Holiday Reading

We have been in Queensland for three weeks and thoroughly enjoying the warm, lazy days.  I have had two books on the go – yes, I know what you are thinking, but just wait.  The very long The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (very, very long) and Arthur Herman’s The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots’ Invention of the Modern World.  (I’m sure lots of Cats have read Herman’s book, but for some reason it has stayed on my shelf, unread.)

Anyway, one of the things that really intrigued me was the incredibly high rate of literacy among the Scots so early on.  The Education Act 1696 meant that all parishes had a school with a qualified teacher.  (Note qualified meant university qualified and all lectures at the time were conducted in Latin.)  Mind you, the parishes were not given any resources to pay for the school or the teacher – this was worked out at a local level.

As Herman sums up:

Scotland’s literacy rate would be higher than that of any other country by the end of the eighteenth century.  An English observer noted with astonishment that ‘in the low country of Scotland … the poorest are, in general, taught to read’. In 1790, nearly every eight-year-old in Cleish, in Kinross-shire, could read and read well.  By one estimate male literacy stood at around 55 per cent by 1720; by 1750 it may have stood as high as 75 per cent, compared with only 53 per cent in England.  It would not be until the 1880s that the English would finally catch up with their northern neighbours.

While one of the motivations of the Education Act was to ensure that everyone could read the Bible – a reflection of the power of the Kirk in Scotland – people’s tastes didn’t end there.  A patchwork of subscription-based lending libraries – again, no taxpayer funding – sprung up and, in turn, paper making, printing, publishing and other allied activities flourished in Scotland.

I was reminded of this when we had lunch with one of our friends up here.  He has done lots of things, but had initially been trained as a quantity surveyor.  He volunteered to help out with one of the school-based vocational education courses being put together by a number of the local high schools.

Always one for precision – which is just as well in quantity surveying – he told the students that he would set a high bar.  They were given some practical experience with the latest surveying equipment.

But here’s the thing: in a group of 15 children, there were two outstanding one – a girl and a boy. Most of the others struggled to the point that they could not transcribe a number from the display screen of the machine onto paper.  You might expect an eight year old to do this – these kids were 15 or 16 years of age.

This rather begs the question: what have the schools being doing all this time?  To be sure, the kids in the vocational education stream are probably not the most scholastic, but what hope have they got if they cannot even undertake a simple task like this.  (Some were embarrassed, others laughed it off – these ones may well end up in jail.)

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19 Responses to Holiday Reading

  1. Bruce of Newcastle

    Shows you the difference between religions. John Knox’s Presbyterians wanted the kids to read and think for themselves. The progressives of the SNP not so much.

  2. Andrew

    I’ve been asked by my professional body to lecture to year 12’s about the career. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to say for themselves. My guess is they will be talking about climate change more than maths – and that’s for the 4U class.

  3. Ant

    It’s obvious that teachers just aren’t paid enough and their conditions, entitlements and holidays are just so woefully inadequate, that the kids’ education is suffering so terribly.

    Where’s a union when they need one?

  4. manalive

    Shows you the difference between religions. John Knox’s Presbyterians wanted the kids to read and think for themselves …

    Up to a point.
    The Kirk encouraged the faithful to read Smith and Hume? Hardly.

  5. stackja

    what have the schools being doing all this time?

    Not educating it seems.

  6. Up The Workers!

    Sounds like some future budding A.L.P. followers in Wayne Swans’ gloriously innumerate footsteps.

    He was the “Worlds’ Best Treasurer” who never let his innumeracy hold him back from cooking the Nation’s books.

    As Noel Coward once said: “He is a man completely unspoiled by failure.”

  7. Talleyrand

    So glad we doubled Cmmonwealth spending in the last decade. Can’t read, can’t write, can’t add, can’t work. Going through life fat, lazy, and dumb is no way to live.

  8. hoppers

    $14.5 billion over 6 years should fix the problem (yeah right)

  9. ken n

    This is a long read. But worth it. A dangerous combination of laws against free speech and craven publishers (or newspapers) can lead to very bad results. Can we imagine something similar happening here under 18C?

  10. Dave Wane

    And that is the thing: . “Some were embarrassed, others laughed it off – these ones may well end up in jail.” When I went to school, EVERYONE would have been embarrassed at that age (15 or 16) to be unable to carry out such a simple task. And at the age of 8 pretty much all kids knew their multiplication tables from 2 to 12, and could easily transcribe any number from a scratchy blackboard to their work book.

  11. hzhousewife

    The young these days are not ashamed of anything, sadly.

  12. AP

    I simply don’t believe that 15-16 year olds that are attending school (and presumably have progressed beyond first class level) can’t transcribe numbers. If this is the case, then the outlook for our Western civilisation is dire I’m adraid. Thank God there’s always Asia as a backstop.

  13. Phil Fry

    “what have the schools being doing all this time?”

    propaganda .. I am hard at work though, unravelling it once the kiddies get home, and arm them with tools to help them deal with the fools of the world who wish to manipulate them.

  14. JohnA

    Get your children/grandchildren out of the cannon-fodder factories of soft-leftist humanism, and teach them yourselves.

    You could do it part time in a couple of hours per day, and they would still be better educated than if they stayed in school.

  15. Lawrie Ayres

    At a recent Science and Engineering Challenge for local school children I worked with a recent science graduate who could not do the simplest mental arithmetic. 7 x 8 = bring out the calculator. Sad. The primary school kids showed a lot of skill and clever thinking though so I do hope they are given a chance to learn.

    I read recently where some US states use the SAT scores ( like NAPLAN I believe) to determine what jails will need to be built. Lack of education correlates strongly with criminal behaviour. I once worked in a state correction facility and many if not most inmates were all but illiterate. All seemed to know how to count and multiply especially when it came to money.

  16. James of the Glen

    Stats show the percentage of tertiary graduates per head of population in the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland is still the highest in Europe.

    Judith’s reference to Herman is well made; in the 19th C, and before, attendance at schools in remote areas was remarkable; often the schoolmaster was a graduate of St Andrew’s or Edinburgh Universities who could teach young people in a glen far beyond primary school level. Latin, Greek and higher mathematics were offered to students who worked by day on crofts and studied in the evenings or on specific days.
    This system produced many remarkable scholars and literary figures.

    A useful but difficult to obtain reference is Alexander Stewart’s (1928) 378 page tome, “A Highland Parish” (Alex. MacLaren and Sons, Glasgow). Stewart was his glen’s..bootmaker.

  17. nerblnob

    I must say that debate in Scotland on any issue is remarkably robust compared to what I find in Australia. (The exception being on social media where it tends to be as flabby and conformist as anywhere.)

    You are expected to have an opinion and you have to expect to be challenged on it, but generally speaking you don’t suffer ostracism for having the “wrong” opinion, just contempt if you can’t argue it coherently.

  18. Pete of Freo

    What they have been doing for the last 15 years Judith is being indoctrinated with evolution, anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, environmental millenarianism, belief in the “stolen generation, the “black-armband” version of Australian history, cultural relativity, a belief in the nanny state, a strong sense of personal entitlement, the importance of self-esteem, the importance of comdoms, a belief that men (and rich white men in particular) are responsible for most of the evils in the world, that homosexuality is a good thing which should be cherished and encouraged, and colouring in. This has been done to them by a largely female group of individuals who have done their best to crush the boy out of each male student since kindergarten.
    This is the same mob who believed that phonics based reading education was somehow part of the great patriarchal, militarist, imperialist industro-capitalist plot to create proles to serve them in the name of Profit. Better to encourage widespread illiteracy with the more politically correct Whole Language Approach.
    As a teacher I have a rule of thumb in which each disruptive child in a class equates to that class receiving 10% less of an education. You can imagine the quality of education received by students in the many classes in which there are 10 or more disruptive students. I could fix the ADHD “problem” in my school in 1 Term if you allowed me to cane the so-called sufferers. This would not improve their learning, but it would shut them up and let the others learn. Seriously, what hope is there for a bunch of kids who’ve been on speed since Year 1?

    Gee, I feel a lot better now……

  19. Frank.i

    This article at Quadrant has an interesting take on why literacy rates have been so high for so long in Britain generally – property rights of all things!

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