Education was unstable for Rice as a child. As he moved house a lot, this meant he changed schools often, having to leave friends behind and start again. This must have been unpleasant for such a young boy, and Rice says he ‘always felt unable to hold back an awful feeling of inferiority, scared that I may be asked to give an answer to a question on the subject we were studying’ (4). This shows he never felt comfortable at school, and as a result, his confidence was very low. Was this because he was made to feel inadequate, as he was working-class? He does not explicitly say, but could be a reason. The way Rice describes this time in his life is so heart-wrenching, you can can get a sense of his powerlessness, recollected through his memories. I am sure Rice was not the only working-class child during the early 20th Century to have had these experiences at school, with class playing a major part in how well educated a child was. The majority of the time, the lower the class, the poorer standard of education; working-class children were seen as factory-fodder and not destined for intellectual occupations. Education was also dependant on parental support, which children rarely had. It is said that ‘parental interest in education did decline steadily with class status’ (Rose 130), because it was more important to become a part of the labour force and earn money, to support the family.
Although Rice’s education did not get off to the best start, he eventually began to do well at school when he was eleven, during the First World War (1916). He moved to West Square Central School, in the London borough of Southwark. He says that he ‘must have shown an early sign of snobbery as I remember how secretly proud I was to be wearing a school cap with a badge on it’ (10), something he had never felt before.
It is clear that he enjoyed learning and being productive, at this school, as he says ‘Mr Thornton, the Art Master, gave me every inducement to develop my capabilities. He kept my homework going with such work and I enjoyed every minute of it’ (10). Whilst researching more into working-class education, I found this information which could explain why Rice enjoyed school so much:
‘Dan Smith, the Newcastle Labour politician (born 1915), explained why a strictly disciplined and inadequately equipped classroom could seem attractive to a working-class child: “School, even though a sterile place as compared with today, was still an oasis in a grim social situation. The Board schools offered what many poor house- holds did not: a structured learning environment, recognition for academic achievements, and (often) sympathetic adults, not to mention proper heating, lighting, and plumbing’ (Rose 126).
Rice attended West Square Central School during the War. Although he may not have realised it at the time, but he could have been using Art as a form of escapism from the trauma of War, as he admits ‘An evening at home, at the kitchen table with pencil, Indian Ink, and paper I was contented and relaxed. ‘(10). However, he soon had to give up his dream although ‘Mr Thornton told me I had a natural approach to perspective, and to keep at it. In my innocent mind, I felt here was the kind of work to which I would like to devote my whole future.’ (11). He does say he was ‘innocent’ and naive at the time, as the pressure was on for children to leave school and start providing for the family. He showed promising talent, enough to stay on at school until he was sixteen, but Rice’s fate did not lie in Education. Instead, he was forced to face the brutal world of hard work and labour, which he had several years of to come.
RICE, Stanley, ‘The Memories of a Rolling Stone: Times and incidents remembered’, TS, pp.68 (c. 33,600 words). Brunel University Library, Volume 2:661.
Rose, Jonathan. Willingly to School: The Working-Class Response to Elementary Education in Britain, 1875-1918. Journal of British Studies: Cambridge UP. Vol. 32 (Apr. 1993). pp. 114-138.
Link to map of London Borough of Southwark (West Square): http://maps.southwark.gov.uk/connect/southwark.jsp?mapcfg=Historical_Selection&tooltip=Hist_tips