Happy September! And for those in the US, happy three-day autumn weekend ending with Labor Day on Monday! Our household is finally seeing some order restored from our move in June to upstate New York: the kids are back in school!
And while there are plenty of resources on education in Regency times, I don’t think I would be quite so ecstatic to send them off to school back then. Education in Jane Austen’s time was a split between home-schooling for mostly girls and some genteel bred boys and new schools for “finishing” or the university track for boys only. And as I love to analyze the congruences and contrasts with our favorite author’s lifetime, here are my top 5 reasons why I’m glad my kids are not waiting for the school wagon circa 1812!
#1 Genderfied Education Stinks
I am the mother of a boy and a girl. I would NOT want to go back to a time period where my son has more opportunites than my daughter, nor do I want the system to become vice-versa. During Jane Austen’s times and even up to my mother’s generation, schooling was viewed very diferently for boys and girls. Boys learned skills that were needed to useful employment, even if that career path was to merely own half of Derbyshire, even if it was the more miserable half. 🙂 Girls learned skills that were also needed for useful employment if they were of the lower classes, but NOT if they were gentlewomen. My own mother was never taught math more advanced than Algebra. Thankfully, I was encouraged and permitted to take all the way up to Calculus in high school, and with the way things are going, my daughter who is 6 will probably do Calculus as a sophomore.
#2 I am the parent. I rule.
The idea of public education was a novel one in Jane Austen’s times, at best a local parochial school run by the church. Even they had fees because there are always costs to education. To put my children in school in 1812, assuming I am wealthy enough to even do so, would require them to travel a great deal farther than today’s school bus. I would likely not see them for months on end, perhaps not even more than twice a year if paying for school is a struggle. Yeah. No. I cannot even imagine the abuses and difficulties children faced in Jane Austen’s times at the schools away from their homes. Because one thing that is timeless is that power corrupts and the most vile snakes worm their way into working with children.
#3 I’m not ready to homeschool . . . yet.
Homeschooling is sooo not new. For many families in Jane Austen’s time, homeschooling was just lessons. It wasn’t weird. It didn’t invite questions about your child’s socialization skills or your ability to teach. It was normal. As a child I was so tormented in school I wished for nothing more than to be homeschooled. I have a suspicion that my daughter will fall in my footsteps in that quarter, and when she says around 4th or 5th grade, “Mommy, can’t I just learn at home?” I will say “You betcha! Now, let’s start Latin, Shakespeare, Algebra . . .” 🙂 My eldest has had opportunities to homeschool and he has elected not to, mainly because he knows if he says yes, we will start Latin, Shakespeare and .. LOL.
#4 There’s at least a concept of “We don’t know what we don’t know . . . “
Despite coming after the Enlightenment, the Regency era was chock full of erroneous and dangerous teachings. For one, they still did not know what caused disease. Nor did they know the value of sanitation beyond it being a sign of wealth and more pleasant way of living. Granted, I’m sure 200 years from now, instant mind messenger makers will laugh at the folly of us dunderheads of the early 21st century. But we at least have an idea that there are realms and concepts we do not fully know yet. At least, as long as it’s not something to be discussed in a political context during an election cycle. In that case, everyone is an expert 😉
#5 Education is a unique experience.
My daughter has a 504 plan, an outline for ways the school will accommodate her difficulties to learn like other children. Where another child can remember the rules from day-to-day, my daughter needs a daily reminder of expectations or innocuous situations like carpet time can turn into a danger zone for her or her classmates. This is very much a 21st century concept (sorry 20th century, you were working on it) of realizing that the same curriculum can be learned by all children if educators are able to tap into HOW an individual child learns. Rousseau would be so proud! 🙂 The curriculum for young ladies and young gentlemen were largely consistent across the board and children that could not handle the demands or tasks were either sent away or no longer taught in any capacity. Being the mother of a special needs child I am so very thankful to parent in a time of more enlightened education systems and society. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Now, all of that said, I would wholeheartedly endorse a renewed focus on the classics for younger children. I think Latin should be taught in Elementary school in the later grades to supplement English education and to form a bedrock of language education for later study of any Romance language (Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian). I want children to learn more about history without happier versions of wars, conflict, and revolutions.
Hmmm, maybe I should just educate my children Regency style and home school . . . nah, I know I will eventually, but right now I have books to write and my daughter needs a firmer ability to independently learn. But one day . . . Latin and Greek and Shakespeare and . . . 🙂
And on that note, the next book from me will be The Blessing of Marriage. Many have asked and I’m very sorry for the delay, but I am actively writing it! 🙂 Also, if you liked last month’s Jamberry post and wanted to join in on the fun on Facebook with me and Melanie Schertz, friend me over there! https://www.facebook.com/elizabethann.west.7