ArLT History – highs and lows

When I posted that stimulating and amusing Dorothy Sayers lecture given to the ARLT in the 50s (available by the tab at the top of your scren) I referred to the workaday reports among which it shone out stellar.

In some sort of an attempt to put a fuller history of ARLT on line, I spent an hour yesterday scanning some of these reports.

I can’t imagine anyone will rush to print out and study these, but they are a resource for the brave and scholarly souls who have undertaken to write a centenary history in time for the 2011 Summer School. (These souls almost certainly have the print versions on their shelves already.)

After the high point of 1952 when more than 90 teachers heard Dorothy Sayers, 1953 was a comparative flop, and the report does not mince its words:

IT must be confessed that this year’s Summer School, held at Coolhurst near Horsham, August 23rd to 31st, was not the unqualified success that most of its predecessors have been. In the first place, so many intending members cancelled so late that the Association could not help losing money on the course; and in the second place, there were certain domestic difficulties, which caused the director and secretary great anxiety and the rest of the members frequent discomfort. These very difficulties seemed, however, to produce the right spirit among those present, and helped to weld the community together probably even more than usual. The academic side of the course was as good as ever, and attendance at lectures, demonstrations, etc. always keen and full. Indeed one old and seasoned member of the association was heard to say that although the domestic side of the course was probably the worst in his experience, the academic side had much more to offer than the older summer schools, and members were certainly making the best use of all that was provided.

The ‘newcomer’ teacher that year, who was asked to write his or her impressions, did not give the glowing praise that we are used to reading these days in the JCT reports section. Here is some of what was written:

After the delays and discomforts of a long raid journey on a Sunday—a wet and dreary Sunday at that—I arrived in time to have missed tea and to make my bed with a couple of blankets which had seen better days in a place which seemed to possess all the more depressing features of the less well run Youth Hostels. …

I attended all the lectures, demonstration classes, etc., and at the end of the week felt in need of a holiday. The lecturers and demonstrators must have been really exhausted. All of which is a tribute to the enthusiasm of the elect.

There seemed little doubt of the effectiveness of the Oral Method in the hands of experts, though no doubt enthusiastic teachers like Dr. Loehry or Miss Silverwood would do well whatever their method and I found others beside myself thinking that it might be worth trying at least on a small scale.

Damning with faint praise, I think.

The newcomer reporting on 1954’s Summer School (a more successful one, apparently) raised a basic issue:

THE hopes of not a few who attended the School were tempered by it few vague fears. The Association appears to be fighting for both sides of the field at once, and many teachers find themselves leaving the traditional path only to slip upon the question why teach Latin at all? It was all very disconcerting, certainly not what they expected, and much more than they paid for. And it was therefore all the more trying of the lecturers sometimes to forget that behind some of the questions they were asked there lurked, unrecognised and the more disturbing for that, a second question of Purpose.

For instance, someone asked what one should tell a class which wanted to know what it was all for anyway ? The reply was that it the class were being taught properly they would accept the subject Without asking why. For this is surely both untrue and doubly unhelpful. Children are not always able to make their problems explicit, nor should they be encouraged to unthinking obedience. Then, too, it seemed to me that the question (though shyly framed) was asked as much for the teacher’s sake as for the children’s, and it was dishonest to leave it unanswered—to encourage us to reform our own methods and disparage those of our predecessors With only the slightest reference to the fundamentals. Fundamental problems are to-day the concern of teachers of any method, reformed or otherwise, and the school, not I think unwilling to take the praise for bringing such problems to the light, should have answered them as well as it could.

To me it seems that ARLT was in a rut at this time. The Summer Schools were largely composed of demonstration lessons, an hour on Catullus was a rare treat. One newcomer tellingly referred to ‘the elite’. Ow! I must confess that on my first visit to an ARLT Summer School, in Chichester, there was still a bit of that hierarchical feeling. We didn’t have a lovely welcome drinks party on the first evening – we awaited a formal invitation to one evening of “Drinks with the President.” Oh dear, oh dear.

When I compare this with the highly effective, varied and stimulating Summer Schools ArLT now provides, where teachers share on friendly and equal terms from the word Go, and find the answers to the questions they have come with, and find lots of good new friends at the same time, I am thankful to be living now. (I think a warm tribute is due to a group of younger teachers a few years ago who engineered the changes, largely inspired by Peter Geall. Here’s to you, Peter!)

The reports, with almost all the photographs that have lain in the ArLT albums, are becoming available (slowly) at, for example, http://www.arlt.co.uk/dhtml/summer_school/history/1954.php. That is for 1954 Change the date at the end of the URL (web address) for different years, or visit the general history index here.

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