A Child’s Duty and Absenteeism from School

This comes from Joseph Ashby of Tysoe 1859-1919. The account of his school days seems to have been of unremitted tedium, and seemed to have learnt little. But he claimed it was not dull:

It was easy to get a beating … Some boys couldn’t get through a day without ‘holding out their hands’ or a week without a real thrashing. While a thrashing proceeded the school simmered. Would a boy cry out? Was the master hitting harder than usual? It might be oneself soon.

Life was uncivilized in school and yet there was plenty of conscience. .. the master never caned a girl, no matter how maddening she might be. There was the emphasis on duty… They ought to be silent, they ought to march in and out in orderly fashion, they ought to attend – above all to attend! to whatever the master or the vicar or the pupil-teachers or even the monitors might put before them or upon them. The very height of the standard impressed the children. They felt it sincerely prescribed by the master… and that there we sins, such as untruth, that really hurt him. Standards could be very inconsistent: for example, children dared not come late to school, but they absented themselves altogether for every sort of reason. Girls could be kept at home on the weekly washing day; boys would go to every flower show every meet of the hunt within 7 miles. When the cowslips bloomed both boys and girls would be taken out by their mothers to pick the flowers for wine an for a cowslip pudding. Some families stayed away, too, on all the old traditional festivals – St Valentine’s day, Plough Monday, and on the Club Days or patronal celebrations of villages round about.

School was so unreal. That explained the truancy and the caning and much else, and yet there were only 1 or 2 families whose children did not go at all, 20 years before compulsion came. All the parents wanted their children to learn to read, and the National School had put  out of business all the dame and gaffer schools, and had absorbed the old Feeoffes’ schools.

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