In the last week I have read two books from the Education in Literature Collection which describe two very different educational experiences.
First Year Up by D.W. Hackman was published in 1951. It describes the first year experiences of Kit, Jane and others who are students at the Setterfield Training College. It is a Teacher Training College in a small English market town which, despite its size, has two cinemas, antique shops, several cafes and the ever useful Woolworths. There are several contrasting schools where the students go for teaching practice.
The descriptions of lectures and students’ experiences of trying to keep classes engaged with their carefully prepared lessons, whilst coping with living away from home for the first time seem very authentic.
The book may seem quaint to our modern eyes but I have the feeling that this is how some people trained as teachers in the 1950s. The numerous line drawings by W. A. Sillince, who was an illustrator for Punch Magazine, add to the book’s charms.
The second book Beyond this Horizon by David Thompson could also be described as a historical description of an individual’s educational experience. It was published in 2012.
Thomas Arthur Taylor, known as Tat, is from a farming family in the Upper Eden Valley in Cumbria. His intelligence gains him a place at Appleby Grammar School. Interesting as the descriptions of his life as a boarder at this school are ,the book really came alive for me when Tat begins his Law studies at UCL just after the First World War.
His rugby playing prowess leads to a friendship with Ollie, a student of sculpture at The Slade School. Through Ollie , Tat meets and falls in love with Jane, a talented art student. When Jane dies in a tragic accident Tat’s grief is compounded by the discovery of her long standing affair with an older, married artist. His academic work, Ollie’s friendship and, unexpectedly, his love of singing all provide solace.
As a first time novelist Davis Thompson has indeed’ written about what he knows’ He too attended Appleby Grammar School as a boarder and was a postgraduate student at The Slade School of Art, specialising in sculpture. Apart from success as a sculpture he also worked as a tutor in the sculpture department of The Kent Institute of Art and Design in Canterbury.
I enjoyed learning about such diverse subjects as the Appleby Horse Fair, the casting of bronzes, the sculptor Epstein and jazz in 1920s London. I too have queued on Gower Street for the No. 14 bus.
Both books are evocations of a bygone era although the educational establishment in First Year Up was a contemporary one when it was published.