Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 3. 1967.
Elwyn S. Richardson's "In The Early World," published by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, is reviewed by John Pettigrew
Elwyn S. Richardson's "In The Early World," published by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, is reviewed by John Pettigrew.
In his foreword to this book John Melser describes the work as "... a vivid picture of a school . . . (which) . . . functioned as a community of artists and scientists who turned a frank and searching gaze on all that came within their ambit." These may seem strong words to describe a small country school, and yet on reading the book the description seems not far-fetched.
The author came to the school as a molluscologist seeking a mollusc-full area, but became so enrapted in the challenge of a school as an experiment in the development in self-expression that he stayed 12 years.
He tells how he discovered the educational value of a "topic," or "project," approach, not only by way of the variety and interest of the knowledge the pupils gain, but because of the ease of assimilation when the children are sincerely interested in what they are doing. His first venture was to introduce potters to the school, but his approach was not merely to buy a wheel and tell the children what to do. His method involved a foray into the surrounding country to collect samples of the neighbourhood clays, testing them for shrinkage, strength and other qualities, building a kiln, and so on. In all stages the teacher acted as advisor rather than as authority.
The result of this approach was that the pupils regarded the project as a problem to be solved and because they were the ones doing the solving it was they who sought the means of solution. Thus they were receptive to explanations of, say, problems of percentage (in shrinkage comparisons), or the arithmetic involved in working out the cost for electricity of one firing of the kiln. The practical problems they were coming across gave a rationale to their work that is lacking in the mere repetition of rules and the working of textbook examples.
Mr. Richardson has an easy-to-read style, informal and unself-conscious, although sometimes his direct quotes from the pupils sound as if they were contrived for the written word rather than spoken.
For me, however, the greatest impact of the book lay in the examples of the children's work—there are over 100 illustrations alone of the visual work, and the author also makes much use of examples of their writing. Those who expect something from the Evening Post Children's Page might consider—
"Under the blind seawater
The bubble finger seaweeds
Dance and run around in airy water.
And on the darkly shaded rocks
The limpets spit and cling."
Ok, so it's not material for the next Penguin Anthology. But let's see some of the stuff you wrote at primary school—not to mention some around VUW.
My only serious faulting of the book lies in the fact that the author is concerned almost entirely with the relationship between the children and himself and the children and the World. To the generally interested he offers hope for the development of education, and to the enlightened teacher ideas. Unfortunately, to the enlightened teacher he gives little space to the practicabalities of accomplishing his experiment. The book is dedicated in part to the ". . . parents, who accepted my methods and discoveries as the normal way of educational growth."
Without except? Oh enlightened parenthood! and his employer, the New Zealand Government—did it, too, accept his methods as "the normal way of educational growth" Did the children have any difficulty when presented with a High School syllabus and environment?
Perhaps an attempt to answer these questions would make the book not just longer, but dull, and maybe they belong to a book of a different type. Nevertheless, any teacher inspired by Mr. Richardson deserves all the help he can get from that person's experiences. Conservatism in educational theory is not an uncommon feature amongst parents and school hierarchies.
As a whole, though, I found that the book gave me a little lift of the soul: There sincerity, and vigorous expression, and satisfying search, amongst the pupils of some of our schools, and there are men concerned to educate, not just teach them.
Technically, the book is well produced on about 220 pages of good quality glossy paper with the hundred-odd illustrations I mentioned above—photographs, numerous lino-cuts and some coloured reproductions.
This is, in my opinion, a 35-shillingworth which should be owned by anyone concerned with education of the young—as a teacher, as a parent, or as one with parental ambitions.