Monday, December 27, 2010

How children became children

There is a scene in Schindler's List where Schindler is defending to the Nazis his decision to include children among the Jews he is rescuing. He says he needs their small hands to polish the inside of shell casings. It sounds strange to us and bizarre that the Nazis should accept this as a reason, yet before 1850 children were seen in just this was: bijou units of economic activity, ideal for doing those fiddly jobs that require smallness and a delicate touch - like tweezers for pulling out nasal hairs. So, children were used for crawling under the machines in the cotton mills to remove all the accumulated fluff and for working narrow seams in coal mines.

Only a few people know that the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus in London commemorates Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl Of Shaftesbury, one of the greatest do-gooders of the nineteenth century. Even fewer know that it is not a statue of Eros at all but of his brother Anteros; the god of charitable love, not of sexual love. A few more people will know now if they have been watching Ian Hislop's series of TV programs, The Do-Gooders. I know that it isn't available in the US though it may be in Canada, but these things are usually marketed on DVD, so look out for it.

Shaftesbury (of Avenue fame in London's theater land) may be said to have invented childhood. He was shocked by seeing how children were used in factories and the coal mines. As a member of parliament he was able to introduce legislation to limit children's hours and stop the under-10s from working at all. There was much opposition. Shaftesbury would deprive children of a livelihood that kept their families out of the workhouse; the mining industry would collapse without their labor, so would the textile industry. The same arguments that are used today in favor of sweat shops around the world.

I am particularly proud of Shaftesbury even though he was a Lord and privileged beyond imagining, in that he was a local lad; his family seat is at Wimborne St Giles, about 15 miles from here, but he was also an Evangelical Christian with a social conscience. So many Evangelicals are concerned with their own salvation and with obscure points of doctrine (Charles Haddon Spurgeon was even told by fellow Evangelicals, "Don't preach to those who are not the 'elect' it’s a waste of time."). Often they so shrink from doing good works that they sit on their hands in the face of tragedy, for fear of propagating the 'social gospel'. Among the do-gooders were many Unitarians who did not look to Jesus as God and who tended to major on the social gospel, so that to Evangelicals, for whom salvation through Jesus, one of the persons of the triune God, was paramount, the social gospel became tainted with heresy. However, nineteenth century Evangelicals like Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, leaders of successive generations of Evangelicals saw good works as the working out of their faith. There was no thought that good works aided in their salvation or sanctification, they were with James - "Faith without works is dead."

Since they were no longer required to go down mines or crawl under Spinning Jennies someone had the bright idea that children should be educated. Of course, the children of the rich and powerful had always been educated at schools like Eton and Harrow, Winchester and Rugby. The idea of educating working class children began with Robert Raikes of Gloucester who began Sunday Schools in 1780. The movement started with a school for boys in the slums. Raikes had been involved with those incarcerated by the county Poor Law and saw that vice would be better prevented than cured. He saw schooling as the best intervention. The most available time was Sunday as the boys were working in the factories the other six days. The best available teachers were lay people. The textbook was the Bible, and the originally intended curriculum started with learning to read and then progressed to the catechism.

The movement began in July 1780 in the home of a Mrs Meredith. Only boys attended, and she heard the lessons of the older boys who coached the younger. Later, girls also attended. Within two years, several schools opened in and around Gloucester. There were disputes about the movement in the early years. The schools were derisively called "Raikes' Ragged Schools". Criticisms raised included that it would weaken home-based religious education, that it might be a desecration of the Sabbath, and that Christians should not be employed on the Sabbath. "Sabbatarian disputes" in the 1790s led many Sunday Schools to cease their teaching of writing.

By 1831, Sunday Schools in Great Britain were teaching weekly 1,250,000 children, approximately 25 percent of the population. In the late 18th century, Thomas Cranfield offered free education for poor children in London. While he was a tailor by trade, Cranfield's educational background included studies at a Sunday school on Kingsland Road, Hackney. In 1798, he established a free children's day school, located on Kent Street near London Bridge. By the time of his death in 1838, he had established 19 free schools that provided services for children and infants living in the lower income sections of London. These opportunities and services were offered on days, on nights, and on Sundays, for the destitute children of poor families throughout London.

Another separate strand of education began with John Pounds, a crippled Portsmouth shoemaker. In 1818 Pounds began teaching poor children for the whole week, not just on Sundays, without charging fees. Pounds was moved by the plight of starving and abused children in Portsmouth (also not far from here, close to where my daughters and sister live). Within the confines of his small workshop in St Mary's Street, Old Portsmouth, the old cobbler fed, nursed, clothed and taught them (often 40 at a time). He was voted Portsmouth's Man of the Millennium in 2000 (remember that Lord Nelson and Charles Dickens were also Portsmouth residents).

After Pounds' death, Thomas Guthrie wrote A Plea for Ragged Schools and proclaimed John Pounds as the originator of this idea. Guthrie started a ragged school in Edinburgh. In 1844, Lord Shaftesbury formed the Ragged School Union and over the next eight years over 200 free schools for poor children were established in Britain.

In 1841, Sheriff Watson established another school in Aberdeen, Scotland. His methods were different from his colleagues. Unlike the efforts of Raikes, Pounds, Cranfield, and Guthrie, Watson used compulsion. Watson was frustrated by the number of children who committed a petty crime and faced him in his courtroom. Instead of sending them to prison for vagrancy, he established a school for boys. As a law official, the sheriff arrested vagrant children and enrolled them in school. The Industrial Feeding School, as it was called, opened to provide reading, writing and arithmetic. Watson believed that gaining these skills would help the boys rise above the lowest level of society. Three meals a day were provided and the boys were taught useful trades such as shoemaking and printing.

In 1843, Charles Dickens began his association with the schools and visited the Field Lane Ragged School. He was appalled by the conditions and moved toward reform. The experience inspired him to write A Christmas Carol. He initially intended to write a pamphlet on the plight of poor children, but he realized that a dramatic story would have more impact. Dickens continued to support the schools, donating funds on various occasions. At one point, he donated funds, along with a water trough, stating that it was "so the boys may wash and for a supervisor" (from a letter to Field Lane).. He later wrote about the school and his experience there in Household Words. In 1837, he had used the area called Field Lane as a setting for Fagin’s den in his classic novel, Oliver Twist.

The Earl of Shaftesbury served as chairman of the Ragged Schools Union for 39 years. During his chairmanship, an estimated 300,000 destitute children received a free education. The free school movement became respectable, even fashionable, attracting the attention of many wealthy philanthropists such as Angela Burdett-Coutts who gave large sums to the Ragged Schools Union. This helped to establish 350 ragged schools by the time the 1870 Education Act was passed. Shaftesbury gave what had been a Nonconformist undertaking the cachet of his Tory churchmanship — an important factor at a time when even broad-minded (Anglican) churchmen thought that Nonconformists should be credited with good intentions, but they were not to be cooperated with.

The success of the Ragged Schools demonstrated that there was a demand for education among the poor. In response, both England and Wales established school boards to administer elementary schools. However, education was still not free of fees until 1870 when public funding began to be provided for elementary education among working people.

School boards were public bodies created in boroughs and parishes under the Elementary Education Act of 1870 following campaigning by George Dixon, Joseph Chamberlain and the National Education League for elementary education that was free from Anglican doctrine. Members to the board were directly elected, not appointed by borough councils or parishes. As the school boards were built and funded, the demand for Ragged Schools declined. The Board Schools continued in operation for 32 years until the Education Act of 1902, which replaced them with Local Education Authorities.

The Ragged School Museum is housed in a group of three canal-side buildings that once housed the largest Ragged School in London. It occupies buildings that were previously used by Dr Thomas Barnardo and is located on Copperfield Road in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Thomas John Barnardo (4 July 1845 – 19 September 1905) was an Irish philanthropist. His father who was of Sephardic Jewish origin, and his mother an English woman and member of the Plymouth Brethren (to which he converted on 26 May 1862). He came to London in 1866, with plans to train as a doctor and then become a medical missionary in China. In London, he was confronted by a city where disease was rife, poverty and overcrowding endemic and educational opportunities for the poor were non-existent. He watched helplessly as a cholera epidemic swept through the East End, leaving over 3,000 Londoners dead and many destitute. He gave up his medical training to pursue his local missionary works and in 1867, opened his first Ragged School, where children could gain a free basic education.

Ten years later, Barnardo’s Copperfield Road School opened its doors to children and for the next thirty-one years educated tens of thousands of children. It closed in 1908, by which time enough government schools had opened in the area to serve the needs of local families.

Barnardo was a great showman and self-publicist but one of the great do-gooders of all time. He gave himself the title of "Doctor" despite never qualifying for such an academic degree. However, he worked as ‘doctor’ in the East End of London in 1866 during the cholera epidemic there. Encouraged by the support of the Lord Shaftesbury and the Lord Cairns, he gave up his early ambition and began what was to prove his life’s work, opening the first of the "Dr Barnardo’s Homes" in 1870 at 18 Stepney Causeway, London.

The object of these institutions was to search for and to receive waifs and strays, to feed, clothe and educate. The infants and younger girls and boys were "boarded out" in rural districts; girls above fourteen years of age were sent to the industrial training homes, to be taught useful domestic occupations; boys above seventeen years of age were first tested in labor homes and then placed in employment at home, sent to sea or emigrated; boys of between thirteen and seventeen years of age were trained for the various trades for which they may be mentally or physically fitted. Besides the various branches necessary for the work, there were also a rescue home for girls in serious danger, a convalescent seaside home and a hospital for the terribly sick. At the time of his death in 1905, there were 112 district homes throughout the United Kingdom.

Barnardo laid great stress on the religious teaching of the children under his care. Each child was brought up under the influence and teaching of the Protestant Faith. It was a condition of admission that Roman Catholic children were to be educated as Protestants by Barnardo. Children of Jewish parentage were handed over to the care of the Jewish Board of Guardians in London.

Despite founding the most famous children’s charity in the UK, Barnardo’s methods were questionable He was guilty of misleading advertising, photo-fakery and even child abduction. Yet, we owe our own concept of child protection - that children have rights independently from their parents – to him. Barnardo was perhaps the first to declare that the rights of the child were paramount and he, quite illegally, would remove children from parents whom he decided were harming a child with their bad parenting. Even Lord Shaftesbury opposed him in this. However, because the public was carried along by the rightness of his actions whatever the law said, this principle eventually became enshrined in English Law and social workers today have been criticized for not taking advantage of this provision; most recently in the notorious ‘Baby Peter’ case. The current Director of Barnardos, Martin Narey, was a prison governor in a previous incarnation, and he was once a staunch defender of the rights of parents, but his experience with the children’s charity has quite changed his mind.

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