Author logo Education, Education, Education - Anthology study guide

Classroom Discourse
From To School Through the Fields
From Billy Bunter Afloat
Essay 50 - Of Studies
From The Intelligent Teachers' Guide
The Day-School Master
From Down with Skool
From The Beano Book, 1976
From The Water Babies
Sharon: Incest
From Our Day Out
Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College
From Decline and Fall
From The Christian Brothers' Prospectus
From A Dear and Noble Boy
From Hard Times
The Girl Who Didn't Like Maths
Narrative 1 and Narrative 2
From St. Bede's Prospectus
From Language in the National Curriculum
From Language in the National Curriculum
Introduction to the Anthology
Guide to Section 1

Section 2 - Introduction

This guide is written for students and teachers who are preparing for GCE AS exams in English language and literature. It contains detailed studies of the texts in Section 2 of the AQA Anthology, which is a set text for Unit 1 of the AQA's GCE Specification B for English and English Literature, from the 2003 exam onwards.

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Text 13: Classroom Discourse

How realistic are passages of dialogue in fiction? Before you try to answer this, think about what it means. Naturalistic speech is invented speech that has some qualities that make it resemble real speech in obvious but superficial ways - usually by including non-standard lexis (dialect words or slang, perhaps) and non-standard grammar, as well as some indication of speech sounds that differ from those of Received Pronunciation (RP). Alternatively, dialogue may be psychologically realistic, but poetic or literary in style. However, you should know that “naturalistic” is not the same as “natural” - it means only resembling or somehow like what occurs naturally. No-one in reality speaks at all like the characters in soap operas such as Eastenders or those in plays like Willy Russell's Our Day Out. This is not a matter of opinion but of clear and easily demonstrated fact.

Language students have (repeatedly) demonstrated this by recording real passages of spontaneous speech, and then setting them out as transcripts. These use some of the conventions of drama and screenplays - identifying the speakers with capital letters, followed by the spoken words, without inverted commas (speech marks). There are other conventions not found in drama - the speakers are usually shown by initials only, while there are numbers and other characters or symbols to show things like pauses, or simultaneous (overlapping) speech. And utterances are not marked by capitals and full stops.

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In this example, though the speakers are mostly children, one is an educated adult (the teacher). The lexicon is mostly standard - apart from contractions such as “gonna” , fillers like “erm” and words that the speaker cuts off, such as “fee-” (line 31), where we might expect “feed” . Where the speakers depart most radically from standard forms is in syntax. There are strings of phrases and occasional clauses, but we find few perfectly formed or coherent sentences. This happens because the speaker is interrupted, interrupts herself, or simply stops in mid-utterance, to invite an intervention from another speaker:

T: yes you've got the birds of (.)
P: prey
T: prey so what do you think that means?

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This conversation does not follow some of the normal pragmatic rules for cooperation or politeness. This is because one speaker is in the role of leader or director. The teacher makes statements (declaratives), as in the very first statement, gives commands or instructions (imperatives) and asks questions (interrogatives) - to encourage the children to talk in particular ways, almost as an actor on cue. She thus elicits knowledge, which may be her intention - perhaps this is recalling what she has taught recently, as an exercise in remembering.

The teacher reinforces her status (as arbiter or source of truth) by referring to the pupils' relations with herself within her requests - “find me...tell me” . Instead of asking: “What is prey?” or “What does 'prey' mean?” , she asks, “Can anyone tell me what prey is?” (to which a logical child would answer “Yes” or “I don't know”.) The pupils signal their deference with “Miss“ - sometimes without any other utterance.

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She makes requests, at one point naming the specific child who is to do something. At no point does she qualify the request with “please”. At the same time she is careful never to contradict the children directly or explicitly. She appears to want the children to know that “prey” has a narrow reference to small mammals and birds. One child includes insects (a reasonable inference, which the strict denotation of the verb “prey” supports, but the teacher rejects this). Another includes fish - at which the teacher becomes uncertain. She hesitates with “well” , then uses the modal auxiliary verb “may” to indicate fish-eating as a possibility. (Of the species conventionally described as “birds of prey”, the osprey, also known as the fish-eagle, is a fish-eater; other fish-eating birds - kingfishers, herons, gulls - are not normally classed as birds of prey.) The teacher rejects speed as a necessary characteristic. In fact, she confuses semantics (what does “prey” mean?) with natural history (what distinguishes the species we call “birds of prey”?). Interestingly, too, she appeals to the authority of a picture in a book, where Robert sees a bird eating a rabbit. Confusingly, she concludes by equating “prey” with “animals” - though she has already ruled out the numerically largest order of animals in the world (insects). It seems that she makes a common error of identifying “animals” with vertebrates or, more narrowly, with mammals and birds. The fictitious teacher in the Bash Street Kids episode uses fewer words to convey more exact information on the same subject.

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Text 14: From To School Through the Fields, Alice Taylor

This passage belongs in a tradition with books like Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie and Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford. Essentially, it is social history in the form of factual descriptions of the writer's past experience, with some comment or interpretation. Here Alice Taylor states explicitly that her education was not child-centred, though some readers might wish to be allowed to make this judgement for ourselves, from the example in which she shows it.

The child's composition (and the teacher's response) leads to a familiar contrast - between the child who sees what happens (and as yet does not know what she is meant to filter out) and the adult, with a sense of social propriety that prevents her speaking of taboo subjects. Alice Taylor depicts this rather as a tyranny of adult lying. But the teacher is as much subject to social mores as the child, and has a duty to inform her pupil of such things. When the pupil becomes an adult, she has the choice to reject the taboo - and she does, in this passage, where she flourishes bovine reproduction as a mildly risqué subject.

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Alice Taylor introduces a very familiar notion - that school removes the child's freedom. And she follows it up with another, that we accept it as a pattern. But both of these ideas appear as facts about her. She does not (in this passage, anyway) attempt a serious and sustained criticism or defence of compulsory education. The closest she comes is in an almost immoral justification of accepting compulsion as a brute and irrevocable fact. She moves on to a condemnation of a “system” of which the purpose appears to be social control, and learning a particular view of the world. She sees this as essentially absurd, at least in its lack of understanding of children. Thus the priest asks her, early in her school career about the Roman Catholic doctrine of “transubstantiation”. Alice Taylor supposes that her adult readers will be familiar with the idea of transubstantiation (not that they will have a clear explanation, but that they will know it to be a tricky and esoteric subject). The modern reader may see it merely as a puzzling word, and run for the dictionary. The modern reader also may fail to see why it should matter so much to the priest; the older reader will know that this is the source of one of the controversies that divide Roman Catholics from Protestants.

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Otherwise the account is marked by familiar pictures of material poverty and physical punishment, which show how adults think of the past with nostalgia and affection for a lost golden age, yet at the same time recall clearly enough that this past was rather grim and brutal, especially for poor working people in the country. Perhaps it is the folk memory of living on two slices of home-made bread that explains the full freezers and alleged obesity of 21st century Westerners.

Alice Taylor introduces herself, with the first-person pronouns “I” and “me”, as the observer of all these things. But we have no sense of her as much of a character in her own story. She makes statements that seem wise but do not stand up to inspection. She says, for instance, “our way of life compensated for its (education's) shortcomings”. But she gives no explanation of how this could be, or what in her “way of life” provided the compensation, of which there is little hint in the preceding accounts of losing freedom, being beaten by teachers and fed on short rations. Instead, without any logic, she moves to a quite separate account of trying to educate her teachers.

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This text has a unifying theme - school - but the structure is loose, a series of descriptions punctuated by rather bathetic or platitudinous comments. Alice Taylor attends to fine points of detail, even to describing the roof and walls of the toilet - yet not telling us about anything that happened there. There are occasional anecdotes, pleasant enough, but there is no organizing principle, as in a narrative sequence, to lead the reader through this series of recollections. Alice Taylor begins by stating how much she wished to escape this trap - then shuts the reader up in the same narrow confines.

Perhaps some readers enjoy accounts like this. As a piece of information about how it strikes one reader, the writer of this guide notes that he finds this passage (and Lark Rise to Candleford, which it strongly resembles) somewhat tedious. This is a harsh comment to make on the work of writer who seems benign, thoughtful and harmless. Perhaps, as a reader, I am defective in imaginative sympathy.

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Text 15: From Billy Bunter Afloat, Frank Richards


Like Tom Brown's Schooldays, the Billy Bunter stories of Frank Richards (the pseudonym of Charles Hamilton) almost define what a school story should be - they are a kind of reference point. The stories first appeared in 1908, and the characters migrated to novels after the Second World War. This extract comes from Billy Bunter Afloat, published in 1957. The stories were hugely popular for over fifty years. The target audience was readers of an age similar to that of the anti-hero. In this extract we can readily infer something of the narrative context - Billy Bunter (the “Fat Owl of Greyfriars School”) has difficulty with Latin translation: his mind is preoccupied with an incident involving another boy. And the author points out that the cause of his distraction is not the usual one - food.

The author assumes that the reader understands the public school setting - even though most UK readers will not have attended such a school. He introduces a special lexicon without any explanation. Perhaps after 50 years, Frank Richards supposes that the reader has learned these things - though, of course, he has attracted new readers over time. We meet terms peculiar to Greyfriars or to public schools generally - such as “con” for “construe” (immediate glossing of Latin literature into English), “prep” for “preparation”, and “Fifth” and “Remove” for year groups of pupils. (For an explanation of “Remove”, we can turn to the American writer, H.L. Mencken, writing in 1921:

“Those who fail in their matriculation for universities or who wish to study for the civil service or pupil teachers' examinations go into a thing called the remove, which is less a class than a state of mind.“

Nowadays the Remove is the name given to Year 10 (the old fourth form), in some public schools such as Bedford School and Radley).

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I am grateful to Dr. Peter McCall, editor of The Friars Chronicles, for this detailed explanation of the term:

Mencken is wrong in his etymology of Shell and Remove. True, in the 1910's, at Harrow, the less able boys might "get their remove". (As did Berry in Dornford Yates' The Berry Scene. As did Sir Winston Churchill.) But, this is a unique usage. The origin of "Remove" is a public school term. Charterhouse first coined the term for a school class. When the original school room became too small (in the early 1700's) an extension was built and pupils "removed" to the new class-room. Its first record in literature is in 1718, in Lyte's History of Eton College; although used at Charterhouse before that date. (This, of course, is from the original meaning of the word to change places.) Similarly, the Shell, a Greyfriars form above the Remove, derives from the "new" school-room at Westminster - the name deriving from the shape and design of the room. Both these forms continue at many schools.

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Much of Richards' uncommon lexicon is not especially related to school - so we find in the same line that Billy Bunter has “cacchinated” (laughed aloud) and become the “cynosure” (object of attention, derived from the Greek name for the Pole Star, literally “the dog's tail” ) of “all eyes” . A different but persistent lexical feature is the use of the adjective “fat” in a special sense - to convey Bunter's quiddity or essential quality, even where the term is literally inappropriate. So we read of his “fat mind” and “fat thoughts”.

This leads us to some features of style. Richards is happy to repeat the references to Billy Bunter's bulk as amusing in itself and deserving of laughter. The reader is not meant to be unsympathetic - we enjoy Bunter as we might enjoy Shakespeare's Falstaff, for whom also, being fat is a source of mirth. Like Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey (with his “wine-dark sea” and “swift-footed Achilles” ) Richards uses a repeated formula for naming - Bunter is “the Fat Owl of the Remove” or some slight variant of this, again and again.

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And the author quite happily drops into classical Latin, quoting from Virgil's Aeneid - to the point of making a joke of Bunter's confusion of “O dea” (Oh goddess) and “Oh dear” . There is an assumption here at the least that the reader will know of Virgil and that paraphrasing his verse is something that public schoolboys may do. But we are meant to think the task relatively easy, so that Bunter's failure is laughable, and Richards writes as if everyone knows the meaning of “dea”, save Bunter.

Another device Richards uses is the unforced confession - in which, to clear his name, Billy Bunter states that he was not doing something, but tries to reinforce the denial with embellishments that make it clear that he has done whatever it is he is denying. In this case: “I don't know what he's doing in the hols, sir. I never heard him talking to Potter and Greene yesterday - .”

Richards uses the balanced contrast of antithesis, as when he contrasts past and future, in terms of meals: “There were things so much more interesting than Latin: such as the recollection of breakfast, | or the prospect of dinner.“

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The author treats us to his own comments on the narrative - “...why Bunter of the Remove should be thinking about Coker of the Fifth in connection with the holidays, was rather a mystery“. He does not state that any particular character is thinking this - rather it is a freely floating idea. Though in the form of a statement, it amounts to a question or puzzle - the author is directing the reader to try to guess why indeed Bunter is thinking of this other boy, and his (Coker's) speaking to Potter and Greene.

From a modern viewpoint, Mr. Quelch and Billy Bunter are exceptionally restrained in their oaths. When he learns of his punishment, Billy comes close to profanity with “Oh, lor'” (lord). Mr. Quelch restores order with “Bless my soul! Silence in the form!” (which is meant to recall the familiar cry of the judge or court usher: “Silence in court!” ) The modern reader may find it hard to credit how restrained the boys are most of the time. Few modern teachers will expect that a cry of “Silence!” will achieve its supposed object.

Frank Richards takes an ambiguous attitude to Billy Bunter's misdemeanours. So he appears to rebuke him for his laziness in not doing his “prep“ - if he had done it, then, writes Richards, he “might have guessed“ that a Latin sentence had a particular meaning in English - and he readily quotes the entire sentence in both languages. But we suppose that, really, Frank Richards wants us to be tolerant of Billy Bunter's laziness, in a way that might not be appropriate for a real pupil.

The disapproval is rather artificial, given that Richards has chosen Billy Bunter as his chief character. And this leads us to a sense of the stories' historical context and the attitudes that Richards expects his readers, if not to share, then at least to understand or find familiar.

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Billy Bunter's experiences and situation are of interest to the reader: even if he or she goes to a different type of school, the reader understands how the immediate task in class may conflict with what is on the pupil's mind.

The passage reveals much about the cultural outlook of the author or what appears to be his sense of an appropriate worldview for his readers. The characters are all male - in a way, understandably, since this is a boys' school - but there is no chance for a female viewpoint to appear by way of contrast. And while there is a mention of the holidays, the narrative seems very enclosed, limited to Bunter's narrow immediate world. And what a very comforting and comfortable world it is - there is no hint of adult concerns breaking in, while the only manifestation of evil is in the hero's alleged gluttony.

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Many modern readers will find the repetition of “fat” offensive, especially because we are encouraged to find Billy Bunter's size amusing even while we blame him for his greed. This is taken as read - the author does not feel any need to justify it. It is an attitude that we find continued in The Bash Street Kids in 1976, where Fatty is seen scoffing large amounts of food. However, in the 2003 Beano Book, the same character appears (he is drawn in the same way) but his name, “Fatty”, does not appear, and there is no reference to food or gluttony. Susie Orbach's 1978 book Fat is a Feminist Issue may mark the beginnings of a taboo about body size. This in turn led to the distinction between “fat“ and “big boned“. Of course, for most of the last century in the UK, obesity was statistically rare - but now that obesity is more widespread, laughing at fat people is taboo. Exceptions (like The Fat Slags in Viz or Eric Cartman in South Park) are considered to be in bad taste - and these are not, anyway, characters, in the sense that Billy Bunter is. Perhaps, also, we know better - that for most people obesity results from metabolism, and is not (mostly) the result of gluttony. And we also know that, far from being uniformly jolly, many obese people can become depressed and anxious. (Oddly, there is one situation where laughter at fatness is still considered acceptable - football grounds. Thus fans chanted: “He's fat, he's round, he's worth a million pounds“ of Peter Reid, near the end of his playing career, and they will pick on any player who puts on weight, with the chant of “Who's been eating all the pies?“).

It does not seem at all odd that the Billy Bunter stories should have become popular after 1908. But it may be strange that they remained popular until well into the 1960s. A search on the World Wide Web reveals that there are still fans of the stories - but this seems like adult nostalgia.

A note on Billy Bunter

For an expert view of the Billy Bunter books, you may wish to read the following notes. Peter McCall, editor of the Friars' Chronicles, has provided me with this information, which I quote with his permission:

The truth is that Frank Richards, who never went to Public School (but would never reveal the truth, although some intelligent guesses have been made about his education), wrote about what he thought it should be like (as Tolkien describing The Shire as Middle England should be). The header illustrations of Greyfriars are interesting in the early days of the Magnet. They seem to be a clever amalgam of Harrow and Eton. Familiarity with them from papers like Illustrated London News would have made readers 'feel at home at Greyfriars'. But, his writing does ring true in patches.

Thus, the knowledge of Public School life, assumed in the later books, derives from the Magnet. Here, week by week, readers were 'taught' the ethes of public school life as well as the slang. Thus, when Hamilton wrote the Cassell volumes he was continuing a saga (soap opera?). My feeling is that all groups have their own arcane terms for everything - Greyfriars was, and is, no different.

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As to the readership of the Magnet, there is a letter to the Editor in the early 1920s from a prospective Carthusian asking what life at public school was like! So, the Magnet and Gem were read by all classes in its day. This reader was almost certainly one of a very small group (readers who had been to public school). Bill Baker did a survey of his customers in the early 1970s and was amazed at how many professional people (both state and privately educated) he had on his list - in the days he was selling 400 to 500 copies of every book. Interestingly, many girls read the Magnet as well; Mary Cadogan tells of this in several of her books.

In The Classic Slum (Robert Roberts, Penguin, 1973) life in Salford is described as being lived by the ethos of Greyfriars. Such was the impact of the weekly Magnet story. Roberts and his friends did everything as they thought the "English Gentleman" [at Greyfriars] should and would.

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And, of course, many readers of the papers were in far "flung corners of Empire". Bill Lofts did a fascinating series of articles on "Overseas Readers" many years ago for the Friars' Chronicles.

As to the "style" of education at Greyfriars, Frank Richards was determined to teach as well as entertain. He would not write down to his readers. Hence, his classical allusions, the often used Latin and Greek derived words, and classical quotations (or mis-quotations!). His statement that he "always translated" the Latin is untrue (although, he usually did). I think it important to remember that Latin was much more widely taught than today and a sine qua non for University entrance - until the early 1960's. Also, Hamilton was no mean, self-taught classicist - even writing a Latin story for The Times Educational Supplement.

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He never condescended to his readers, making the point, as did Hugh Lofting, that you must never condescend to your audience. If you do, they will see through you and lose interest. If, on the other hand, something is beyond them, they will gloss over that passage. However, he believed that repetition (the tautology castigated by Orwell) would teach.

On the subject of obesity, this is almost entirely due to gluttony; metabolic causes are rare (Dr. McCall means in the Bunter stories). The decreases in exercise, being driven to school, central heating, among other causes, all compound a serious problem in today's culture.

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There are many people still fascinated by the most prolific writer of all time. While most fans may be adult, there are new acolytes from the younger generation. The reprinting of 1,500 of the Magnets by Howard Baker Press in the 1960s to 1980s meant that the readership was as great (possibly larger, according to Howard Baker) as in the heyday of the Amalgamated Press. There are several clubs and groups (worldwide) devoted to the study of Hamilton's work - although not, it is true, to any great academic level. There is still plenty being written about the author - much of it as relevant today as in earlier times.

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Text 16: Essay 50 - Of Studies, Francis Bacon

“Studies” for Bacon has a narrower denotation than today - where the noun covers all kinds of applied and theoretical academic learning. In this essay it denotes learning (by reading and following the argument or proofs) from the masters in maths, philosophy, law and other subjects. But it does not seem to include empirical science or what we might now call research. It relies on the authority of the learned.

In the modern world, we expect people to read silently - but this is a comparative novelty. St. Augustine was astonished to note that when St. Ambrose (bishop of Milan) read, you could not hear the words - and he speculates as to why the bishop did this. (Augustine tells us of this in his Confessions, Book 6, Section 3.) When literacy was rare, even those who could read silently would often choose to read aloud, as others could benefit - Dickens shows us this with Mr. Wopsle in Great Expectations and Mr. Sloppy in Our Mutual Friend. In this essay, Bacon writes with an ear for the public reading aloud of his prose.

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The modern author may have a sense of his or her readers, but does not expect to know who they are. Yet Bacon writes at a time when he can almost know who his readers are likely to be. Bacon does not write to earn a living - he has independent means. His purpose is to express a viewpoint and persuade his readers. In an age with no telephones or broadcast media, writing philosophical or polemical essays is one way to initiate a dialogue. Time and again we find a series of texts, as one writer produces a “remonstrance“ or “confutation“ of another. We may admire the stylistic devices he uses - or see this as rather mechanical - but he is concerned more to assert truth than to entertain.

The plainness of the text on the page is immediately striking - but there is a simple explanation. The essay appeared in the early days of printing. The title pages of books would have elaborate engravings, but all the other pages are composed of movable type - individual letters that are aligned, and later removed and re-used. It would be some years before printers would gradually introduce new type effects. The readers are able to find the structure in a more or less solid lump of text. The printer likewise may have no easy means of leaving blank spaces, and would, anyway, not wish to have expensive paper unused. The modern reader has to supply all this information without the aid of things like white space, bold type, different fonts and bullet points.

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When Frank Richards writes in Latin in the Billy Bunter stories, he knows that many of his readers may not know the classical language. Bacon on the other hand can be sure that anyone who reads English, and therefore has been to school, will also know Latin. This is not the case with his contemporary, Shakespeare, who writes for theatre audiences, of whom many are both illiterate and ignorant of Latin. (Shakespeare does, nonetheless, show off his own knowledge of the classics in many of his plays.)

A philosopher writing today might be expected to appeal to evidence, and cite real examples. Bacon here does not at any point refer to empirical evidence. Practically, this means that almost every sentence opens with a clause that contains a declarative - and often continues and ends with more such clauses. These are rarely self-evident, so we consider or weigh their merits.

The students of rhetoric in classical times noted (and eventually categorized systematically) certain verbal patterns that appealed to the listener. Interestingly, these work in many (maybe all) natural languages - so that things Jesus said in Aramaic, which the evangelists recorded in Greek, still seem persuasive in English translation. The two most powerful rhetorical techniques of all appear repeatedly in this essay - parallelism (sometimes antithetic, sometimes synonymous parallelism) and tripartite structures (lists of three or triplets).

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The essay opens with a triplet - “for delight, for ornament, and for ability“. The preposition “for“ is not strictly necessary to the sense, but reinforces the pattern. A good example of antithesis comes in the sentence:

“For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best from those who are learned.“

The semi-colon marks a natural division, and a pause for the speaker. The contrast is between the mere expert who judges “particulars“ , and the “learned“ person who can make connections and think in a joined-up way.

In fact, there are few such simple antitheses, because Bacon so much favours the triplet - so we get three similar or contrasting elements. Sometimes we get two levels so that there are three or more elements, each of which is further split into parallel clauses or phrases. For example:

“And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not.“

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The semi-colons show the divisions of the three parts - but each of these is in two parts, where the conditional “if“ clause, is completed by the sequel. And in the third example, Bacon adds as a flourish an extra relative clause after the main clause. In all three main clauses the verb is the same “need“ , while the subject remains the same, “a man/he“. But this whole sentence is in contrast with the short one that precedes it, which is also broken into three:

“Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.“

Bacon uses analogy also - for example references to eating and digestion: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested“ . (This last image finds its way into the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, in the collect for the 2nd Sunday in Advent: “Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may...hear them read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.”)

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A more elaborate analogy compares various physical exercises for different kinds of bodily health to various mental exercises (of the “wit”) for different kinds of intelligence

“So if a man's wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the Schoolmen; for they are cymini sectores. If he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study the lawyers' cases.“

Bacon believes that some people know things such that the rest of us can go to them for instruction, secure in the knowledge that their teaching is sound. But in commending studies, he assumes that we know the ways to study. There is no guidance at all about how to do it. The essay is all about why we should. He seems almost to think that mathematics, philosophy and law will reveal themselves to those who study them. That is, he may not think that others find this harder than he does. Or perhaps he is more severe - assuming that those who cannot learn on sight, are not fit for, or deserving of, education. (Today this seems harsh, but it would make sense at a time when places at school were few, and went to those able to profit by them.) And he writes as if “studies” are an obvious good - such that any person would want to pursue learning.

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Suggestion for teachers and students

Because this text is printed without any typographic embellishment, it suggests an obvious learning activity - to use a word processor to re-present it, so as to make obvious to a public speaker how to read this essay aloud in public, or perhaps as a radio broadcast, like BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day.


Among the terms that have passed out of use or changed meaning are these:

  • “Proyning” is pruning, done to cultivate plants
  • “Flashy” is insipid,
  • “Schoolmen” are philosophers so-called because they belong to schools of thought, such as the realists, idealists and Thomists
  • “Stones” are testicles
  • “Reins” are kidneys
  • A “receipt” is usually a recipe - so here it has the sense of a remedy or medicine

There are two occasions where Bacon writes in Latin.

  • “Abeunt studia in mores” means “Studies pass into and influence manners”
  • “Cymini sectores” are splitters of hairs

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Text 17: from The Intelligent Teachers' Guide to Preferment, Marius Rose

Getting That Post

This text has nothing to do with education, save in the most oblique way, since this “advice” to aspiring teachers could apply as well (or as badly) to people in any career. The author's attitude is far from clear. The passage appears at first as serious (very judgemental and snobbish) guidance to applicants. But when the writer considers women, he becomes sarcastic if not facetious - more or less indulging in cheap laughs at fashion mistakes. Marius Rose seems preoccupied with notions of etiquette and status. We learn nothing about him as a person, save what we can infer, but the passage mixes the advice with attacks on various imagined offenders against taste and dress conventions.

Marius Rose does not use imperative verb forms (do this; don't do that). Rather he uses declaratives in an indirect way: “This is important...It is true that...” The guidance is mostly negative, nonetheless - we read more of what not to wear, and find more examples of inappropriate clothing choices than things the writer approves. So against the rather vague “tidy and well-pressed suit of quiet colour” we have rather more about sports jackets, blue serge and funereal black suits.

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The passage reveals attitudes to material culture that make it a source of social history - for example the statement that the teachers' low salaries “restrict their choice of tailor”. This looks snobbish - we assume that a bespoke suit would be prohibitively expensive. But in 1954 perhaps the difference in price between tailor-made and off the peg would be far less than today - simply because many people were still working as tailors, and were not highly paid.

But there is no doubt that the writer is snobbish in his comment on ties: the applicant should wear these if they are “extremely distinguished”, but not otherwise. He does not explain what “distinguished” includes. But he implies that some wearers of “distinguished” ties would be applying for headteacher posts, and that wearing this tie would help them in their aspiration to a headship. This is an attitude that has changed radically, so that today in parts of the UK, an applicant might hide the fact that he was an Old Etonian or that she went to Badminton Ladies' College. The snobbery returns in the disapproval of a hairstyle “which would impress the selectors of the chorus at the London Palladium”. Rose wants women to exploit their looks, but evidently a chorus girl is too obvious and common. This attitude lives on, but in modern Britain its lexical expression has changed. For “chorus girl” we might now substitute “Essex girl”, “slapper” or, more recently “blonde”.

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Marius Rose is patronizing - he repeatedly suggests that other people do not know what they are doing:

“Clothes and general physical appearance play a much more important part in the selection of women candidates than some of them appear to realize.“

That is, he observes what they do, and supposes that he knows why (that they don't realize something). He does not consider that perhaps these women do realize that interviewers make such judgements, but that they have other reasons (of principle?) for not obliging those who judge them in this way. Further, he presents “a total lack of interest in...physical appearance” as a self-evident fault in a woman - he does not argue the point but simply asserts it. The qualifier “otherwise intelligent” indicates that these women are, in their dress choices, so far unintelligent. At the same time, he dismisses the pupils as being interested in a woman teacher only for her looks - claiming that “this (appearance) is a dominant interest” for adolescents. It does not occur to him to challenge this view. By implication, not only is it natural for teenage boys to take a “dominant interest” in their teacher's looks, but it is also normal, the way the world should be, in the Marius Rose world view.

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Marius's Rose has an indirect style, favouring passive constructions: “Extremes should be avoided...“ (rather than “Avoid extremes...“ ) and “Natural advantages should be stressed“. He uses some oblique or euphemistic terms. We are left to guess for ourselves what would be the hairstyle that would “impress the selectors of the chorus at the London Palladium.“ Occasionally, the style is cryptic or riddling:

“There should be no conflict between high intellectual abilities and concern for one's physical appearance, but too many possessors of the former seem to consider that their mental ability is displayed more effectively if the committee's attention is not distracted by the latter.“

All this means is that (in Rose's opinion) some attractive women think their looks may detract from their intelligence. He does not recognize that this is a real prejudice, and that women often do need to dress down in order to be taken seriously. And maybe he forgets that he has shown this prejudice, too, in his comment on the “chorus“ . The final comment about the “hair net“ may make us wonder whether the whole passage is a spoof, ridiculing the pseudonymous Mr. Rose. But mostly the passage does not seem ironically meant.

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Text 18: The Day-School Master, George Crabbe

This is a very pleasant poetic sketch. It has little to say about education save in very general terms, but has much to say about the schoolmaster's place in the social order of the country town. As part of a poem, in rhymed couplets, depicting life in a decent and ordered society, it may recall Oliver Goldsmith's Deserted Village (1770), with its portrait of a master in a rural day-school.

The Borough (from which this passage comes) depicts the life of a country town - the extract here originally appeared in this context, with other descriptions of people in their place. Modern readers may have a loose sense of some kind of social order, but until the 20th century it was almost a commonplace to suppose that English society was a very ordered hierarchy, and that this is a good thing, fixed by God. Mrs. C.F. Alexander, in All Things Bright and Beautiful (1848; the original title was Maker of Heaven and Earth) writes of “the rich man in his castle“ and “the poor man at his gate” that “God made them high or lowly/And ordered their estate.” George Crabbe here shows a man with a respected position in the town - his pupils look up to him as a “monarch”, yet Crabbe notes how he has his own fears, of penury and of being unable to pay his bills. Through the poem runs the idea of fear of judgement - not shown as something evil, but almost as proper or righteous fear, such as all men should have for God.

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Crabbe writes as if speaking directly, or in confidence, to the reader - so “here behold we” (here we see) brings the reader together with him in imagination, looking at a school scene. And after describing this scene, Crabbe draws a pointed moral, about how “little” the “timid trembling crowd” of children realize that their “powerful” teacher should also be subject to his own fears. The introductory “Ah!” is a plea for the reader's renewed attention.

The poet employs metaphor vividly and with thematic consistency. The empty classroom (the children have done their “morning duties” and are now at play) is likened to the (Tower of) Babel, from which the builders fled, after God confused their speech into different languages. The “workmen” are of course not men, but children, and “their tools” are books and pens, or slates. Later, the teacher appears as a “monarch” (sole ruler of his domain), as “tyrant” and as “judge” . The metaphor of the ruler is extended to his “insignia” (badges or signs of office), in this case the teacher's clothes and implements (mortar board, gown, cane?). As he has put these down (“ laid/Beside him”), he seems less potent.

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Together these images of rule or government fit well with two ideas.

First, that the teacher is not very high in the social order and his own domestic worries, as husband and father (will he pay the bills?).

A second, less explicit theme is the sense that everyone in the social order is subordinate to a higher authority, of which the ultimate source is God. This appears as a subtle and implicit likeness - though it might be more obvious in 1810 to readers who mostly understand the idea that we live under God's judgement. But it becomes explicit as we read that the children pray for deliverance, as “they mercy from their judge implore”. We see this again as the master's worry over unpaid bills becomes like the workings of conscience when he “feels the burthen” (“ burden” or “burthen” , ever since Bunyan published The Pilgrim's Progress in 1678, has been a familiar metaphor for guilt or sin “weighing” on man's conscience).

The images are also inflated - we know that the idea of this humble man as “monarch“ is hyperbole, even before we smile at his fear of the coalman. (Dickens in various novels depicts how the lower middle classes fear their creditors, while poorer people live within their means.)

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Crabbe has an eye for material detail. We see the books strewn around, the children as they “leap and play”. But the most precise detail concerns the master's wig, which is “awry” . Modern readers may not know the etiquette of wearing wigs - but the context implies that the teacher has indulged in the nineteenth century equivalent of loosening his tie, or taking his shoes off. And we suppose that he will straighten the wig, before the children return to class.

Crabbe also has an eye for psychological truth. In this Anthology we read many texts that present teachers or pupils to us - but few give us an insight into their inner concerns. Crabbe notes how, away from his pupils for a moment, the master is thinking not of the school, but of his obligations as father and husband. The poet uses a simple antithesis between the “tyrant“ of the children's perception, and the fearful family man that the master sees himself to be. His concerns are quite modern - fear of bills for rent and fuel. This antithesis returns at the end of the extract, where the master's “ease and comfort“ (half of it, anyway) comes when his pupils, and their books and slates, surround him - because he can forget about his domestic worries.

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The poet wrote this piece in 1810, but the poetic style is conservative. The effect of Wordsworth and Coleridge with their Lyrical Ballads (first edition, 1805) - which commend a poetic style closer to everyday speech - has yet to reach other writers. Thus Crabbe places adjectives after the nouns they qualify - “tyrant stern” , “judge severe” or “troop light-hearted” , and places the subject of a verb after its object: “...till the return they dread”. In Thomas Gray, writing in the mid 18th century, this neo-classical tendency is quite novel, and anticipates a change in popular taste. But sixty or so years later, this poem seems very conservative. However, Wordsworth's radical style was very much the exception, while Crabbe is more typical of his age.

It is only after the best part of two centuries that critical judgement has decided that Wordsworth and Coleridge are the better writers, while Crabbe is seen as a minor talent. Looking from our own time, we might think that Crabbe is deliberately archaic, but this is probably a mistake, caused by our knowing only the writers who were then in the forefront of stylistic change, like the Romantic poets.

The details of the poem tell us something of the life and manners of the borough. The school is called a “day-school” in contrast to the more prestigious boarding school. We see that a schoolmaster does not own his home, and heats it with coal, that he wears a wig, and that the children write in books, but also on slates (a reusable writing tablet, which remained in use in British schools until well into the 20th century).

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Text 19: From Down with Skool, Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle


Down with Skool (1953) is the first of four books by Geoffrey Willans, illustrated by Ronald Searle (who became famous for the St. Trinians books, later made into films). The others are How to Be Topp (1954), Whizz for Atomms (1956) and Back in the Jug Agane (1959). Down with Skool is subtitled “A Guide to School Life for Tiny Pupils and Their Parents”.

The books contain a series of descriptions, narratives, anecdotes and more from one Nigel Molesworth. Molesworth attempts to satirize the school, but perhaps the reader does not trust his judgement. Willans writes for adults and teenagers, who will know for themselves (better than Molesworth) what the school curriculum is like. At least, this was the case in the 1950s (and well into the 60s, when the books were still popular). Younger readers today may not understand the cultural references.

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Behind Nigel Molesworth's distorted picture, with its complaints, we can discern some kind of truth. This passage is the first of a series of portraits of teachers - the title suggests that they are specimens in a zoo. The subtitle reminds us that in a boys' public school (or preparatory school) the teachers were all male. We note that their teaching consists of two things - creative writing tasks and study of the canon of classic English literature, in which poetry figures prominently. We also know that they have a prescriptive attitude to the pupils' writing: “Migod you didn't ort to write a sentence like that“. (We may feel that Molesworth records the substance but not the teacher's exact words here.) Modern writing tasks on exam papers typically contain lots of guidance, almost a suggested structure. But at Molesworth's school (St. Custards), the boys get no more than a title. The first three are meant to reflect the boys' real experience; the second three are meant to show how the teachers are now asking the boys to reflect on things outside their experience - though only the first (“ A trip in a space ship“) seems likely to be a task a teacher might really set. In the 1950s, the long hair and colourful ties would be seen as romantic, artistic and slightly daring - all qualities Molesworth ridicules.

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Molesworth names both classic and modern authors - Wordsworth, Dickens, Shakespeare; T.S. Eliot, Christopher Fry and W.H. Auden. He quotes from Tennyson - the closest Molesworth gets to knowing the text - and from Shakespeare. His review of “Rob Roy by Charles Dickens” is humorous because it mostly describes the physical state of the book (pressed leaf, spilt orange juice) and the occasion when Molesworth used it as a fort. The reader is expected to know that the real Rob Roy is by Sir Walter Scott, and that the story briefly mentioned here is clearly Kingsley's The Water Babies. On the other hand, he can repeat the opinions of his teachers, as when he calls Tennyson's poem The Brook “quaint dated gejeune“ (jejune).

Molesworth wants to show the reader that he is tough - he regularly condemns people and activities as “sissy” or “girly”. (The chief butt of his criticism is Fotherington-Thomas, a “weed”, who supposedly says “hello” to the sky and trees). Apart from The Brook (which inexplicably escapes condemnation as a nature poem), Molesworth only likes narrative poetry about battles. His belief that literature is irrelevant to modern life (“ the new atomic age”) is one that persists to this day. As, perhaps, do fantasies about shooting the teacher (germ warfare was a novelty in the 1950s) and having a day off school.

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This being a public school, boys are known by their surnames only - apart from Fotherington-Thomas, we meet Gillibrand (admired because his father is a general) and Grabber (not in this extract), the captain of everything. Molesworth uses Grabber's name for the publishers of “Rob Roy“. This usage does not indicate a lack of friendship or affection - and it survives among officers in the armed services. There is an elaboration on the naming convention - Nigel Molesworth is “Molesworth One”, because he has a younger brother, “Molesworth Two”, at the school. Molesworth uses the lexicon of public schools, with some additions of his own - creating a quite distinctive idiolect. He shows approbation with “whizz” and disapprobation with “chiz”, sometimes repeated. “Prep” (preparation) is the equivalent of homework (done after lessons, but not at home), while a “crib” is a concealed aid to memory. Molesworth uses Latin pater (for father; but note how Louis Stokes in 1912 writes of “dad”), and older English expressions like “la” and “fie” (such as you might meet in novels by Henry Fielding or Jane Austen). When the teachers “set ten lines”, the task is for the boys to memorize the ten lines. Molesworth refers to a “whole holiday” (a full day off school), as opposed to the more common “half-holiday” (half a day off).

Geoffrey Willans worked as a schoolmaster, but Nigel Molesworth's non-standard spelling is more inventive than the errors most teachers encounter today. His absent punctuation is perhaps more familiar, while his disregard of capitalization seems normal in these days of e-mail and texting. But in the 1950s it would have put Molesworth low down in the teachers' assessments.

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Text 20: From The Beano Book, 1976, D.C. Thomson & Co.

Bird-brain gives Teacher pain!

The Bash Street Kids is a comic strip created for The Beano by Leo Baxendale, who also invented Minnie the Minx, with its eponymous heroine. It first appeared (as When the Bell Rings) in 1953. The name of “Bash Street” suggests an acceptance of physical violence, and until recent times the story would show fighting as normal, while the pupils would often be caned by way of punishment for their frequent misdemeanours. This story comes from the 1976 Beano Book (published by D.C. Thomson of Dundee) - it appears in a “special section”, of three stories (this is the middle one) and two double-sided designs for 2D puppets (Teacher and Wilfrid and Danny and Plug). In the weekly comic, the stories typically occupy some twenty or more frames on a double-page spread in full colour. This story covers half as many frames, though the central section is a large double page illustration. The structure of the narrative is simple: the teacher introduces the subject of ornithology, leads the children to an aviary - where they see birds of various species. On their way home, Fatty sees some different birds - on spits in “Fred's Chicken Grill”. Plug suggests that the group should study these birds closely. The teacher agrees for once, and the last frame shows the kids and teacher tucking into a large meal.

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This episode makes use of lots of visual gags. In the last frame, both the teacher and the school cat (Winston - the name does not appear in this story) share a table with the kids. But Cuthbert Cringeworthy, the clever “swot”, is on a table alone. Most of the visual jokes are in the central illustration - we see the cat, wearing a beak disguise and tweeting to stalk two birds; secretary birds writing lines; two vultures (with knives and forks and wearing bibs) eyeing the teacher, and Cuthbert sitting with an owl.

This episode relies on stereotyping and (as in TV sitcoms) the reader's familiarity with the characters - we are expected to know that Smiffy lacks intelligence while Cuthbert is clever, that Fatty is a glutton and that Plug is ugly (he has a massive overbite and prominent upper incisors). Even in 1976 these stereotypes were beginning to be controversial. Nowadays one would not expect to find in a children's comic any humour directed at children with learning difficulties (Smiffy), very intelligent children (Cuthbert), or at those with irregular facial features (Plug) or obesity (Fatty). In the 2003 Beano Book, the same obese character appears (he is drawn in the same way) but his name, Fatty, does not appear, and there is no mention of food or gluttony. (Similarly, Smiffy appears, but no jokes are made about his stupidity.)

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The humour also relies on archaism - the Bash Street curriculum does not reflect UK public education as it was in 1976, but a liberal notion of random gobbets of scientific or cultural knowledge, supported by frequent visits and excursions. The teacher wears a mortar-board and his physical appearance is a parody of the hero of the classic film Goodbye Mr. Chips. Bash Street is supposedly unruly, but the children's misdemeanours are mild. Smiffy is reputed to be unintelligent but his answers to questions often contain puns or wordplay. In this story he does not know the meaning of “ornithology” - here presented as an illustration of his low intelligence. This suggests an understanding between author and readers, that more or less everyone except the academically-challenged Smiffy knows this meaning. Given that the comic's readership is mainly children (though many adults also read it) this is quite surprising.

The dialogue is literary and not naturalistic - so people speak mostly in complete sentences, using grammatically standard forms. The teacher twice asks questions to elicit knowledge - before and after the visit. The story anticipates an emerging popular growth of interest in wildlife, but identifies the love of nature with the older generation of which the teacher is a representative - he speaks without apparent irony of “the beauties of nature” and birds in “natural surroundings”. In this regard, the story is ambiguous - we sympathise with the kids' supposed lack of interest, but note that while they are in the aviary, most appear to be showing interest in some species of bird.

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More seriously, the story is directly didactic - first, the teacher explains that “ornithology” is “bird-spotting” , and then mentions the “aviary” by name. For the scene inside the aviary we see realistic line drawings of many species of bird, which the reader might not have known beforehand. This also appears in the teacher's sentence choices: we read the imperative, “Prepare to gaze...” and the explanatory declarative, “We shall enter...”

In real modern UK education, insulting remarks to children are taboo (it is an offence to make such remarks) - yet here the teacher calls Smiffy “bird-brain”. There are pejorative slang terms - “pesky“ and “scraggy“. The first is not found in everyday British speech (now or in 1976) - and is almost exclusively used in comics where a stronger term is not permitted. The second is still found in speech, but is also very mild. (This tendency is still found in children's comics, where swearing remains unacceptable, but less so in TV; in 1976 before the watershed one would hear invented substitutes for profanity, like “pigging” [coined for the 70s sitcom The Dustbin Men] or the more common “naffing”, where today one hears stronger epithets in soap operas or sitcoms.)

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The double page illustration is marked by labels and captions, as well as the standard speech balloons (call-outs), which contain a series of puns on the name or behaviour of the bird depicted. The owl says, “twit” to Cuthbert. The aviary keeper sees two gannets - one literally, one metaphorically (Fatty), while Spotty pursues a spotted flycatcher, exhorting it to “Come and be spotted”. Mostly The Bash Street Kids avoids total impossibilities, but in this illustration we see three puffins on a model railway - which allows a pun on the name Puffin(g) Billy - another reference to the canon of liberal education, in this case of historical knowledge (Puffing Billy was a famous locomotive built in 1813 for a Northumberland colliery.)

The lexicon of the story is worthy of comment. There are no naturalistic slang or dialect words with the exception of “humming” (for another pun, on the name of the humming bird) in the sense of giving off an unpleasant smell. There are plenty of representations of noises: “Coo, Hoi, Haw-haw! Phew, Sniff” and “Chomp”. On the other hand, we find conventional literary lexis in “gaze” (from Teacher) and “beautiful” (from Fatty). We even find the archaic poetic diction of “feathered friends“ (twice) for birds. Plug is evidently a keen listener - before the visit, the teacher hands him some binoculars while he (Teacher) invites the kids to see nature “at close range”. When he sees the chicken's in Fred's grill, the same character, Plug, uses the same phrase, in suggesting that they study them (the chickens) “at close range” - but the reader understands the changed reason for the closeness. So the repetition is effective in giving a sense of unity to the story.

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The illustrations are clear but in places the author overcomes their limitations by use of captions - so we read “PAINED EXPRESSION” with an arrow pointing to Teacher's face (on hearing Smiffy's reply), “WEAVE” beside each of two weaver birds (weaving a nest from one boy's hair), “2 YEAR OLD EGG” by the nest of the humming bird and SOON- to indicate a short interval in time. At the top of the first and last pages are rhyming captions by way of comment - as if the writer or editor is standing outside the story and speaking directly to the reader: “Bird-brain gives Teacher pain!” and “The kids get a thrill in the chicken grill!” This is not only the case with The Bash Street Kids but most of the humorous stories in the Beano Book. It does not, though, happen with the non-humorous adventure story General Jumbo.

How does this connect with other texts in the Anthology? It is far removed from the various contemporary accounts drawn from the experience of modern writers, such as Comprehensive, The Play Way and Head of English. Although it depicts what passes for education in a supposed working-class school, it reflects middle-class nostalgia and a very comforting view of the world - in this regard it is closer to the public school of Willans (sic.) and Searle or the more authentic and detailed depiction in the Billy Bunter books. It is innocent and idealized. The stereotyping is paradoxical - it may seem negative and cruel, but gluttonous Fatty, simple Smiffy and plug-ugly Plug are all accepted by their peers and are presented affectionately. Cuthbert is more problematic, but is valued on those rare occasions when the school is competing for some academic prestige. The nameless schoolmaster - “Teacher” to his pupils - is frequently disappointed but never downhearted for long, and almost infinitely patient.

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Text 21: From The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley

The Examiner-of-All-Examiners

The Water Babies is a classic children's novel from 1863, in which the Reverend Charles Kingsley fiercely criticises the widespread cruelty to children in Victorian England. Kingsley's chief target is child labour, but he attacks other groups who harm children. Tom, the central character, works as a chimney sweep, but runs away from his cruel employer, Mr. Grimes, and falls into a river where he is turned into a water-baby, and undergoes many fantastic experiences in his new life. Like Dickens' novels, this story first appeared in serial form. The Water Babies draws on Christian theology - Tom is born into a new life through the action of water, and meets powerful spirits who encourage justice (Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby) and punish offenders (Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid).

The extract in the Anthology may seem highly relevant to education in England at the start of the 21st century, but this is coincidence. Kingsley attacks a preoccupation in his own time with assessment, exams, and parents who favour all work and no play.

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The most obvious feature of the novel (at this point anyway) may be its use of analogy - either loose parable or more sustained allegory. Thus one or more details in the work of fiction mirror, in ways the reader can understand, things in the real world. So here is a story about anthropomorphised talking vegetables, trying desperately to learn, and distraught by their failure, while their parents care more about their working hard, than about their playing or enjoyment. We may assume that Kingsley is making a comment on real children (not least because we may know that root vegetables do not have parents - so this detail suggests another identity). But the analogy to vegetables enables Kingsley to depict their suffering without unduly distressing his readers. And even if we do not see the connection to human parents, Kingsley spells it out in places:

“But even they (the vegetables) are no foolisher than some hundred score of papas and mammas, who fetch the rod when they ought to fetch a new toy, and send to the dark cupboard instead of to the doctor.”

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Kingsley's theme in this passage is that children should be allowed to play - an idea that we meet in Gray's Ode, in Hard Times, in Our Day Out, and clearly in The Bash Street Kids. It is an idea that the Christian Brothers endorse (with their concern for exercise and recreation) in the 1907 prospectus. Later texts (Decline and Fall, the Billy Bunter books, Down with Skool, The Bash Street Kids) show how society has changed, so that young people ensure that they do get the chance to play.

Kingsley's narrative is intended for children, but has some learned cultural references. The setting for this chapter is borrowed from Swift's 1726 satirical fantasy Gulliver's Travels. (Kingsley may be claiming some kind of kinship to the earlier work. The Water Babies also has fantasy and satire, but is a far simpler work, with more obvious targets.) Many readers know of Captain Lemuel Gulliver's visits to Lilliput and Brobdingnag but not the rest of the novel. One of the other places Gulliver visits is the flying island of Laputa (it does not appear to fly in this extract from Kingsley's novel). The talking stick, we read, belonged to Roger Ascham - who here becomes a by-word for good sense and integrity. Ascham was secretary to both Edward VI (the boy king) and Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary). Later he became tutor to Queen Elizabeth.

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Kingsley (like other children's writers, such as Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl) enjoys inventing neologisms - like “nimblecomequick” and the names “Doasyouwouldbedoneby” and “Bedonebyasyoudid”. All of these are compounds - and it is perhaps only the absence of spaces between the elements that challenges the reader who sees them for the first time. While some of the lexicon seems apt for young readers, we also see terms such as “unparalleled precocity“ and “burly and dictatorial“ , that seem more suited to a text written for adults. Occasionally the narrative may be self-consciously (and patronizingly) childish - “Tom told him prettily enough...“

Kingsley directs questions to his readers, assuming an authorial voice: “Were they not a foolish couple?” Some things seem not to change - already in 1863, it seems, learning languages was a source of alarm. We read of the “burst and decayed” vegetables, that they are “ half a dozen different languages...and all of them badly spoken.”

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Text 22: Sharon: Incest, Liz Lochhead


This piece is slightly schematic but this may reflect its origin as a piece for performance on stage, so that structure needs to be clear and some ideas signposted for the audience - the reader of a prose monologue has time to reflect and find things. The writer's skill here lies in the organization of viewpoints - Sharon, the youthful speaker, admires her teacher, but reveals to us, by quoting his wife, the second-hand nature of his supposedly original ideas. Sharon shows little of herself, other than her enthusiasm to learn - but mixes up her reflections on literature with her observations of Mr. Fleming's home life.

The listener (or reader, if we approach the text through the pages of the Anthology) sees a contrast between Sharon's idea of Mr. Fleming and the reality - because she reports details, but does not see their significance. The teacher emerges as rather a pathetic type, browbeaten by a clever wife, who exploits his student's love of learning in order to flirt with her. “He even invited us round to the house one night, to give me a loan of a book...” Many teachers lend books to their students - which we can do by bringing the book to school or college - we need not invite them to our houses. Sharon remarks that Mrs. Fleming might have tidied up, “if she knew someone was coming” - which suggests that her husband has not told her, or not represented Sharon's visit as anything more than dropping by for a book. Or perhaps she has known and uses domestic mess as a way of rebuking her husband. When Sharon arrives, she sees that Mr. Fleming has donned his jeans (in a misguided effort to look young and fashionable, perhaps), flatters Sharon in a patronizing way, and reveals his interest in her as also motivated by his hope that she will win a bursary (and bring credit to him). Finally, Mrs. Fleming, thinking of Sharon's dissertation recalls the lecturer from her and her husband's time at university who “was always wittering on about Incest in Wuthering Heights”. Does Mrs. Fleming really forget Sharon's name, or does she address her as “Karen” to irritate her husband?

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We can reconstruct Mr. Fleming's teaching from Sharon's account. He has a bizarre theory about incest, based on an improbable conjecture - it woud make sense if applied to real people about whom we might one day find the truth, but there is no sense in speculating about what is not in the novel at all. (We can make a case for incest's being an implicit theme of Wuthering Heights - but it is not what the novel is explicitly about.) Beyond this, Sharon has learned about the artist's family life. Sharon has seen for herself, however, how popular romantic fiction today derives from the Brontës' work.

The style of the monologue is distinctive - Liz Lochhead gives Sharon a convincing Scots idiolect. Her speeches are naturalistic - authentic speech (as we see in various transcripts in the Anthology) would be incoherent on the stage. The monologue is a fairly artificial form, since one speaker maintains a constant flow of speech, without any real interruption, other than those she contrives for herself.

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Sharon's lexicon reveals both her Scots origin (“ brung” , “wee boy” ) and her youth (“ really mental” , “dead nice” , “dead Lived-In” ). We also see Scots forms of pronunciation (“ modren” , “mibbe” ), and Scots structures: “Come away in” and “Darling, is this not...” (as opposed to English “isn't it”). One surprising detail (a slip?) is when Mrs. Fleming refers to “the Uni.” - a common form among students today, but very novel in 1978, and then usually restricted to younger people than Mrs. Fleming. “The Bought Houses” shows that Sharon comes from a working class area, where home ownership is unusual and worthy of comment.

Liz Lochhead provides Sharon with a range of cultural references - mostly to the canon of English literature and literary history. But there are references to contemporary culture - to Habitat (fashionable in 1978) and, indirectly, to Penguin books - with the “Orange Paperback Spines”. Most Scots will know that Sauchiehall Street is in the heart of Glasgow. Many English listeners also know of it, as a famous Scottish street, without perhaps knowing much more. In 1978 Bamber Gascoigne, presenter of TV's University Challenge quiz, was an icon of cleverness. (Though also conforming to the stereotype of eccentric genius, largely because of his physical appearance.)

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Formal education allows teachers and students to meet, in a safe public environment by day. At night the students return to their homes, perhaps taking work with them. This system (which is probably healthy) separates school from home life. Sharon's monologue makes for uneasy listening, as we learn that Sharon, encouraged by Mr. Fleming, is mixing up her studies, social contact out of hours and fantasies about the teacher and his wife. We are perhaps unsure how to respond - is this an innocent association, or is Mr. Fleming abusing his position? Or is he the victim - trapped in a loveless marriage to an ageing wife, while his student's enthusiasm confuses him further?

In looking at the text on the page, you might think about how the writer angles for reactions - sympathy, amusement, outright laughter - from the audience. Another way to look for this would be to prepare it for reading aloud, and test it on different audiences. This may be the explanation for things like the sustained alliteration on the “Manse in the middle of all those moors” and “moulded their minds: Madness and the Moors”.

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Text 23: From Our Day Out, Willy Russell

Song 11: Zoo Song (Who's Watching Who?)

This is a quite straightforward text, though there is a lot going on in it. But it is fairly easy to discover the author's attitudes and to explain his technique as a dramatist. Willy Russell, very much like Dickens in Hard Times, sees children in some sense as victims of a system. Education, according to this play, will not change the lives of children whose prospects are determined by the culture of their environment. This appears in an exchange between Mr. Briggs who strives to uphold the system, and Mrs. Kay who wants to relax the rules so that the children in the play will have one enjoyable day to remember. Mrs. Kay is presented as a humane and sympathetic character, and the playwright massages the audience's emotions, so that we side with her. But her attitude is fatalistic and patronizing - a counsel of despair.

More interestingly, we note that the playwright reduces a complex subject to two polarized views. Since we cannot (or are meant not to) accept what Briggs says, we agree with Mrs. Kay. But once we leave the theatre we may see other possibilities - just because the children's current school experience cannot alter their lives, this is no reason why a different model of education, along with social and economic changes, cannot improve their chances. And in the years since Russell wrote the play, the prospects of working-class Liverpudlians have improved immeasurably. This play is rooted in the anti-Thatcherite struggles of the 1980s. It is no more authoritative than The Bash Street Kids. But it is more likely to mislead because audiences may believe that it presents some great social truths or revelations.

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Russell also presents an attitude common to liberals - of equating sympathy for the disadvantaged with acceptance of their condition, rather than attempting seriously to change it, and to help them to contribute to the process. In the debate about the relative influence of nature and nurture, Russell thinks that environment is far more important than heredity - as he shows in the play Blood Brothers, that contrasts the different fates of twins, adopted into different families.

Perhaps the most brutal expression of this despair comes from Mrs. Kay who says:

“You won't educate them [the children] because nobody wants them educated.”

This assertion is so powerful in the theatre, that we may not see that it is an obvious untruth. Apart from Mr. Briggs (in the play) who clearly does want to educate the children (albeit in a fairly tough manner), there is no way that Mrs. Kay can know what all the people in Liverpool, or beyond want to happen. Any one of us can say that we want children to be educated (and that we wanted it back in 1976, too).

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Mrs. Kay is contemptuous of the now-vanished jobs in factories, but thinks their disappearance an even greater evil, since this leaves the children with nothing to do. (Russell glosses over the contradiction here.) We cannot blame her for failing to foresee the emergence of different jobs, but her argument is essentially a stupid one - she does not see that while jobs of one kind go, others take their place. This is not peculiar to Liverpool. Of course the dramatist's wider purpose may well have been to challenge and shame politicians and business owners to provide the answers that Mrs. Kay cannot find. In the play, Briggs is conveniently stunned into silence; in real life, he might give as good as he gets. In real life any speaker in a conversation would be unlikely to get away with such long uninterrupted speeches as Mrs. Kay. She takes a high moral tone, but her argument is morally suspect - giving the children a sop, in place of trying to help them succeed.

Elsewhere Russell challenges Briggs' authority by giving one of the children (Ronson) the better of an argument about captive animals. Another child (Andrews) sides with the teacher and calls Ronson “thick”, but for the audience, Ronson's observations will be compelling as he is obviously not “thick”. (Later the children take some small animals onto their bus.) The choice of the zoo for the visit allows Russell to draw an obvious analogy between the captivity of the animals and the children's lack of freedom.

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Russell's style is superficially naturalistic - the characters use slang and dialect words and forms, or an approximation to this: we have dropped “g” on “-ing” endings and occasional non-standard lexis (“ thick” ). But if we compare the dramatic dialogue to real transcripts of spontaneous speech we will find that all of these characters are eloquent and speak in a literary manner - using complete sentences and standard grammar. Each utterance is relevant to the one that precedes it, to a degree that would be uncanny in real life. If we substitute standard lexis in, say, Ronson's speech beginning “Know about other ways of livin'. About bein' free...” then we will find it to be as well-constructed as the speech of any orator. This is not the natural speech of any “underprivileged” Liverpudlian teenager - in 1976 or today.

The use of songs moves us far from naturalism, into a kind of Brechtian distancing (Verfremdungseffekt), inviting some kind of reflection. The song lyrics, above all the chorus, make explicit the children's likeness to caged animals.

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Text 24: Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, Thomas Gray

This poem is perhaps not as well known in full as its last nine words - many of us have learned these but without knowing the source. Where Willy Russell (in Our Day Out) singles out “underprivileged children” for his pity, Gray considers the pains of privilege. His beliefs (but not his poetic style) anticipate those of Wordsworth in Intimations of Immortality and of Coleridge in Frost at Midnight - that childhood is a blessed time, and its end regrettable in that it brings cares and duties. At the public school, Eton, the boy will begin to be treated as a man, in most respects. You may note that Louis Stokes in his letters from Rugby School refers to another pupil as a “man”. Gray thinks not only of the social conventions - whereby the school mirrors a stratified order. He also regrets the adult emotions or “Passions” that shall tear the children: “Anger, Fear, Love, Jealousy, Envy, Care, Despair, Sorrow, Ambition, Scorn, Falshood (sic.), Unkindness, Remorse” and “Madness”. Gray contrasts this with the innocent sports and games of children whose tears are “forgot[ten] as soon as shed”, with the “easy [comfortable] night” and light sleep of the young. It is not clear whether Gray thinks this regrettable growing-up happens during or after the boys' time at school. It is clear that he thinks the younger pupils happy, and looks with approval on their games and pastimes, as they “disport” on the “margent” [margin; banks] of the Thames.

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This explains the word-play in the poem's title. Today we use “prospect” mostly in its metaphorical sense of looking ahead in time; but once it was used literally to denote the view of something which we see before us: here Gray is literally looking down on the college and the idealized Berkshire landscape - not a wild Romantic scene, but a formal and ordered “stately” view. The poet writes from his own experience - he begins by recalling his own “careless [worry-free] childhood” as he looks over this scene. (The modern reader who returns to or revisits university in later life may recognize the feeling of nostalgia here for a vanished youth or innocence.) He thinks of specific pleasures: rowing (cleaving the “glassy wave” with “pliant arm” - as celebrated in the college's famous boating song), keeping caged songbirds (“ enthral[ing] the captive linnet” ) and playing with hoops and balls (perhaps the latter is a reference to cricket).

Perhaps the most bitter and ironic line in the poem is that where Gray invokes the Thames (and the reader) to tell the children that they are now officially grown-up: “Ah, tell them they are men!” That “ah” is as close as Gray gets to naturalism. He believes that writing is a refined art, and that the poet must control the medium of verse, in conventional and formal patterns. Gray has very clear and powerful views to articulate, but they are held in check by the decorum of the poetry - writing with understatement and an English reserve. The genius of the poetry lies in the elegant control of powerful and profound truths.

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The rhyming pattern and metre are technically perfect - a feat that would challenge a less accomplished writer, but Gray sustains this over eleven ten-line stanzas. This pattern is obvious enough when you look at it. But we can see how easily modern readers can miss it, from the simple fact that the typesetter of the Anthology has introduced a break in what should be the second stanza, after its fourth line. The other features of Gray's poetic diction are fairly clear. He uses

  • a literary word-order, putting object before subject: “The captive linnet which enthral” and “These shall the fury Passions tear”.
  • circumlocutions: “Who foremost now delight to cleave/With pliant arm the glassy wave?” (=who are the best rowers now?)
  • descriptive epithets: “Henry's holy Shade” , “hoary Thames” and “silver-winding way”.
  • a special literary lexicon: “Shade” (for ghost), “mead” (for meadow), “gladsome” (for happy) and “disporting” (for playing).
  • indirect descriptions and denotations like “her HENRY” or the longer description of going out of bounds beginning “Some bold adventurers”.

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Gray addresses the whole poem to the place, the college and the River Thames. “Ah, tell them, they are men!” seems like an instruction to the reader, but if we go back to the start of the poem, we will see that this must be an invocation of Father Thames and the rest.

Contemporary readers may compare this poem with, say, Willy Russell's play about school life and adult cares. But already Russell's work looks dated, because it is fixed in particular circumstances that have vanished. This poem refers to some things specific to the public school, but its most important arguments transcend this totally. After hundreds of years it is as relevant as ever to the business of growing up.

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Text 25: From Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh

The First Time

In the UK today, there is a widespread belief that fee-paying schools are somehow superior to state schools. But there are many literary works that satirize and ridicule the inadequacies of public and preparatory schools. In this episode, Paul Pennyfeather, begins to teach in a minor public school, Llanabba Castle in North Wales. The other teachers are incompetent and inadequate, and the school is a fraud. In one sense, this is a conventional third-person novelistic narrative. It is perhaps unusual in that neither the author (as an intrusive voice) nor any of his characters attempts to justify or conceal (or condemn) the fraud.

Paul is a kind of innocent Everyman figure. He assumes, since he is employed in a school, that his job is to teach the boys. The first surprise is that Captain Grimes (one-legged and later revealed as a bigamist) suggests that keeping the class quiet is good enough. But even more surprisingly, an experienced teacher, Mr. Prendergast, quite openly admits that he has never yet managed this. On the other hand, Grimes understands well that pupils will misbehave less if they are kept busy.

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What follows is a familiar scene in which a group of pupils resist all attempts to control them, until the teacher accepts this state of affairs, and finds a way to manage it - he substitutes quantity for quality, and induces the boys to write with a simple bribe, and a threat of violence.

The boys have no fear of authority, as we see when one readily explains another's crying as being caused by smoking cigars. They attempt the old ruse of using a false name - it is unlikely (though not impossible) that any is really called Tangent, a name they have probably taken from trigonometry. We do not know what are their real names - until the point where we read that Clutterbuck insists he is the only Tangent. In this case we know the claim to be a direct lie.

The passage is quite alarming or worse - it reveals the reality that every teacher knows: the management of the class at all times depends upon the good will of the pupils. And the teacher's strategies for manipulating this are few: determination, readiness for violence and bribery. (In modern state schools only two of these three are now allowed; but Paul Pennyfeather might be surprised to find cities in the UK where schools pay children for every exam pass. Since the state pays the school for this success, too, the institution is merely taking a cut for passing on the bounty.)

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The episode has a dramatic structure - most of it is spoken dialogue, set out as direct speech. Waugh supplies narrative, and comment on Paul's feelings (as when his “heart sank” ). What he does not do is explain things or spell them out - like a dramatist, he leaves the audience to infer some of the causes and explanations. We learn that Prendergast receives a “burst of applause” when he enters his classroom, while Paul is “dumb with terror”. But we are not told the cause and nature of the applause, nor the source of Paul's terror. It seems obvious that it is a fear that he will be unable to cope with teaching his class, but Waugh does not ever tell the reader this directly.

Paul's strategy in setting his task anticipates the modern habit of assessing by effort rather than quality of attainment. Perhaps Paul thinks that by recognizing merit, he would exclude most boys from a chance of earning the prize. By rewarding quantity, he gives all an incentive, since they do not yet know who is most likely to win such a contest.

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We have no sense at any point in the story that the school has a formal curriculum, that the teachers have programmes of study - indeed that anything approximating to what we call education is happening here. By comparison Billy Bunter, Nigel Molesworth and the Bash Street Kids are all receiving a real education of sorts, that is, a coherent body of cultural information and formal skills. Paul Pennyfeather makes no effort to instruct the pupils, once he sees that they are bent on seizing control of the classroom from him. He sets a task for which the pupils must rely on what they know already - he does not teach them.

Like the extracts from Hard Times and The Water Babies, this is part of a longer narrative. But Waugh has directed the reader's attention almost wholly to Paul, and not to the students. One, however, has a name: we may assume from this that Clutterbuck has already been presented - or will soon be presented - as a character in his own right, whereas the other multiple “Tangents” are unmemorable and likely not be relevant to Paul's continuing story.

This extract has none of the special lexis we meet in Louis Stokes' letters or Nigel Molesworth's fictional accounts. Perhaps the only word here that has a special meaning related to education is “essay” . Paul sets this task (like the teachers in Nigel Molesworth's account) simply by announcing the title.

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Text 26: From The Christian Brothers' College, Bristol: Prospectus

A prospectus is a useful source of information about popular attitudes. That is, it may not present a school or college with objective accuracy. But it will tell you about the school in the terms that the writer thinks the reader wants to see. And it will usually give a view of what education should be, that will reflect prevailing opinions from the time of writing.

In recent times, the Christian Brothers have come in for some criticism (as supposed sponsors of institutional cruelty), but they have an honourable history. Their founder, Saint John Baptist de la Salle, devoted his life to teaching poor children. He was also a pioneer of training for teachers. In the nineteenth century, many English public schools were transformed by the introduction of moral and spiritual teaching, accompanied by physical exercise. But these schools were for the sons of the wealthy. One can see, in such schools as the Christian Brothers College, how charitable organizations were able to provide a comparable education for the children of middle and working class families. The prospectus stresses how the school is “open to all classes” (“classes” here means social classes, not groups of pupils) - it appears that the city finds the modest fees for the students (the system that later would be called direct-grant - the school is of independent foundation, but public funds meet or support the costs of educating those whose parents cannot afford it).

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We also see the commitment of the Christian Brothers to maintaining a supply of teachers for the future, as the college trains “intending pupil teachers“ and enables them to secure University Degrees. (This arrangement continued until the 1980s for many teacher-training colleges. These could not award degrees directly, but a sponsoring university would confer degrees on students at the college.) The college, therefore, gives talented boys from even the poorest of homes a chance to rise quite high in what is still in 1907 a very stratified social system.

The prospectus seeks to advertise the college's commitment to traditional moral and spiritual values, and to modern techniques of education - notably a concern for physical health and for learning in the natural sciences. The college is a day school - this may be for economic reasons, but also appears to accord with the Christian Brothers' commitment to the “blessings of home influence and training”.

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By 1907 print technology, using hot metal type and plates for illustration, was very sophisticated. The prospectus is remarkable for the variety of typefaces and sizes, and for the large number of photographic illustrations. The gothic or mediaeval style of “The Photograph” and “Our Ideal” suggests a sense of traditional values - an association that becomes strong in the late 19th century (where Tennyson and, later, the pre-Raphaelites revive interest in King Arthur and Christian chivalry), and which survives into the new century. But on subsequent pages the typefaces for the headings are more modern in their associations.

As this is a prospectus, we need not look hard to find explicit attitudes and values - the writers proclaim them at every turn. The title page shows the college's credentials as a religious establishment. The Christian Brothers are members of a religious order - in the Roman Catholic Church they place themselves under the discipline of their superior in the order, but also under that of the (Roman Catholic) bishop. We see the Christian values in “Our Ideal” and again on the page that explains “Moral and Religious Training”. The importance of home life appears in the poem beneath the photograph, that shows how attendance at the college makes the boys proud and happy to have pleased their mothers, while the mothers are happy to see their sons in a wholesome place.

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A third theme is physical health - we see “very healthy” in bold type, we learn that the college is high up (so free of mists), has “extensive recreation grounds” , a “drill ground” (for marching and cadet parades), heated classrooms, “regular intervals for recreation”, “Games of Cricket & Football” (with a footnote that these, on half-holidays, are not compulsory) and that there is “A complete course of Physical Exercises” for each class. What is this all about? In 1907 (and well beyond) childhood diseases were very common, especially respiratory illnesses. People had a horror of damp chilly air and a belief that the air at high altitudes was more healthy. (Jane Eyre has a very believable account, based on real cases, of an epidemic of typhus that kills many of the girls at Lowood School, situated in a damp and foggy valley.)

The reader today may be unimpressed. But the illustrations of the Art Room, Class Room No. 1 and the two science labs are meant to show how up-to-date the school is in equipping rooms with furniture, materials and apparatus for the modern curriculum. Compared to Louis Stokes' Rugby (five years later), this school seems very progressive and adapted to the new century.

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The lexicon of this piece is dignified, and reflects the attitudes described above. We see such words as “moral”, “faith”, “ideal”, pairs like “Honour and Integrity” or the triplet “wiser, braver and holier”. We have noted the listing of healthy attributes and opportunities for games and exercise. To reassure the prospective parent that this is a real school, every bit as serious as Eton of Winchester, we have a highly formal list of what the 2002 St. Bede's prospectus (Text 31) calls “facilities” - “chemical laboratory” , “manual instruction room” and “luncheon room”. It is interesting to note how much or little these have changed in a century. We still refer to a “laboratory”, though in speech it is almost always “lab” and we now use the noun as attributive adjective in “chemistry lab” - describing it by what we study there (“chemical lab” might suggest a place for experiment in an industrial concern). The “manual instruction room” will now be part of a “tech block” - in between times a “woodwork” or “metalwork” or “tech drawing” room - but now perhaps a “resistant materials” room. And a “luncheon room” may be a “dining hall” or “canteen” or “cafeteria”, depending on the institution.

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The “Detailed Curriculum” gives an outline description of what pupils will study in each year. It is not very prescriptive, and does not describe the approach to the subject, nor the kinds of learning activity. One subject occupies half a page. By contrast the 1999 specification for English in the National Curriculum (admittedly covering primary and secondary age pupils) has 55 pages. “Composition” and “mensuration” may now be archaic, but the other terms are in common use (“literature”, “grammar”, “arithmetic”, “mechanics”) or specialist use today (“geometry”, “algebra”, “surds”, “trigonometry”, “binomial theorem”, “hydrostatics”).

Although the writers use a formal lexicon for academic subjects, the prospectus, after “Our Ideal”, is clear and plainly written. It is full of statements and explanations, usually in simple sentence forms:

“The Students can obtain Milk, Coffee or Cocoa at the College at mid-day interval.”

“Wednesdays and Saturdays are half-holidays.”

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Only in “Our Ideal” do we find the writers using compound and complex sentence forms. But even here the thought is clear, and the metaphors, though unoriginal, are vivid and readily understood, like the “inexhaustible fountain of hope” and the “eternal light, which shines on the grave and lifts our thoughts to enduring worlds”. (Here the writer imagines, but does not spell this out, that the light is from the sun, since it is in looking up that we find that this light “lifts our thoughts”.)

The writers' abstractions are mostly in the common lexicon or specific to academic subjects. There is no special lexis of school (management, administration, assessment and so on). Many parents would today find it more open to understanding than a contemporary prospectus. There are no acronyms or terms that could constitute education (system) jargon or buzzwords - no “Baker Days”, “OFSTED” and “SATs”. The writers have also not taken terms from the common lexicon, then given them a non-standard meaning (as happens today in such collocations as “literacy strategy” or “child abuse coordinator” ). It bears comparison with the 2001/2002 prospectus from St. Bede's where we meet imprecise or mixed metaphor and circumlocution: “supportive...atmosphere”, “avowedly Catholic framework” (frameworks cannot make Catholic vows) and “central to all our endeavours”. A good exercise, in reading the two prospectuses is to try to draw pictures of what you are reading, to see which is the clearer. The lexis of the 1907 prospectus is not fashionable or topical (for 1907) and has not dated much. Will the 2001/2002 St. Bede's prospectus, which is full of fashionable but ephemeral lexis, make as much sense in a hundred years' time?

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Like the Queen, the College is referred to by the definite article and noun, but not its full title - on the cover it is “The Christian Brothers College” and in “Our Ideal” it is “The Berkeley Square College”, but thereafter always “the College”, as the boys will know it. The writers use capitals and small capitals liberally for special emphasis (I have not sought to reproduce these consistently in this guide.) Often this emphasis falls on abstract nouns - “Right and Wrong” or “Honour and Integrity”. “Our ideal” also uses an archaic literary verb tense in its opening to suggest a tradition that is barely ten years old: “The...College is now established since 1896”. Where we might expect past (imperfect) “was established in...” or past perfect “has been established since...” we have a present continuous tense - as if the establishing of the College began ten years ago but has continued ever since

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Text 27: From A Dear and Noble Boy, ed. R.A. Barlow and K.Y. Bowen

Life at Rugby School

Where Nigel Molesworth gives us an imagined comical caricature of the schoolboy voice, Louis Stokes has an authentic voice. We may be surprised, though, to find how much he has in common with Molesworth.

At the same time as explaining the rituals and customs of Rugby, Louis Stokes adopts the special language variety that is a mixture of forms specific to Rugby, and those found more widely in public schools - many of which were still in common use in the latter part of the twentieth century. (You can easily compare the lexicon of these letters with that in earlier texts such as Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's Schooldays from 1857, or later texts like C.S. Lewis's account of “Wyvern” [really Malvern] College in Surprised by Joy from 1955).

Louis humbly accepts that the system at Rugby is the way things are - he is interested and sometimes challenged, but he does not at any point complain or seek sympathy, though the 21st century reader may be shocked at this account of drudgery and deference. There is an unspoken assumption that fortitude is a virtue, and perhaps a wish not to alarm his parents by suggesting that he is ever less than happy. Louis is generous in praising the more humane of the older boys and masters, but does not balance this with any condemnation of those who are less kind. Nevertheless, Louis explains things very clearly where he thinks his parents may not know the customs he describes.

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He seems, too, to be more able to cope with the physical demands than C.S. Lewis, who remarks of the continual fagging at Malvern: “Never, except in the front line trenches (and not always there) do I remember such aching continuous weariness as at Wyvern” . (Surprised by Joy, 1955, Chapter VI.) Contrast this with Louis Stokes's

“...fagging does give you something sensible to do sometimes when you haven't got much to to.”

C.S. Lewis (writing for adults) also records graphically the many homosexual liaisons at his school. Louis records innocently his breakfast with Lockhart (apparently a teacher). He evidently thinks his parents will see nothing amiss in this, and instead observes that a master “can speak his mind” whereas “you” (that is, any boy) “can't”. The modern reader may be sensitive to hints of “the love that dare not speak its name”, and see it even where the writer records a genuinely non-sexual friendship, as seems plausible here. (That is, in that particular place and time, a young master might take a friendly and protective interest in one of his pupils, without the least element of sexual motivation.)

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Louis does not complain about what may now seem a bizarre system of near-slavery - the purpose of which was, supposedly (according to C.S. Lewis) to break the boys' pride and teach them the value of duty to the collective: to a house and a school, then to a regiment, a monarch and a country. (Later they would have their own fags, and later still a staff of domestic servants.) But Louis does complain about what the modern reader recognizes as the curriculum - so he dismisses Newton as the person whose “fault” physics is. It is “horrid stuff, and all about 'forces' “. He is also not keen on classics where he seems to be studying Caesar's Gallic War. (He shares this dislike with Billy Bunter.) The Christian Brothers Prospectus takes a more enlightened view of modern natural science - and proudly displays a photo of the physics lab. Louis “can't see the good of lessons at all”, yet has patiently explained the fine points of the etiquette of claiming the fire, toasting the bread and offering the toast - perhaps because (like the Bash Street Kids) he is motivated by his stomach. It is also interesting to note how the wealthy sons of gentleman live on such meagre and unwholesome rations which they toast for themselves in “Lep's Hole”, whereas the poor scholars at the Christian Brothers College enjoy nourishing refreshments and a “luncheon room”, to say nothing of central heating.

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The writer's lexicon may seem opaque to the modern reader - though most terms can be understood from their context. Before a “fag” was an effeminate homosexual or a cigarette, the noun denoted a junior schoolboy in servitude to his seniors. These letters abound with references to “fags”, while Louis also uses the verb forms (to) “fag”, “fagging” and “fagging out”. The noun and verb forms were both in use well into the 1970s - and may still be current in some schools. “Sixth” (for sixth former) is clear enough, while “fives” (a game rather like squash, but played with a glove instead of a racquet) is still played at schools from Aldenham in Hertfordshire to Zuoz in Switzerland. Other terms may be peculiar to the time and place - such as the nickname of the kitchen, “Lep's Hole”, which may be a jokey metaphorical reference to a place where lepers are confined.

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Louis has a distinct vocabulary to express approval and disapproval. “Awful” appears to be an intensifier, so “awful sportsman” means not “weak at sport”, but “very much of a sportsman”, where the noun may denote athletic prowess but may suggest generally approved qualities of character. Later we read that Lockhart is a “sporty man” - evidently a quality Louis likes. The master who approves of Louis's work is “awfully bucked” (this sense of “buck” survives as an active verb in “buck up”). The verb may be related to the noun form - derived from the male deer - which denotes a talented sportsman, so Bretherton, “a fearful buck” is in the “XV, XI” and “Running VIII.” The reader is supposed to know that the Latin numerals refer to the rugby, cricket and running teams. Louis includes “running” to distinguish this team from the rowing eight. Disapproval is rare in the letters, but Louis allows himself to call fagging “rotten” and to describe Bretherton's flowers as “beastly”. (Though it is interesting to note that the all-male culture has no problems with a boy's keeping flowers in his study.) Another favourite epithet of approval is “decent” - a “decent man” appears to be one who is fair and considerate to the younger boys.

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Gray's Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College shows how the school turns boys into men - “Ah, tell them, they are men!” Here we see how manliness is prized and Louis describes the master and the older boy alike as a “man” - “a decent man” or “a sporty man”. This desire to be older also shows in the naming conventions - Louis refers to everyone (boys and teachers) by surnames only - something we find in the Billy Bunter books and Down with Skool. This is not unfriendly, though it does intentionally follow the etiquette of the armed forces. Today we would regard surname alone as impolite or dismissive in some contexts (a great exception being sporting commentaries for broadcasting). It is not clear why one teacher has the nickname “the Bidge” - it may be a contraction or other derivation of his real name.

Louis' syntax is quite loose - he readily makes corrections in mid-sentence, or adds embellishments, so we find rather untidy sentences like: “There has been a good deal of skating lately, but as I have no skates and you cannot hire them, and it would not be much good if I had, and I have had several chances of playing fives, which I like extremely, I have not done any.” Between the “but” and “I have not done any”, the conjunctions and coordinate clauses keep on growing in the extended parenthesis.

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But some things are reassuringly modern. Louis calls his father “dad” - he does not use the comical Latin “pater” (as Nigel Molesworth does - suggesting that it is not an archaism but a quite modern joke). Nor does he use “one” as a general pronoun, but adopts the “you” of popular speech. One of the Anthology's “Brief Contextualizations” informs us that Louis died, while still a very young man, in the Battle of the Somme. This, of course, should not alter the way we should analyse his letters - if we do feel sympathy, we should try not to let it alter our judgements. Of course, in collecting and publishing his letters as A Dear and Noble Boy, the editors of the collection are making a claim to a special sympathy for the unfulfilled promise of a young life cut short.

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Text 28: From Hard Times, Charles Dickens

CHAPTER 1 - The One Thing Needful

This is among the most celebrated of school scenes in English literature. It is the opening of Hard Times (1854) - and it may be hard to separate from our view of the entire novel, if we have read it. At the heart of the story is a conflict between fact (dry, arid and pitiless) and imagination (vital, fantastic and humane). The speaker here (Thomas Gradgrind) will be utterly changed by what happens. The schoolmaster (impossibly named Mr. M'Choakumchild - the name suggests crudely how he “chokes” life or imagination out of the children) disappears from the narrative, but the “third grown person present” will have an inglorious progress as the comic villain, Mr. Bounderby. As readers, we should know none of this, when we first meet the passage - as was the case for Dickens' public, purchasing the novel weekly as episodes in Dickens' magazine Household Words.

Dickens employs a familiar device of the novelist - to condemn a character out of his own mouth. So we launch straight into Mr. Gradgrind's speech. But we do not know who the speaker is - his name does not appear till the second chapter. Nor indeed, is the speech introduced by any such formula as “The man exclaimed” or “he replied”. The passage (the entire first chapter) has a clear structure, almost like that of a poem:

  • Speech (Gradgrind's manifesto)
  • Description of the schoolroom
  • Refrain (Gradgrind's manifesto summarized)
  • Reaction

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Dickens controls what the reader sees, but unobtrusively. There are children present, but we see that Gradgrind is speaking to one or both of the other adults. (Probably one only, as he twice addresses someone as “Sir”.) It is as if he does not acknowledge the children's presence as intelligent beings. The children appear indirectly - first, in the speaker's mentioning “these children”, and later in the metaphor of “little vessels...ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them...”

Dickens gives Gradgrind a plausible sense of rhetoric. He repeats his central theme five times and twice more in his second speech. He manages antithesis: “Plant nothing else, and root out everything else”. He does not see the humanity of the children, or even (as Dickens might say) that they are made in the likeness of God - instead he reduces them to reasoning animals. Gradgrind does not, it seems, wish to treat his own children differently - he claims that he is consistent in bringing up the children in the school, in the same way as his own children. (The reader does not yet know whether this is true; in fact it is - Gradgrind is a consistently honest character, while Mr. Bounderby turns out to be a liar and impostor.) Dickens capitalizes “Facts” here - as if to convey a special intonation Mr. Gradgrind uses, almost making it a proper noun.

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The last paragraph gives the narrative equivalent of what in cinema is the reaction shot. (Hard Times predates cinema by half a century, though Dickens did make dramatic presentations out of his novels.) That is, Dickens does not describe everything that might have been found in this scene - rather he zooms in on particular details. In this last paragraph we have a grouping: we see the three adults while they are looking at the children.

The long second paragraph shows Dickens repeating the key words of “facts” and “fact” (now with lower case “l” ). There is a more formal and explicit repetition, where four sentences begin: “The emphasis was helped by the speaker's...” In this paragraph, Dickens invents a series of striking images. He moves from the literal building (“a plain, bare...schoolroom” ) to a metaphorical “square wall” (the speaker's forehead), and “commodious cellarage” in “caves” (of eyes). This sober image suggests Gradgrind's prosaic nature, and rejection of imagination. But he is also shown as somehow comical in appearance - his head is bald on top, but at the sides (” skirts” ) bristles “a plantation of firs” to keep off the wind, while the head is knobbly, like a pie-crust. (Dickens tells us what kind of pie, because we can see how the plums beneath cause the knobs on the crust.)

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These images are far removed from Gradgrind's own way of thinking - they reveal a fanciful imagination. The observant reader may see already that Dickens is telling the story in such a way as to contradict Gradgrind's theory of education. The last detail is also revealing - his “neckcloth” is “trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp”, as if he is constrained by his own choice and outlook.

How far does the reader accept the Gradgrind philosophy? At so early a stage, the characters have yet to establish themselves in the reader's eyes. But there are a few hints or signals about how we are to read this chapter. The repetition of “fact” and “facts” is too frequent for us not to think Gradgrind silly; then comes the fir-tree hair on the plum-pie head (Dickens is removing any dignity and gravity from the speaker); next comes a parenthetic “nay” as an aside to the reader almost. Finally, is the image of the “little vessels” - showing the children as passive recipients of an almost mechanical process of education, being done to them. (This is intended - Mr. Gradgrind lives in Coketown - a Lancashire mill town, dominated by its machine production. Dickens draws a parallel between a mechanistic and rational, but not reasonable, form of education, and the unceasing activity of the machines.) Why “Imperial gallons” (as if they might otherwise be US gallons)? The adjective suggests the idea of conquest, subjugation and rule - as if the children will be filled with facts, and also brought under the law of the empire.

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Another clue is not shown in the extract - but the reader of Chapter 1 of Hard Times can see the title of Chapter 2, which is Murdering the Innocents. Both this and The One Thing Needful are allusions (references) to the gospels. There is an implied identification of Gradgrind's philosophy with St. Luke's gospel (where Jesus says to Martha of Bethany that “one thing is needful” Luke 10.41-42). But when we look at what this one thing is (according to Gradgrind, not Jesus), all we see is the word “facts”, asserted without any explanation. And then there is the body language. We note how the speaker draws lines on the schoolmaster's sleeve. And we read that his voice is “inflexible, dry and dictatorial”, while his mouth is “thin” and “hard set” . Writers may still use notions of physical appearance to suggest character. But in Dickens' time this was accepted science - phrenology even purported to use physical measurement of the head to determine character and mental abilities.

In this extract (and more so in the whole of Hard Times) Dickens challenges the reader to look at what was then a respected and fashionable view of education - especially as a way of bringing it to the mass of ordinary people. Gradgrind, in running a day-school with heavily subsidised fees, is philanthropic in intention, but his ideology (as we would now call it) leads to a harsh and inhumane system. In all of his novels, Dickens looks at a wide range of schools - none of which seems ideal, though perhaps the closest to a well-run establishment for the children of poor people is Bradley Headstone's school in Our Mutual Friend.

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Text 29: The Girl who didn't like Maths

Texts like this one are very instructive - the author is of course not (yet) a writer who has learned her (or his?) trade. (We do not know the writer's sex; the choice of a girl character in the story may hint that the writer is like the character and thus female.) The story tells us what elements this child thinks a narrative should have - and these may reflect the things (s)he has read and heard.

With any such text, we really need to know the circumstances of its writing. How much did the teacher (or some other person) influence the child's choice of subject, structure, characters and so on? As an educator, one would want to give the child help, show him or her models and so on. But when one approaches the text as a student of literature and language, one needs to know who did what.

The central theme of the story is a familiar one. There are many precedents for it in stories where child characters overcome fear of maths (or spelling or music) - for example, Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, or a poem I recall from a children's encyclopedia, that began (convincingly) “Arithmetic just makes me sick”. The rest of the poem showed how the person who said or thought this learned to love maths - but it is interesting that I recall only the first line. Stories that tell us that “maths is fun” (or Web sites with titles like Funmaths) are far less convincing because they attempt to rectify our existing attitude to the contrary. They tell you more about the person who named them, than about maths. If it really is so much fun, you don't have to tell people this - we do not prefix “fun” in front of “Playstation” , “soccer” or “chips”.

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This story has a clear structure of the beginning-middle-and-end pattern. The problem for the child author comes in the middle, where (s)he must show her character losing the dislike of maths. The child cannot think of a plausible way for this to happen. Lest we criticize him or her for this, we should note that the solution is the same one H.G. Wells uses in The Time Machine. Rather than explain an impossibility, the writer asks the reader to take it on trust, as a “given”. Alternatively, there is an explanation: the girl is so happy at the success of her trick (the bogus dental appointment) and the relief of missing the maths test, that she is now ready to take subsequent tests and study the subject in future.

The writer knows some of the conventions of storytelling. She opens with the formula “There was once...” And she ends by addressing the reader directly: “ I've told you.” The sentences are often long but not complex - series of coordinate clauses strung together with “and” and “so”. Happily this child still feels ready to begin a sentence with “And”. (The belief that this is “bad” English is a persistent and silly myth - since many of our classic texts and writers favour this form. And so can you.)

We do not know whether the girl in the story knows that the teacher has confused Monday and Friday. Or is this privileged information shared by the storyteller with the reader only? We may wonder why the child does not simply tell the teacher that the test is not due until Friday. Does this reflect a belief that children must never point out their teachers' mistakes? It is almost as if the children are allowing teachers to continue to believe in our own competence and, charitably, not undeceiving us. The child's running off (from where? when?) is less convincing - the writer would probably know that one has to have a letter or a phone-call from a parent or carer, to escape in this way.

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Adult readers may look at such a text and think of it in terms of “mistakes”. This reflects the way that teachers once assessed children's work (some still do) but utterly ignores the realities of language use. (It makes as much sense as saying the child has made a mistake in being very small or not having facial hair.) The non-standard spellings and graphic forms may tell you more than the “correct” ones. Thus “dentised” reveals that the child has learned that the phonemes that she hears as [ɪst] or [ɪsd] sometimes correspond to the spelling “-ised”, as in “practised”. But (s)he may not yet have learned that “-ist” is a common spelling for the suffix that indicates a practitioner of some occupation or activity (novelist, escapologist, sadist). She knows that there is a convention of placing an apostrophe in “didn't”. But instead of placing it where the “o” of “not” would be, if it were not missing (a very abstract idea), she places it in the gap between “did” and “nt”, to create the non-standard form “did'nt”. This example explodes the myth that the reader will not know what the writer means if the spelling is not “right” - the context tells us the meaning. And if we hear the story read aloud, we will not notice anything odd. On the other hand “did like” (in the first line) appears to show an inadvertent use of the verb without negation - the context implies that “didn't” is required. The writer also underlines “but”. We might expect the emphasis to fall on some other word, perhaps “Monday”. The writer, though, comes from Manchester where emphatic “but” (usually drawn-out and followed by a pause) is common in spoken utterances.

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Text 30: Narrative 1 and Narrative 2

Most people know that few speakers of English can produce spontaneous utterances like those of Shakespeare's characters or great political orators. Dramatists and novelists exploit this knowledge in writing naturalistic dialogue, marked by non-standard lexis, grammar and indications of pronunciation. But they can succeed too well, so that students tell their teachers that they like Eastenders because it's “so realistic” or believe that Our Day Out is more truthful in recording reality than The Bash Street Kids. Transcripts, like these, of authentic unrehearsed speech in everyday contexts, are enormously valuable in correcting such mistaken views. Of course, not everyone speaks like the children here, and experienced speakers may be able to produce lucid, coherent and grammatically standard forms - but these examples are useful representative scripts. You could produce something very similar by recording the speech of other children.

The most obvious differences between these texts and those in literary dialogue are not in the lexicon but in the structures - especially in terms of standard syntax and of coherence. To speak in sentences with standard clause structures, as we might find in writing, is beyond most speakers. But if they managed it, then the hearers would find it hard to cope - the opportunities for responding would be gone. In fact, grammatical incoherence (syntax evasion) may be a very useful feature of conversational speech, in allowing or encouraging the hearer to take a turn.

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In these two cases, the listeners seem not to intervene (they may have used gesture or other ways of responding), so the speakers continue uninterrupted - which may, in fact, make their task of telling their stories harder than it would be if the listeners asked leading questions or gave prompts.

Before looking at the transcripts, one can note some of the pragmatic niceties of the descriptions (or “contextualizations”) in parenthesis. In the first case we can suppose that the “three peers” are not from the House of Lords, but other children. “Peers” presumably tells us that they are similar enough to the speaker for her not to have any reason to alter her speech habits - but we are expected to take this on trust. In the second case, there is a humorous ambiguity - we suppose that the girl has not applied paint to a dolphin but made a portrait of the marine mammal. Yet we might wish to know rather more, as this may inform our interpretation of her account. Although we have no record of the teacher's speaking, the child's frequent addressing her with “miss” may indicate the teacher's use of encouraging gesture at these points.

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If we compare the texts loosely with Russell's dialogue in Our Day Out, we see several things.

  • First, the real speakers use less non-standard lexis (dialect variants, for instance).
  • Second, they have less variety in their lexical choices - that is, they repeat lexemes more frequently.
  • Third, they use much longer and less defined sentence structures - effectively piling up coordinate clauses with “and” or “so”.
  • Fourth, the real speakers give a reasonably coherent structure to their complete accounts (the older speaker more than the younger one, who includes every detail as she recalls it), but not to the sentence forms with which they build these accounts up.
  • And lastly, Russell is true to life at least in showing how his character speaks to or through a teacher if one is present - so his characters say “sir” as often as the speaker of Narrative 2 says, “miss”.

One can almost reconstruct the genesis (or hazard a guess) of the first speaker's anecdote - she is thinking of an occasion where she changed her mind about someone. Perhaps the teacher asked the group to think of examples of this in their own experience. This “story” has beginning, middle and end - as well as a final flourish of evidence to prove why Mr. White was so good.

  • In the beginning the speaker tells us of how, at “feltham swimming baths” there was a man she and her friends thought was awful.
  • In the middle, she tells us that she moved up into his class and found he was “great”.
  • At the end, she asserts how great he was, and gives the reason for her thinking so, which was
  • that Mr. White “really tried us” (perhaps she means “tried hard to teach us” or perhaps “tried” refers to what follows) and that he made sure the children swam “until the full time was up”.

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There are a few points where the speaker departs from standard syntax, as with an unrelated “you” between “really” and “he was just great”, and “tried us” for “tried [to teach/help] us”. The “you” may be the first half of an incomplete “you know”, which we see twice earlier. The speaker has a sense that the listener needs some reference point - having told us where this story starts (the swimming baths), the speaker gives the time but relates this not to dates (which she may not know) but uses her own life as the measure: “I was in class one”. So the time when she comes to appreciate Mr. White is “when we got up to his class”, which, she has skilfully told us already, is “a higher class”.

What on earth can these texts tell us about attitudes to education? They tell us little of the speakers' attitudes directly. And indirectly, only that they have an opinion about some things that they have encountered within their experience as pupils. (We could infer that the speaker in Narrative 1 has learned a moral lesson, but maybe not yet understood this explicitly, or seen that this case has a wider or general application - not to judge a book by its cover.) They maybe tell us more about the teachers' attitudes, or more widely held attitudes that influence what the teacher does. Perhaps the anecdotes suggest that some teachers think that encouraging children to talk in this way (uninterrupted) is somehow good for their own development. Perhaps the appearance of the anecdotes here suggests that someone was recording them, not so much for the benefit of the speakers, but as a way of studying how children speak - the point of the task was to harvest the transcript. (This seems the most probable explanation.) Or perhaps the teachers obtained the transcripts in order to make assessments of the “progress” or “attainment” of the speakers.

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The second transcript shows (in passing) that this representation of speech, like an X-ray of a beautiful person, is helpful for interpretation and analysis, but removes the distractions of a more natural view - we can imagine how engaging and charming would have been the “live” spoken version of this story. The transcript makes it look less coherent than it was - that is, because as listeners we know how to cooperate with the speaker and interpret the speech sympathetically, but we are not so experienced at doing this with the transcript, where the pause symbols distract us. Many adult listeners would intervene to encourage the child to keep going, or ask her questions about the things she narrates - and reading the transcript we infer that the teacher had a special reason not to do so.

This speaker is less selective than the eleven year old who tells the narrative about swimming - so she includes, it seems, almost everything that she recalls. She sees names as important, not only recalling them, but using them (Flipper and Smartie) repeatedly in the story, as opposed to descriptions like “the other dolphin”. The child is uncritical, appearing to approve of the treatment of the dolphins - perhaps because of a trust in the way adults run the world, allied with a disposition to like the animals. (An older child might at least query the action of the “man” in trying to clean the dolphins' teeth.) The narrative is essentially a series of what would be simple sentences. But they are joined into one long string of statements by “and” and “so”. Most of the account is direct narration of incident - there is little description and reflection. The adult reader of this text may see some incidents as staged or contrived, like the way Flipper fails twice, then succeeds in a task, or the way Smartie and the keeper have “a little fight”.

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The child uses mostly standard lexis and word order. The only conspicuous non-standard grammar comes in verb tenses - where past participle “done” appears where we expect the past (imperfect) “did” - in “I done” and “he done” , and where present tense “give” is used as past imperfect - “he give it to him”.

The child has a powerful sense of the teacher as the judge and recipient of her story, so repeatedly she appeals for her attention with “miss”. In a lively class, with many other children vying for attention, this may be a useful strategy to gain attention. But the child is not yet socially conscious enough to know when she can safely drop it, as no one else is competing here for the teacher's ears. The older child, who speaks Narrative 1, sees no need to do this. Indeed, she may have recognized it as characteristic of a younger speaker, and consciously checked the tendency to address the teacher.

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Text 31: From St Bede's College, Manchester: Prospectus

Note: This text is a current document published by a real school. I have no reason to hold any adverse opinions about the school, nor any wish to offend its teachers, students, parents, governors, friends, and anyone else connected with St. Bede's College. The AQA exam board is in the college's debt for allowing its prospectus to appear in the Anthology. However, in describing, and commenting on, the prospectus's style, and the ways in which its writers express attitudes to education, I have written some things that may appear uncharitable. I hope that they are always, however, objectively true comments - such as my noting how the writers confuse metaphors. I have written nothing about the college as such, only about the published text. In including this prospectus in the Anthology, the exam board has by definition invited students (and their teachers) to interpret it, to comment on it, and perhaps to explain it in the light of other texts (such as a 1907 prospectus with which it has some obvious common ground). If readers of this guide have any more positive comments to make, or even wish to make the case for another reading, I will readily include these in future versions of this guide. Publishing to the World Wide Web allows me to make such changes promptly. Insofar as I have an opinion about St. Bede's College at all, I wish the school well, and think it likely that the reality is superior to anything I may have inferred from the advertisement that the college prospectus represents. Teachers and students using the Anthology should also be grateful to the school in its exposing the prospectus to open criticism.

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This prospectus superficially resembles that from the Christian Brothers College in Bristol - but closer scrutiny reveals some clear and profound differences. Most fundamental is the writers' understanding of the values of the audience. The 1907 prospectus comes from a belief in duty and service - the college helps poor people to better themselves, but also encourages them to continue the good work in the future. Teaching is both an aspirational job and a serious vocation. The old prospectus reveals a confidence in the college - noting that those who want it can pass on to the university. The 2002 prospectus reflects more individualistic, subjective and selfish attitudes among its client group - so we read more about what St. Bede's does for the individual. And this is measured by success in public exams. Church schools are popular among parents, and the St. Bede's prospectus advertises its Christian heritage - but does not refer in detail to Roman Catholic beliefs.

We see how the comments from various parents reproduce the lexis of the prospectus proper. So after reading about the “avowedly Catholic framework” we read a parent's comment about a “confident, Christian framework”. It seems that neither the prospectus writer, nor the parent, visualizes metaphor - and both images are unclear. The context implies that the writers use “framework” in the sense of one or more related beliefs. If we press the first image more closely, we find

  • that the pupil will receive an education;
  • that the education is in a “supportive atmosphere”;
  • that the atmosphere is in a framework;
  • that the framework is Catholic and
  • that the Catholicism is the subject of someone's religious vows (“avowedly Catholic”)!

(If you cannot see the point of this analysis, imagine trying to represent these metaphors by a picture or Venn diagram.) The last detail is especially unfortunate, since Roman Catholics do take vows (at confirmation, marriage or entry to the priesthood - not usually by the same person), but we know that there is no vow for pupils to make (when they enter St. Bede's) that the “framework” shall be “Catholic”. This analysis may seem pedantic, but good writers use metaphor to make things clearer - as when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world”. A clever writer can even get away with an intelligent mixed metaphor or conceit, as when Shakespeare has Hamlet think of taking arms “against a sea of troubles” (to take up arms against the sea is an image of futile struggle). “Framework” is one of various vague metaphors that characterize modern speech generally, but especially that of those who have lost the confidence to speak or write plainly - who refer to “essential matters” rather than important things. The writer of this piece has a serviceable lexicon, but compiles words into lists with little clear sense of what they mean.

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The parent's comment is much less obscure - translated into plain speech, this suggests that he or she wants the child to learn a modern curriculum and moral ideas that are taught at the same time as Catholic or other Christian beliefs. “Key” as a metaphor to describe “reasons” may be something of a modern cliché, but is fairly clear, deriving from the key signature in music and having the secondary sense of that which opens a lock. It is interesting that the parent (of the third form child) tries to reinforce the comment by claiming the endorsement of others: “Like a lot of parents...” the comment begins. But which “lot” and why should this make a difference - especially in a document that mostly favours the individual above the collective or common good? Another vague lexeme is “facilities” - we meet it in the sub-title “Expanding facilities”, in the text that follows (twice), and lastly in the child's comment, about the “huge range of facilities” - which considers a general or inclusive description, but does not single out any one thing of interest. One might expect a first year pupil to think of some specific thing (a computer room or the sports hall). It is as if the child has learned the style that the school authorities expect - or the prospectus editor has selected, for quotation, a child who has assimilated the bland school style.

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The subtitle “Pastoral Care” adopts a celebrated image - made famous by Gregory the Great (saint and pope), who in turn takes it from Jesus' image of the Good Shepherd. This clear image (from pastoral farming) is mixed oddly with another natural image (from horticulture) as the “pastoral care” (looking after sheep) is “rooted in our mission” (whereas a good shepherd needs to be mobile). The simple and familiar idea of pastoral care is lost in a fog of (educational) special lexis. We see in succession: “well-rounded” (implying that the straight or angular are disapproved), and “child-centred”, as well as lists of good things, like “unique, valued and respected” and “self-esteem, goodness, kindness and consideration” - evident virtues but without any indication of how, in detail, the college gives this “pastoral care”. This section, beginning with the Gregorian phrase and using lists, has an almost liturgical prosody at points - but lacks the concreteness and clarity of real Catholic (or Anglican) liturgy.

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The only point in these extracts from the prospectus where we find details of anything much, is in the list of “extra curricular activities”. Here the college is upfront about its Catholic heritage, where we see first that children can visit Lourdes, and only after this that they can also go to the entire countries of France, Germany and Spain.

The 1907 Christian Brothers prospectus is very confident about what the Bristol college is and does. The 2002 St. Bede's prospectus seems more directed to avoiding offence, and appealing to parental anxieties about attainment in public examinations. The Christian Brothers prospectus has a strong sense of identity; the St. Bede's prospectus seems to want to be all things to all men, while its style is less assured and its metaphors uncertain.

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Text 32: From Language in the National Curriculum, University of Nottingham

Children talking

The provenance of this text (and of the next one) is interesting, and has a powerful relevance to classroom practice in English schools today. It arises from research into uses of language in teaching and learning, which, in turn, initiated intense and controversial debate (among politicians, civil servants and their expert advisers) about attitudes to language and ways in which these could inform what happens in the classroom. The history is arcane (and much of the evidence is no longer easily available, though it is written between the lines of the three incarnations to date of the National Curriculum). But its practical manifestation is in the National Literacy Strategy. This has the merits and failings of Catholic dogma under the Inquisition - it drives out heresy with a rigorous and coherent scheme, which is developed in almost casuistic detail. But it obliges those who think of language in other ways (that may relate to wider and better-established linguistic theory, or that comes from new discoveries in linguistics, for which the “strategy” cannot account), to become heretics - like Galileo in an earlier time.

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The “Literacy Strategy” has also had an interesting, and maybe unintended, influence on language change. “Literacy” began as something objective (you can read, or you can't), but gradually acquired a sense of something more complex (as may be implied in Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy). But now teachers in England, and every child in an English state school, are learning to think of it as a series of tasks and approaches to study - that which you do in the “Literacy Hour”. And every teacher will hear (as I have) students say that they like or do not like “literacy” (and “numeracy”), meaning that they like or dislike a programme of study, or series of activities identified by the name (and manifestly not that they dislike being able to read). Thus “literacy” joins all sorts of things that might once have been seen as good or neutral (like “history”, “poetry”, “maths” and “French”) but may have acquired negative associations for some language users because of something that happens in schools. (The same principle may work in reverse for “drama” or “ICT”.) Because “literacy” has hitherto been a useful item in my lexicon, I have found its colonization and re-definition by governmental policy to be irksome. I have wondered also if this will create a gap in understanding between children in Scotland, who know little or nothing of the English way, and those who experience the new kind of “literacy”.

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The text here was originally garnered (by researchers from Nottingham University's School of English Studies) as part of an exercise in finding out what really happens in various contexts in schools. We do not see here any account of the methods used. If we wished to use this text for original research, then we would be very restricted unless we could know the answers to some questions - if, how far and in what ways, the children were influenced by the recording of their speech; the exact circumstances of the lesson of which we see a slice here, and so on. And we would want to see a large sample of such transcripts, since we have no way of knowing how typical these children are of anything common or general, or how quirky and unique they are. We would wish to know how and why the researchers chose this group, in this class, in this school, on that day, for that lesson.

Someone has presented the text for a more general audience than academic researchers - so the conventions used in Text 30 (for which the Anthology gives no information, other than the note “copyright permission sought” ) do not appear here. Capitalization appears as in a written text, and there are retrospective comments that appear as “stage directions”. The talk has punctuation to show grammatical meaning, as in dramatic dialogue. There is a description of each child's clothes - evidently to enable us to know who is who, while watching and listening to the group, on a VHS recording. The print text was offered to support, or be used in conjunction with, a videotape - so reading it in isolation may distort the process. Nottingham University still distributes this tape. It is not at all clear whether the examiners for the GCE language and literature specification will allow for this, as the audio record is not a set text for the exam, but knowing it (like knowing all of Hard Times) affects the way we read the passage that has been set.

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And the recording would also have appeared to the original audience in a very complex context - that is, they would not come to it “cold” or without prior expectations. Rather, this transcript and others would be presented as evidence to inform a discussion, or support a recommendation. Anyone who is both a teacher using the Anthology, and also familiar with the Literacy Strategy (for younger pupils) may reasonably ask - how did we get from things like this extract to the National Literacy Strategy over some ten years?

What can we say about the text proper here? The children are identified as in year 3 - in most English schools this makes them 7 or 8 years old. If the text is an honest record, then these children, by the yardstick of any other such transcript that I have ever seen (such as those in Text 30), are astonishingly fluent, and exercise almost perfect control of standard forms, such that the text would stand up as literary dialogue or a script for a clip of drama for teaching science. You might like to consider these possible explanations. More than one might be more or less true. And I will have overlooked others. Perhaps

  • my experience as a reader of transcripts does not give me a very good sense of what is typical
  • these children are highly intelligent and precocious
  • these children are not in Year 3
  • someone has tidied up the transcript
  • the children had rehearsed the task and been coached
  • the children had practised comments to make

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A friend who has seen the tape assures me that the group work “looked authentic”. From this I would infer that the children are very talented.

These children are able, to a high degree, to take turns in conversation. No one is left out for long. Sarah, at one point, insists on bringing Josh back in to the activity - though after his most recent statement (” Now we'll fish them out!” ) there is no indication that Josh went away, so that “...get Josh” would make sense. Where the pupils do speak together they use what Deborah Tannen calls cooperative (as opposed to competitive) overlap. We see no clear evidence of effects of sex, as we might for older speakers. But early years teachers, even, attest to significantly different language use between girls and boys. The only concession to regional speech is one “Hey up” (common in the East Midlands and some parts of Yorkshire). One child (Josh) seamlessly connects the real immediate task to the dramatic context of a simulation in which it is set: “...five minutes till Mum comes”. The laughter at this point may come from the other children's recalling that their task is indeed related to the story of the child in the shed and the magic spell. At the same time as all of this is happening, the children process information about scientific method and the properties of materials. There is urgency but no panic, while the activity is purposeful - even if the children fail the five-minute task, they will be able, later, to reflect on how and why. And they are totally involved in their task, and committed to finding a solution.

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The children use a precise and appropriate scientific lexicon - “melt”, “dissolve”, “crystals” and “sieve”. They adapt demotic lexis suitably - “fish them out”, “gungy” and “dead disgusting”. They never say “erm” or “you know” but manage “Oh” and “Oh no” as often as a Shakespearean character or someone in a Bash Street Kids episode.

Researchers into idiolect may be able to show how far this text is or is not likely to be an accurate representation of what really occurred. The Secretary of State for Education might like to appoint the children's teacher as a special adviser for primary science education.

As an objective task, you might like to count the number of utterances each speaker makes, and the average length of these (measured in words). You could measure the maximum number of turns for which any speaker is inactive. Do these figures tell you anything helpful?

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Text 33: From Language in the National Curriculum, University of Nottingham

This text opens a window into what already seems a bygone ago of enlightenment. The transcript shows how two students reflect on advertising techniques. Their comments are thoughtful and quite perceptive, but one sees how they are not likely, by this method, to arrive in the little time they have to do work for many examinations, at the kinds of understanding that will secure the highest marks. Here lies a familiar tension - does the teacher use his or her own expert knowledge to lead students swiftly to approved or canonical views of a given subject? Or does the teacher allow the students to become more autonomous, recognizing that they will not achieve certain goals quickly - but that, over a lifetime, may acquire a far greater capacity for learning, and for enjoying learning? A government that demands that students leap ever-higher hurdles in ever-higher numbers may effectively take away the choice that there once was.

Claire and Lyndsey connect evaluation of advertising techniques with the practice. But their model of learning may not use this connection as effectively as others. Their approach is to try to do it, next to show it to others, then to reflect on it with these others, and finally together. An alternative might be

  • first to look at it systematically, to identify techniques;
  • then to produce their own advertisement using these techniques;
  • next to test it on potential consumers,
  • and only then to reflect on what they have learned - and be able to use this learning again in producing future advertisements.

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Of course, there are other possible models - to which some more expert person might guide them. But doing so might compromise their capacity to learn for themselves. To generalize hugely, modern British society tends to favour the model of learning from the experts - and in many (but not all) human activities the mass of the people insists on this. So we learn from another before we try (or our laws allow us to try) employment as an airline pilot, anaesthetist, surgeon, submariner or solicitor. Education has always been allowed more freedom than many of these other human activities - and attitudes shift from one age to another, about how far the learner should defer to expert opinion, and how far he or she should be able to learn freely. And this may vary from one kind of learning to another. Left to themselves (and in the company of older people) children will learn to speak, eat and avoid some kinds of danger. But they will not learn how to pass GCE exams in physics, and they are not likely to learn (as Claire and Lyndsey try to do) how to produce persuasive copy for advertising. (It is interesting, as an aside, that they are approaching the subject as if they wish to produce advertisements, rather than learn the techniques for the purpose of resisting them. And we might argue that, in studying advertising methods, we endorse it as an important part of modern culture - which for many learners is equivalent to saying that it is acceptable (good or at least neutral).

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We do not, in the Anthology, have a transcript (or series of transcripts) from many same-sex pairs, to establish norms. But we can see that Claire and Lyndsey do many things that broadly exemplify current theory about language and gender. They rarely overlap (the transcript shows it twice) though when they do, it is cooperative. But they appear to be highly efficient in claiming and taking turns. (The National Curriculum and GCSE English specifications require students to talk in pairs for purposes of assessment; it may be that this benefits girls, for whom such dyadic relationships are a social norm, whereas they can be more uncomfortable for boys.)

The children in Text 32 know the special lexicon of the science of materials - as far as their talk requires it. The two girls here do not know any special lexis of advertising (perhaps because their teacher has not introduced this as the younger children's teacher has taught the key words for science). They know of the “prospectus” for the water company privatisation, and use the general cultural lexeme “stereotyping”. But the only term they use that derives from advertising is “advert(s)” - “the actual advert”, “watching adverts” and so on. They are aware of “stilted” to describe affectation in style - but it is not clear whether “stinted” is Claire's malapropism or a typographic error caused by the inadvertence or ignorance of the transcriber.

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As regards the content of the reflection, we can see that the girls have seen two very clear things. That an advertisement conventionally is part of a campaign (they have learned this from “Denise”). They do not know the lexis of the industry and the standard name, so refer to a “sequence”. Second, they see that the writers of a script or scenario would not normally be the performers: “ sounded naff 'cause we did it” ...” you need to find someone who can do the accent”. But they are still thinking of their own task in the school and have not made the more general connection to real world production of advertising, with studios, directors, actors and so on.

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