world?

Quite what the meeting made of the inspector’s answers is not recorded. The account covers seventeen pages of closely argued, though lucid, text, and not for repetition here! But it is worth a read for those philosophically inclined, or concerned with educational psychology. Briefly, one learns by extending what one already knows – the child already knew about feathers but not ferns – hence the value of extending one’s experience.

There was a second inspector at this meeting, a Mr Watkins. The title of his talk was ‘Typical Merits and Defects of Schools’. I suspect the teachers would have felt on surer ground and a little nearer home with Mr Watkins. Those who study Victorian education will also profit. Here are uncovered the mysteries of disciplining children, of well-ordered schools, teaching children to concentrate, mechanical versus intelligent learning, reading, speaking, writing, and teaching methods. Exactly what student teachers needed to know!

There was a sting in the tail though: “I believe in having a high ideal, and by steady perseverance, every teacher should strive to reach as near perfection as abilities and circumstances permit.” Maybe Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools Watkins would be visiting their school in the near future!

Finally, said Mr Watkins, “In conclusion, I feel sure that the inordinant length of my paper must have bored you.” Er … !

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