Being from a large family, we could presume that it was difficult for Maud to get the desired attention to her reading and writing skills as might be normal in a slightly smaller family. She is obviously very intelligent; excelling at her schoolwork throughout her childhood and putting these skills into practice in her adult life, yet her memoir subtly implies the struggles that she faced in grasping literacy skills. Working-class children before her time often had minimal or haphazard schooling and struggled to develop reading and writing skills. I consider Maud to be privileged in the sense that she actually got the attention through her schooling to allow her to develop these basic life skills.
The 1870 Education Act ‘enforced every child over the age of five to be educated in reading, writing and arithmetic,’ (Clarke, p. 5) which was a milestone in the development of education, yet the accuracy of their reading and writing skills were we do not know. As mentioned in my blog post on ‘Education and Schooling,’ we know that Maud was able to begin learning from a young age, at her Dame School, and she states that ‘each child used a slate and slate pencil (neither paper nor pen),’ (Clarke, p. 6) which is important to know, as it implies the beginning of her writing career. Presumably they used a slate and slate pen as to correct the children easily and so they could begin to learn to write in an environmentally positive way, as I remember the countless exercise books I used in school when I first started to write. The downside to this method was that progression would be hard to monitor, as when the slates were wiped clean, so was all their hard work.
Maud touches upon the textbooks that she had access to in her school life and also whilst training to be a teacher; ‘the reading books were very worn from constant use, as tax-payers money had to be very carefully spent.’ (Clarke, p. 8) Personally, I find it odd that new books were not provided for the school children, as reading is subsequently the most desired skill a working person can possess, and to not have books published to a high standard implies that the tax payer thought more of saving money than providing invaluable skills to the children in the schools. Perhaps this was due to the newly opened schools, that the school board did not have the appropriate access to literature?
Perhaps Maud and her peers never really appreciated the textbooks; they were relatively new to them and full of knowledge they could not possibly absorb all at once. Indeed, Will Crooks writes in his memoir about the first time he saw a book with pictures, a truly remarkable statement; ‘What a revelation it was to me! Pictures of romance and beauty I had never dreamed of suddenly opened up before my eyes. I was transported from the East End to an enchanted land.’ (Haw, p. 53) This is a remarkable quote that emphasizes the importance of literature to children from a young age, allowing them to explore and express their imagination to the fullest capability.
- George Haw, From Workhouse to Westminster: The Life Story of Will Crooks, MP (London, 1917), 22, cited by Rose, p. 53.
- Clarke, Maud. ‘Untitled.’ pp.67, Brunel University Library. (1978)