Learning to Live (then going home for tea)

“So the children of a democracy learn to take their place in the world of tomorrow.”

The British Council has made its film collection public. What a wonderful gift.

Early Childhood (Nursery) classroom 1941

Take for example Learning to Live.  Made in 1941 it presents: A typical school day for the three children of the Brown family at Nursery, Junior, and Senior Schools, and the principles behind their education.

OK – it’s wartime and early in the war too. The actual world of these children is one of heightened anxiety and uncertainty (and probably evacuation). But this is one of a series of films made to present people going about their everyday lives in spite of war. It’s not so much propaganda as a kind of a form of government diplomacy – offering reassuring insight into ideals and conveying continuity and hope.

But listen to the principles and aspirations that drive the model we see here in an idealized form. This is the thinking that drove the education of my childhood about which I have little rose-tinted nostalgia. I know that gap between the rhetoric and the reality. But I recognize and respect that striving to educate for a better world for all children.

With a few major exceptions (and you will easily know them) these are principles and practices that – brought up to speed in the details of their expression – could serve us well today.

We’ve  fallen into a habit of disparaging the schoolrooms of the bygone era of the twentieth century.  The factory model and etc. While all that is true take a look at the early childhood curriculum, playtime, projects, group work, hygiene, relationships, lunch, shop, art, music, technology, community ethos and the value placed on the individual and independence. And the children walk to a multi-age school in their neighborhood.

Look at the richness of the education presented in this film.   It may be time to stop with our superiority and recognize that the driving principles of yesteryear are in essence still relevant.  It wasn’t quite like that – but look at what they were trying to do.

Step back a minute and take a look at the film.

The original description was: British Children at School
‘Britain has many well-planned new schools with modern equipment. These are described in the picture of a day in Billy Brown’s Nursery School, his sister’s Junior School, and the Senior School where his brother is a prefect. At all stages of education, children learn to be useful citizens.’ (Films of Britain – British Council Film Department Catalogue – 1947-50)

Among all the gems here are some of my favorites:

“A pleasant place to learn and teach.”

How small children get ready for academic work.

Repairing the school telephone.

the nature walk and the geography project.

School lunch.

“For in Britain every child however poor carries a university education in its satchel.”

“Five million British children are going home to tea.”

“So the children of a democracy learn to take their place in the world of tomorrow.”

1 Comment

  1. Sarah:

    Watching this film helps me understand what some of those #Brexit voters were yearning for. They wanted a past where things seemed easier: more settled, and where there was still hope and optimism about the future. The reality was of course quite different. But this dream of the past where life seems more predictable and where children went home for tea after a wonderfully day at school. Who would not want that again? Post-war optimism even in years of incredible austerity.

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