Guthrie On Education

Guthrie’s own Schooling

Thomas Guthrie’s views on education were influenced by his own schooling.  From age 4 he was taught by a weaver (a Seceder called Jamie Stewart) who taught while he weaved.  Guthrie speaks of learning the alphabet and some syllables ‘printed on a fly sheet of the Shorter Catechism, we were at once passed into the book of Proverbs.’  He continues;

In the olden time this was the universal custom that should never have been abandoned.  The book is without a rival for beginners, containing quite a repertory on monosyllables and pure Saxon – “English undefiled.”  Take the passage, for example, where, with one exception, every word is formed of a single syllable, and belongs to the Saxon tongue, – “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  What a contrast to the silly trash of modern schoolbooks for beginners, with such sentences as, “Tom has a dog;” “The cat is good;” “The cow has a calf!”  

While learning the art of reading the Book of Proverbs, we had our minds stored with the highest moral truths: and, by sage advices applicable to all the ages and departments of life, the branch, while it was supple, received a bent in a direction highly favourable to future well-doing and success in life.  The patience, prudence, foresight and economy which used to characterise Scotch men – giving occasion to the saying, “a canny Scot” – and by which they were often able to rise in the world and distance all the competitors in the race of life, was to a large extend due to their being thus ingrained in youth and childhood with the practical enshrined in the book of Proverbs (Autobiography and Memoirs, Guthrie and Sons, p 23).

Guthrie the Campaigner

 In 1852 a Parliamentary Committee is established; to inquire into the condition of criminal and destitute juveniles in this country, and what changes are desirable in their present treatment in order to supply industrial training, and to combine reformation with the due correction of juvenile crime.

Thomas Guthrie is called to give evidence in 1853 and pleaded for the government to support and supplement the Christian endeavour of the Ragged Schools rather than surpassing their work;

I believe the mass of these people never look 10 hours before them; they have neither forethought nor reflection (Autobiography and Memoirs, Guthrie and Sons, p 466).

The practical suggestion that I would make is, not that the Government should come forward and supersede our local efforts; I should look upon that as a great calamity;  I think that parties in the locality manage such school as these better than they could be managed through a central Board here in London, and through a Government agency.    I do not wish the Government to supersede our efforts; what I wish the State to do is this, to supplement them (Autobiography and Memoirs, Guthrie and Sons, p 468).

The Parliamentary Committee led to two acts;

  • Lord Palmerston’s Act 1854 – criminal children in Scotland and England.
  • Dunlops Act – vagrant children in Scotland (under 14’s)

The Privy Council made the decision to pay Ragged Schools 50 shillings per year per child in June 1856.

In Dec 1857 they overturned this decision.  Not surprisingly Guthrie was angry and campaigned vigorously to have the original decision reinstated.  Another delegation to London was led by Guthrie to overturn the decision.

Dunlop’s Act repealed in 1860

Guthrie published Third Plea for Ragged Schools in 1860

Industrial Schools Act August 1861

  • Only kids committed by magistrates to Ragged Schools would receive state assistance.
  • 6,172 children in Ragged Schools but only 242 committed by magistrates
  • 5930 had no state assistance

Public meeting in Edinburgh – appeal for £700 – £2200 was raised

It is monstrous that Government who would not give sixpence to save a man’s leg, would quite willingly give £20 for a wooden one after the leg was taken off (Dr Norman Macleod)

 Guthrie spoke;

 I have seen a bunch of grapes put into a well, when you took it out, instead of a bunch of grapes it was a bunch of stones.  There are such things as petrifying wells, and I have seen a kind hearted man go into office in Downing Street, and the next time I saw him he was as hard a stone (Autobiography and Memoirs, Guthrie and Sons, p 479).

…we are the pioneers of a great movement; that we are and have been carrying out a series of experiments for the purpose of meeting our social evils, which, if successful will force the principles and plans we advocate into universal favour and application.  Let our schools be amply supplied with funds and wrought with the highest vigour, and ere long we will compel the country to apply the broadest scale, and in a great measure at the public expense, what has proved the best and kindest and cheapest and most Christian code for its misery and crime (Autobiography and Memoirs, Guthrie and Sons, p 482).

Scotch Education Act 1872 led to local authorities having a responsibility to educate all children in their area unable to afford education.