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[In the following passage from the author's Eton (1909), Christopher Stone makes some very Victorian observations about human nature, education, and social behavior. To a twenty-first-century reader, he must seem very old-fashioned, and not least because he has absolutely no awareness of what today would be called political correctness. Writing apparently unaware of questions of race, class, and gender, Stone also shows little faith in the power of academic knowledge to improve either individual or society. He does, however, have two things that make his remarks worth considering: first, he begins very unsentimentally with the cold-blooded observation that "most boys have no moral conscience;" second, given that state of affairs, he asks how can education instill "courage, unselfishness, local patriotism, quick judgment, and sociability." Stone confronts, in other words, one of the two most important questions in secondary and tertiary education today — namely, how can we instill (or students acquire) an ethical grounding that will guide them throughout their lives? (he does not concern himself with he second question, probably because he never could have envisioned it: how can a diverse society endow its students with a shared cultural context or literacy, particulkarlyl in an age in which intellectual, aesthetic, or other excellence (other than athletic) is feared as elitist.) GPL].

If it is true that the real growth and development of most boys' characters takes place out of school, it follows that the standards to which he conforms must be reckoned of primary importance. Many estimable virtues — courage, unselfishness, local patriotism, quick judgment, and sociability — are clearly encouraged by games in a definite and easily intelligible manner; and it is often noticeable that a boy who has learned to "play the game" will carry the principles of fair play into other spheres. In a sense, most boys have no moral conscience; they may be induced to do some things and not to do others, for three reasons; firstly, fear of punishment, the knowledge that the game is not worth the candle; according to which instinct it has been ascertained that the crash of a broken window-pane is worth about five shillings to an undergraduate; if he knows that he will be fined more than that amount for each pane broken, he will generally refrain from the indulgence of his caprice. So a boy will not talk in school, because it is not worth while; he is far from having any consideration for the master.

Secondly, a boy can be influenced by his affections; he owes a great deal to his home, and will be vividly desirous of the approval of his family. This instinct may be extended to include respect and affection for a tutor or dame; and for this reason masters must be not only clever men, not only men of sterling and impressive probity, not only men of good birth and good manners; but also of good nature and good humour, lovable in school and out of school, able to mould a boy's character by the slightest, tenderest revelations of interest and affection. Boys are marvelously sensitive to the influence of a sweet nature; and I remember in particular one master, who never raised his voice in school, never talked cant about the pleasure of doing dull lessons, never showed the slightest desire to hoodwink us . . . but that one man had a real beneficent influence over us, and I honestly believe that we worked well, not because it was work done "under" him, but "for" him ; and we would go to tea with him on a general invitation, because we knew that he could talk to us sympathetically and refreshingly, without for one moment losing our respect. I write all this, because I want to insist upon the truth, that it can be done by the right man in the right spirit; and that it is the best, if not the only way, to guide boys.

Third, more potent perhaps than the others, is the standard of correctness made by boys for themselves, rigidly observed, tyrannously enforced. It is often said that small boys have been made miserable, because they have transgressed some paltry rule of etiquette; and I do not wish to defend unreasonably what is unreasonable; the pedantic ritual of custom and dress must appear ridiculous to reason, though it is not in the least puzzling to boyhood. But in more important things, that come vaguely under the heading of morality, the strong grip of this standard is felt with equal advantage and equal danger. A thing "is done" or is "not done" by gentlemen, by Englishmen, by Eton boys, by members of a particular house; and that is generally the first and last word that is said for or against that thing. We have an excellent name for the offender against our rules: he is a "slug"; and the health or "tone "of the school depends vitally on the detestation or tolerance of scuggishness.

Of these three methods of influencing boys, the first and the last are often antagonistic; and it is quite natural, and even "sporting," according" to school standards, not merely to break rules of discipline, but to "score off" tutordom in every possible way. For instance, if "correctness" condones "cribbing," fear is unable to stamp it out; the more violent the crusade against this or any other kind of "dishonesty," the more daring and "sporting" is the offence. From all of which it may be gathered — what is, I am afraid, a truism — that if only masters could rouse the affections of their pupils, they would gradually make intimidation unnecessary, and would purify and strengthen the standard of "correctness." Cribbing is a good example; I defy any master who is out of sympathy with his division, to stamp it out; but I deny that any boy worth his salt would behave dishonestly, if he were really fond of his master.

As thing's are, it is useless to talk of this sympathy between tutor and pupil. And that is why it is vitally important that boys should learn how to play the game out of school; that is the justification of our elaborately organised boating and cricket and football, our "colours" [roughly equivalent to an American varsity letter] and house-cups, and genial rivalries. And, finally, that is why a scug is technically a boy who has not the right to wear any "colour."

But it is not to be denied that many estimable men have been considered as scugs by their Eton contemporaries, and that the boy whose real development takes place after he has left school is often more interesting than the boy whose last year at Eton is one long period of condescensions. ["Out of School," 101-4]

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References

Stone, Christopher. Eton. London: A. C. Black, 1909.


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Last modified 30 July 2006