‘Teaching gave me opportunities for study which I should not have had if I had started to learn a trade, the only alternative for me’
To offer some background on the state of education in 19th century Britain, literacy rates were measured by a person’s ability to sign their name on the marriage register. In 1750 around half the population could sign their name and over the next century there was little change until 1914 when 99% of men and women had signed – a considerable improvement.
Literacy was not as much a social stigma as it is in today’s society as the majority of the working-class did not require an education for the life they led, although in some instances specifically in the case of Thomas Raymont they wanted to break free of these social restrictions.
During Thomas’s time in boarding school, large social changes were occurring in Britain with the introduction of the Elementary Education Act on 17th February 1870 which meant every child was one step closer to receiving a free education and not have to worry about fees which was why a lot of children were unable to have the chances Thomas had due to the low income of families.
Education is a dominant influence on Thomas Raymont’s life. From an early age, Thomas shows an interest in learning beginning with the start of his unofficial education in a dame school taught by a ‘capable and gentle lady’. Dame schools were typically unequipped in giving children a proper education (which is why they were commonly disapproved by professional teachers) but were a good starting point as Thomas experiences where he learns basic arithmetic and spelling before moving onto an elementary infant school which later transformed into a boarding school in later years.
One aspect of Thomas’s account I found most intriguing is the parallels found between period and modern day teaching methods. It demonstrates how little progress has been made in the last 100 years to explore teaching methods as he recollects: ‘My so-called knowledge was derived entirely from books’ which is still for the most part a technique utilised by teachers of today.
Modern day children can relate to his frustrations concerning methods of teaching, who for the most part learn through text books, even after earning a second-class honours certificate he believes he is not worthy of it thus destroying it because ‘I was ashamed of it.’
Thomas remarks on the abilities of his teachers from this period saying that in hindsight ‘These men were, as I now think of them, good examples of what was then, and for many more years, known as a trained teacher.’ These men could have served as inspiration for Thomas to continue his studies which ultimately resulted in him writing his memoir.
Considering Thomas dedicates his life to education, I must comment on his writing style. You would not think of it has being written by a professor due to the simplistic writing style and exceptionally short account of his life coming from a man who has written novels. I think this proves that although the schooling system was improving it was still a long way from what we come to regard as an education in today’s society.
Thomas Raymont. Memories of an Octogenarian 1864-1949. Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.