September 3, 2013

Back to School

        P and T are back to school this morning, so this is a perfect time to look at some fascinating prints of classrooms of yore.  It's not my intention to give a history of education - interesting as that is, it's too much of a tangent for me this morning.  Nevertheless, I like the glimpses into the past that these block prints provide.
        Going chronologically, my first wood block print probably dates from the end of the sixteenth century, although unfortunately, like so much on the internet, it doesn't include much information with it.  I had thought it might be an illustration from Roger Ascham's 1570 The Scholemaster, but I can't confirm that.  In any case, it looks like a nice little seminar, although you have to wonder about the long object lying across the table.  Is it something the students are
studying, or something the schoolmaster will use for corporal punishment?
        Next up are woodcuts from two editions of Orbis Pictus by John Comenius.  I introduced the work here - it's a fascinating resource for historical reference, and many of its woodcuts are rather charming in their own right.  I have to admit, though, that I don't much care for this particular image.  It's got way too many same-y black lines making the whole image into a barely differentiated jumble.
        I prefer the illustration of the schoolroom from the 1777 English edition.  You may also be interested in the explanation that goes with the image.  A School, 1. is a Shop, in which Young Wits are fashion'd to Virtue, and it is distinguish'd into Forms.  The Master, 2. sitteth in a Chair, 3. the Scholars, 4. in Forms, 5.  he teacheth, they learn.  Some things are writ down before them with Chalk on a Table, 6.  Some sit at a Table, and write, 7. he mendeth their Faults, 8.  Some stand and rehearse things committed to memory, 9.  Some talk together, 10. and behave themselves wantonly and carelessly; these are chastised with a Ferula, 11. and a Rod, 12.
        About fifty years later we get this coed classroom.  You can see that the students don't even have writing desks, but they do have books to share.  I'm struck by how bare the walls are.  No chalk board, no alphabet charts, no patriotic or moral pictures.  I wonder whether that's an accurate reflection of a typical schoolroom of the time, or whether the artist just didn't want to include all that clutter in his picture.
        Finally, here's a Victorian classroom, from around 1874.  It's also pretty darn bare, and I can't imagine that those gas lamps would provide much light on a gloomy morning.  The straight rows of desks all facing the teacher at the front of the room represent the traditional model that many of us grew up with.
        P and T's classrooms won't look much like any of these models, with their comfortable groupings of tables, their utter lack of birches, switches, ferules, rods, or paddles, their colorful posters, their computers and smart boards…  But no doubt in another century someone will be posting pictures of their quaint old-fashioned school!        

[Pictures: Schoolmaster and class, wood block print without any attribution, late sixteenth century? (Image from Shakespeare's England);
Schul, wood block print from Orbis Sensualium Pictus by Comenius, 1658 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
A School, wood block print from Orbis Sensualium Pictus by Comenius, translated by Hoole and printed for S. Leacroft, 1777 (Image from Google ebooks);
Schoolroom, woodcut without any attribution, 1826-27 (Image from the Smithsonian);
Double Class-room, woodcut or engraving from School Architecture by E. R. Robson, 1874 (Image from Pete Medway).]

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