The Other Dewey

I know…. librarians are supposed to get excited about Melvil Dewey, the American educator and inventor of the Dewey Decimal system of library classification.  No disrepect to Melvil, but I am more intrigued these days with the other Dewey …. John.  On November 27th at History Libraries and Research Open Day at Senate House Library, Nazlin Bhimani and I will be celebrating the work of John Dewey as well as other American educators.

John Dewey (1859-1952), the American educator, philosopher and psychologist, is a bit of a hero to me because his ideas and words travel out of the classroom and into practical practice over 100 years after he wrote them. Dewey was a pragmatist who believed that learning to think is the beginning of learning. He also believed a lot of learning happened outside school. For us librarians supporting learning out of the classroom, Dewey’s observation in How We Think can be especially relevant:How we think

Thinking begins in what may fairly enough be called a forked-road situation, a situation which is ambiguous, which presents a dilemma, which proposes alternatives …. In the suspense of uncertainty, we metaphorically climb a tree: we try to find some standpoint from which we may survey additional facts and, getting a more commanding view of the situation, may decide how the facts stand related to one another ( 1910, p.11).

I may be taking Dewey out of context, but I’d like to apply his metaphor about climbing a tree to get a better view to what happens when students are confronted with a forest of information when they are searching.  Too often, I see students bewildered and confused about the different pathways to information. This image of a learner climbing a tree, getting a lay of the land, possibly a breather, comparing and making clearer choices about sources, is advice we could all follow. Thanks, Dewey. The next time a library user encounters a ‘forked-road situation’, I’ll  advise him/her to metaphorically climb a tree.

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Molesworth or Nicolas: schoolboy humour English or French style

There are two books in the Education in Literature Collection which are over sixty years old but still provide amusement. Both were originally written for a young audience but they can still be appreciated by adults. They are examples of books which present a child’s view of the world – quite a radical idea at the time.

Down with Skool! purports to be written by its central character Nigel Molesworth. It describes his life at the horrible prep school St Custards where he has to deal with Masters who are fond of the ‘kane’. Molesworth writes on school food, lessons, his fellow pupils and ‘gurls’. Humour arises from the terrible spelling, erratic capitalisation and schoolboy slang . In reality this book and several sequels were written by Geoffrey Willans (1911-1958 ) with illustrations by Ronald Searle (1920 – 2011).


Nicholas is a translation by Anthea Bell of a book first published in French by Rene Goscinny (1926-1977) in 1960 as Le Petit Nicolas. The illustrations are by Jean –Jacques Sempe (1932- ). It is the first in a series of books portraying a charming but idealized 1950s childhood. The humour is gentler and perhaps aimed at a younger audience than Down with Skool. There is also a DVD available of the 2009 film  Petit Nicolas.

NicolasLe petit nicolas

Both books benefit greatly from the quality of their illustrations. Ronald Searle was already well known as the creator of St Trinian’s School. Indeed Nigel Molesworth could be seen as a brother of one of the school girls of St Trinian’s. Sempe drew on his own childhood influences and memories to illustrate ‘Le Petit Nicolas’.

I can see a modern 8 or 9 year old enjoying reading Down with Skool! for himself. His father or grandfather might enjoy it for its nostalgia value. However I think that Nicholas would be great for reading aloud to younger children. Each short chapter is about a situation which is still recognisable today- The School Photograph or the Day of the Inspectors Visit.’ Somehow  gentle mayhem is the result when Nicholas is around.’

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Stuck on researching methods? Try ‘Sage Research Methods Online’

Sage Research Methods Online (SRMO) is an online resource that provides information and instruction on research methods in the health and social sciences. It is accessible by from the list of databases and by authenticating with your UCL username and password if you are working from outside the Institute.

SRMO is designed to answer methods questions that arise during the various stages in the research process, including the literature search, review, research design, data collection, analysis, and write up. This online resource gathers together information contained in 6 dictionaries, 5 encyclopaedias, 148 journal articles, 26 videos, and 632 books (including the 164 Little Green Books and 48 Little Blue Books which have only been available in print until now). The Little Green Books and the Little Blue Books focus on quantitative and qualitative research methods which have only been available in print until now).

The resource has a sophisticated visual search tool, the “Methods Map”, which shows relationships between various terms, methodologies and the experts in the different disciplines. These display the relationships between the terms and related content. You can use Boolean logic (AND, OR and NOT) to combine search terms, add synonyms and exclude content on SRMO. The database also allows you to save your results in the “Methods Lists” and share them on social media. Further, references can be downloaded using different bibliographic software such as EndNote and Zotero.

To make the most of this resource, you are advised to watch the instructional videos at

You may also want to look at the LibGuide produced by Sage at

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American Educationalists in the Newsam Library’s Special Collections

The theme for this year’s History Libraries and Research Open Day at Senate House Library on November 27th is ‘The American Trail’.  I’ve been digging around the Special Collections and highlight some of the ‘Americana’ in the IOE Library’s Special Collections below:

The two most eminent American educators represented in the Newsam Library are John Dewey (1859-1952) and Jerome Bruner (b. 1915 – ) Both men had a profound influence on British education and both authors represent 20th century experimentation in education. We celebrated Bruner’s 100th birthday last month and I wrote about his contribution to the development of curriculum theory in reference to the social studies curriculum MACOS (see: in my last post here. This post highlights some of the other ‘Americana’ in the UCL Institute of Education Library’s Special Collections. Continue reading

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The tiger who came out of the page

Cover of 'The tiger who came to tea'

Source: Wikipedia

For you, the moment of recognition might be the Tiger who came to tea and peacefully took a seat at your mum’s kitchen table; or Aslan, the giant benign lion, jumping out of the pages of the Chronicles of Narnia; or the fierce tiger of the Jungle book literally charging at you out of a pop-up version crafted by Matthew Reinhart.

For me, the thrill of childhood memories came with the Big Bad Wolf and Red Riding Hood in an old collection of Grimms’ fairy tales, in the original German and in Gothic font, since such a one was passed down to me by my mother.

The exhibition Animal tales at the British Library will enchant every visitor. It is on until the end of October, presented in the foyer, which is freely accessible to the public.

First of all, there are showcases with plenty of beautifully illustrated books from almost five centuries of printed literature, on the common theme of animals. If you are not specifically interested in fauna, I promise you that the variety of the titles and the design of the objects will gain your favour.

Credit: Tony Antoniou

Credit: Tony Antoniou

There are stories by Aesop and Ovid, poems by Ted Hughes and T. S. Eliot, novels by Franz Kafka and Herman Melville – Moby Dick with Rockwell Kent’s striking wood-cut-like drawings of the whale. You can see Where the wild things are with a furry cover and Anansi with detachable shadow puppets by Ronald King.

Then, there are some prints: one wall is adorned with an illustrated animal poem by Hughes, from a limited edition which Michael Morpurgo sold in order to raise funds for city farms. Each artistic specimen is accompanied by a short explanation of the animal motif.

Moreover, there are recordings of poetry readings, some by the authors themselves, and a magical soundscape surrounding the visual display. The birds crying and whales calling offer a spot of tranquillity in the midst of the very busy British Library and the very busy big city. For children, there are activity sheets with a focus on creativity and piles of picture books to browse.

Title page of 'Fabulous histories' by Mrs Trimmer (1786)

Source: Wikipedia

If you are keen on the history of education, you will find an onomatopoetic alphabet by John Amos Comenius: “The Duck quacketh: k – k – k … The Serpent hisseth: s – s – s”, with the animals shown next to the letters. Also represented is the prolific 18th woman author Mrs Trimmer, who drew from the experience of teaching her own twelve children.

You might have expected the Newsam Library & Archives to hold copies of classical children’s books in our Curriculum Resources collection, and indeed, you can click through here from the titles to lists of records; but did you know that we have old editions of Trimmer, going back to 1780, and of Comenius, going back to 1640, in our Special Collections? Moreover, we deal with the techniques and history of illustrations for children’s books… but more of this later!

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Happy 100th Birthday to Jerome Bruner!

MACOS: Man A Course of Study

MACOS: Man A Course of Study

Today we celebrate the well-known influential American cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner’s 100th birthday by highlighting one of our Special Collections – the curriculum project MACOS or Man A Course of Study from the late 1960s.

In 1964, Bruner took a leave of absence from his post at Harvard University to work on the MACOS project at Educational Services Incorporated (ESI), now Educational Development Center (EDC). The course materials based on the theories Bruner expounded in The Process of Education were for primary-school level and included films and images of the Netsilik Eskimo.

MACOS (Man: A Course of Study) tries to inculcate in children the quest for the following:

  • What is human about human beings?
  • How did they get that way?
  • How can they be made more so?

At its peak in the early 1970s, the MACOS curriculum, which took a year out of the normal curriculum, was taught in 47 states in elementary and middle schools in the U.S. and reached approximately 400,000 students. It was also taught in some schools in the U.K. and other parts of the world.  The programme used film in an innovative way and won several awards, including the American Educational Publishers Institute award, an American Film Festival award, two CINE Golden Eagle awards, and an Emmy Award (1971). It was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation (see EDC for further information).

The course used a socio-anthropological approach to collate materials (film and images) about the Netsilik Inuits of Pelly Bay (now the Kugaaruk region of the Arctic coast of Canada, west of Hudson Bay) and their everyday life as well as the natural life surrounding them. The purpose was to teach children about a different race and allow them to equate their understanding of that race with their own – in the hope of eradicating racism and ethnocentricity.

Bruner was convinced that even young children are able to engage with any material as long as it is presented in an appropriate and motivating way. He developed a holistic model of learning and proposed a spiral curriculum. To him, learning skills was more important than learning facts – including the skills of questioning and debating. The MACOS project was both highly acclaimed and severely criticised.  The IOE LibGuide provides information on the MACOS project including the holdings of the MACOS material in the Newsam Library at the UCL Institute of Education.

Jerome Bruner served as advisor to US Army intelligence and US Presidents and continues researching and teaching psychology at the age of 99.  He turns 100 on 1st October 2015.  He has taught at Harvard, Oxford, and is currently a senior research fellow at New York University.

Related posts:

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The woman at the plough

A buff cardboard cover, an old-fashioned flourished script, a title specifying that this is a textbook for girls – this book could raise some nostalgia. When you open the innocent-looking work, you are confronted with a photograph of three happy children in national costume, the girl with plaits and a garland in her hair, and the Prime Minister holding his arms around them, looking like a man who cares for his people.

Except, this reader for ten-year-olds was published in 1941, the man is Hitler, and he wears a uniform with a swastika.

Germany_1941_FlagFrom the view of posterity, even the anthems on the first pages of the Deutsches Lesebuch (German reader) take on a decidedly sinister tinge: Our flag flutters before us…; The day for liberty and bread is breaking…; Germany, you will stand shining, even if we perish. Within a few years, the children in the photo would be likely to be homeless and hungry, and any men in uniforms prisoners or dead – so much for ‘liberty and bread’, which are evoked again in the very last line of the book. (I know because my mother was one of these schoolchildren and my father one of these soldiers.)

The editor of this series of German textbooks for secondary schools, Wilhelm Kallbach, has bent every topic toward the ideology of the day. The cycle of the year ends with three poems: a romantic impression of Christmas by Eichendorff, a Christian prayer for the New Year by Mörike, and a praise of the fatherland to round it all off. The myths and fairy-tales are full of belligerent Goths and valiant knights, as well as goblins and princes, horses and mice – and St Peter and the Devil. The history section is full of war heroes from the First World War which had blighted the world less one generation before.

Germany_1941_SoldierInteresting in a book specifically for girls, the role models remain overwhelmingly male. The tales muster a pagan goddess – at least this is a goddess of peace! – and the war stories rally the labour at the home front in the rousing song The German woman at the plough. Some poems praise the German mother and the German wife, evidently from a male viewpoint and as a mere support of the male rule.

Well, the texts in the Edition for girls are chiefly written by men; less than 12% are by women writers or anonymous girls. Over 88% of items are authored or compiled by men (the fact that many of the fairy-tales and folksongs were orally transmitted by women is not mentioned here).

We have to imagine that a person who started secondary school in 1941 might, due to Hitler’s systematic ‘coordination policy’, never have had access to any other world view. The Deutsches Lesebuch is a fascinating testimony of history: of education used as an instrument of indoctrination instead of enlightenment.

I was thrilled to discover the same lyrics, Die deutsche Frau am Pfluge, in another teaching resource, of War poetry lessons – for World War I. A collection of 150 compositions, published 1915 and now digitised by Staatsbibliothek Berlin, demonstrates how the children have internalised the ideology: one of many correct answers to the question ‘What do our soldiers die for?’ was evidently that English soldiers fight for ‘wretched money’ but German soldiers for ‘sacred Germanness’.


This Germany of my grandparents’ and my parents’ youth is as far from the Germany I grew up in as the North Pole is from the equator; and we need to keep and study these old teaching materials to understand how societies get into war and oppression and out again.

Amongst the historical textbooks in the Newsam Library, mainly from the United Kingdom, this foreign one is a gem. Our collection of geography books and atlases from the United Kingdom consists of over 4,000 titles, so why not check out a few for their philosophy or ideology – there are bound to be some interesting maps of appropriately ‘discovered’ colonies or hierarchically arranged illustrations of ‘races’…!

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