Friday, 24 February 2023
What Used to Be
Wednesday, 22 February 2023
Wisdom of children
"Because that what childs are supposed to do," she said earnestly.
- Originally published in 2009.
Tuesday, 21 February 2023
Monday, 13 February 2023
The Lost Civilisation
For many children, book-learning was not limited to school, but was a part of daily life, in-between farm chores. In the Irish countryside of the early 1900s, Mary Fogarty estimated she read five hundred books a year, waking with her mother and sisters at 5 am to read for two hours, and then again before bed. “We read Lorna Doone – I was in love with John Ridd for weeks – The Vicar of Wakefield, more Dickens, Thackeray, Kingsley, and the Brontes, returning now and then, for little Annie’s benefit, to the loved books of our first days – Little Women, Masterman Ready, Scottish Chiefs, Gulliver’s Travels, and Mayne Reid,” she wrote in her memoir. “Mother enjoyed Maria Edgeworth more than we did, also Jane Austen; we much preferred George Eliot.” (The Farm by Lough Gur, 172)
Tuesday, 7 February 2023
Learning years ago
From an article I'm working on:
Tens of thousands of children, often barefoot and dressed in clothes sewn from flour bags and worn by several other children before them, walked to schoolhouses each morning across Ireland. Their tiny hands often carried bricks of hand-hewn turf, or sticks that they picked up along the way, to keep their single rooms warm – or less bitterly cold – as they studied. School budgets effectively did not exist; children often carried a few coins here and there for the teacher when the parents could afford it. Nor did children go to school all year; they left whenever the parents needed an extra pair of hands on the farm, or to baby-sit their brothers and sisters, or to bring in the turf for winter, or to make some extra money at a job. Some children described going to school until they were 16, or 14, or 12, or 11, and then never again.
Now: Tell me what kind of education they got.
Every modern person, without exception, assures me the results would be pathetic -- the “three Rs,” so named because we assume that backwoods hillbillies would have spelled the subjects “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic.” We assume that the poorer you are, the worse your education, and these days that’s true – in the USA today, two-thirds of all adults cannot read at a proficient level, and a third cannot handle a basic level. They are adults and can’t read.
Also, some of these children lived a century ago, and since we assume knowledge only becomes vaster and more refined over time, our learning must soar far beyond anything they could have imagined, and our children’s learning farther still. This is why we spent 25,000 hours of our best years in giant cement warehouses – our parents wanted us to keep up with the competition in a race forward. It’s is why so many of us spent years in college, and decades paying off college, to join the future and not be left behind.
Not a bit of that belief, though, stands up to the simple test of listening to accounts of schools a century or two ago, or reading actual school papers on file in Irish historical societies, or reading newspapers from the time, or looking at the books everyday people read. Children then often read classics and sophisticated literature that few college students – or professors – attempt anymore. So did mechanics and farm-hands, house-wives and fishermen.
They did not read them to boast that they had done so, as a few college elites might today, but out of a passion for learning. They talked about these works with friends. They wrote about them in their diaries. All this, you’ll recall, in addition to their practical skills, their knowledge of local lore, of the natural world and the people around them – all of which are also rare today.
... more on this later.