Frank Goss (b. 1896): Education and Schooling (Older years)

Following on from my first post on ‘Education and Schooling’, I will now be focusing on Goss’s later experiences with education and the affect it had on him as a child. I will also be looking at school activities Goss took part in when he was older as well as piano lessons he took with his Auntie Grace.

First edition copy of Little Women.
First edition copy of Little Women.

In 1906 they moved to Lancashire where Goss attended New Moston Elementary School for nine months. At this school he has a mixture of both positive and negative experiences. He remembers how he fell in love with his teacher and “secretly worshiped” (p151) her because she always looked so kind and understanding. He remembers that at the start of every English lesson she would read a book to them but he cannot remember whether she read it to them every day or only once a week. Some of the books he remembers reading are Little Women by Lousia May Alcott and The Children of the New Forest by Frederick Marryat.

One of the negative experiences he had there was a result of the clogs they wore. Their “little clogged feet were supported on the cast iron foot-rest beneath” them and if the teacher heard a noise or shuffling “the child was required to take his clogs off” (151-2). If the child refused they were sent to the headmaster “who corrected such tendencies by giving the child several strokes with a cane; the number of strokes was an assessment of the degree of annoyance caused or the degree or correction thought to be necessary to break down resistance” (p152). According to Anna Davin, corporal punishment such as the cane “was expected to be more necessary with boys” as “every spelling mistake, every blot, […] was liable to be visited by a stroke of the cane” (p127). She states that many schools “regarded corporal punishment as indispensable” (p128). When Goss is asked to remove his clogs he starts crying and refuses to take them off because he has holes in his stockings. He describes how his “heart was broken into fragments” by his teacher as she told him “don’t be such a coward” (p153) before sending him to be punished. He is sent to the headmaster where he receives “twelve strokes on [his] hand with the cane. With these strokes the pieces of [his] heart fitted together again” (p153). Afterwards he describes how “The world of love and adoration in which [he] had lived so tenderly, disappeared into the past. The mended heart beat in a new world as different from the old as if [he] had been suddenly dropped on to a new planet” (p153). For him, nothing would ever be the same again. He enters the classroom with a different view of his teacher and instead of feeling love for her he notices that her “nose was too long and, what was more, it divided her face into two quite different and somehow unco-ordinated halves” (p153). He notices a different side to her he failed to see before and he no longer feels the same way about her because of his experience with the cane. Davin argues that “Children were punished for infringing a code of behaviour which was new to them and must often have been quite incomprehensible” (p128).

1888 illustration of caning in school.
1888 illustration of caning in school.

In 1907 Goss and Bill attended a newly-built elementary school called “‘Derka’”. While he is there he learns to swim and also joins band class with Bill where they express an interest in learning to play the cornet before giving it up after Goss’s father tells them they cannot practice in the house. They then move back to London where Goss and Bill attend Noel Park School where they find themselves “puzzled and frustrated in a daily battle with English Grammar and French”. Goss finds that “The grammar lessons at Noel Park were a particular trial. It appeared that not only had one got to understand what a written sentence was trying to say, but to understand in some sort of mathematical way all the values of the various parts.” (p202). Goss then goes on to describe their lessons. He says that “A sentence would be selected by the teacher and written along the top of the blackboard. Below this he would, by vertical and horizontal lines, construct a series of columns in a tabulating framework. Then each word in that sentence had to be defined in all its subtle relations with all the other words in the sentence.” (p202-3). To him, the statements seemed quite clear but when they began to break them down into different meanings, he found it to be quite laboured, “especially when it took a whole lesson of three quarters an hour to get all the parts into their correct columns” (p203).

For a short period of time, Goss has piano lessons which he says “was really the result of my mother’s wish to have a musician in the family.” (p202). He says that not only had he to “contend with the effort to assimilate the grammar of [his] own language and simultaneously the grammar, pronunciation and irregularities of French, but [he] also had to have [his] mind opened up to absorb that there is a grammar also in music.” (p202). Since Goss’s father is a piano maker, he often bought a cheap “most dilapidated old-fashioned piano there was to be found in the market at the time” and he would then “make the piano ready for sale in a week or so.” (p206). His father would then place a sign in the window to advertise the piano for sale. While they were waiting for it to be sold, the piano was a playable instrument. Goss’s mother would then teach Goss how to play the piano. After that, he started having proper lessons with his Auntie Grace, his mother’s younger sister. However, he took no pleasure from these lessons as his Auntie led him to a room where she then shut the curtains and left him to play by himself. Goss believes he may have survived all this “If there had been the spark of genius, or even a glimmer of music in [his] soul” (p210). But he “certainly had not sufficient to survive the misery and loneliness of that darkened room” (p210). He might have been able to carry on with these lessons if he had been “given an occasional pat on the head, a smile of appreciation, or rewarded with a biscuit indicating that what [he] suffered was understood and the effort valued and appreciated. A performing dog or seal at least gets these.” (p210).

Football as played at Rugby School.
Football as played at Rugby School.

The last school Goss attended was Newfoundland Road School which he recalls “was a small grim looking building” (p228). It was here that he joined the school rugby team and played in matches against other schools. Even though he played rugby often he admits that he “never really knew what the game was all about” (p230). In the final twelve months of Goss’s schooling, he “enjoyed the harvest of [his] childhoods development” (p235). He remembers being “strong, healthy and full of energy” and also learning “the satisfaction of being a boy among other boys, of being on equal terms with boys of [his] own age” (p235). While writing his memoir, he still had strong memories of his final year at school. He remembers rugby matches, swimming, playing cricket and also evening journeys to Cheltenham Public Library with his friends to immerse themselves in adventure stories.

Bibliography:

Davin, Anna. Growing up Poor: Home, School and Street in London 1870-1914. Cambridge: Policy Press, London: Rivers Oram Press, 1996.

Goss, Frank. ‘My Boyhood At the Turn of the Century’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Volume Number: 0.313194444 http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10909

Image references:

Books That Shaped America 1850-1900. Web. Accessed 23 November 2015 http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/books-that-shaped-america/1850-to-1900.html

School Corporal Punishment. Web. Accessed 23 November 2015 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_corporal_punishment

The story of rugby union. Web. Accessed 23 November 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/z396nbk

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