Brits at their Best.com: British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors

Heroes

TEACHERS
AS HEROES

19th century schoolboys larking with King's Hussars

Schoolboys larking with the 14th King's Hussars.

Richard Dawes
in rural Hampshire

The Reverend Richard Dawes was graduated from Cambridge, and became a mathematical tutor and bursar, but destroyed his chances of election to the mastership of Downing College by advocating in favour of admitting dissenters to the university. In 1837, he left Cambridge to accept the living of the poor rural parish of King's Somborne in Hampshire.

There was no school in the village of 1,100 people, so Dawes set about creating one. He persuaded the lady of the manor to donate a site. To create a building, Dawes contributed £500 of his own money – a considerable sum in those days, and a real sacrifice since he had recently married. He obtained a matching grant from the government, but he wanted the school to become self-supporting. He insisted that the parents, many of them far poorer than almost any parents today, all had to pay for their children's schooling. He believed that people do not value what they do not pay for, and that their children would suffer as a result. However, the amount they paid varied according to their circumstances.

The school mixed children from various social classes. It opened with thirty-eight children and quickly grew. By the end of the fourth year, King's Somborne had 158 pupils. This suggested parents liked what he was teaching their children. Otherwise they would have stopped paying for it.

Dawes believed in teaching English history, mathematics, and applied science in the most fascinating ways possible. He taught them to write by asking them to write the names of their brothers and sisters and animals, and taught them to read using the popular reading books published by the Irish national board of education, which featured great and interesting (not always the same things) prose and poetry.

According to James Bartholomew, who describes him in The Welfare State We're In,

Dawes took his pupils to the Roman road from Old Sarum to Winchester. He gave special attention to the way people lived at different periods – what sort of houses they had, what they ate and how they were clothed.

He taught nature through the direct observation of local plants and trees, and through the study of birds and their migration. Under the supervision of the assistant master, the pupils kept records of barometric pressure and temperature. They kept a journal in which they recorded events such as the arrival of the first swallow, the coming of the cuckoo, the earliest pear and apple blossom and the first ears of wheat or barley. . .

In mathematics the older boys learnt algebra and the subject matter of the first three books of Euclid. Again they used actual objects known to them – surveying the land around them and measuring in a carpenter’s shop. Dawes proudly wrote: ‘Writing in my study, I heard a noise of joyous voices, which I found proceeded from half-a-dozen boys, who after school hours, had come to measure my garden-roller.’ They wanted to practise calculating the weight of a cylinder using measurements of the size and knowledge of the specific gravity of the material from which it was made."

His school made such a national impression, Dawes was invited to write the texts for teacher training, and he was appointed dean of Hereford Cathedral. This was not exactly a gift, as the cathedral was dilapidated. Over the next decade Dawes pulled together its finances, had it restored, and reopened it while remaining actively involved in schools in Hereford. George Eliot described his face as "so intelligent and benignant that children might grow good by looking at it" (Oxford DNB).

To be a teacher was not and is not an easy task. Dawes was a quiet hero, always approachable, always steadfast, always wanting the best for children.

Chinese boy reading book under tree

George Hogg
in war-torn China

George Hogg was graduated from Oxford in the 1930s, and sped off to travel around the world. He landed in Shanghai when he was twenty-three. Fascinated by China, Hogg decided to work as a journalist for the United Press news agency.

At some point Hogg met New Zealand philanthropist Rewi Alley who was trying to set up schools for orphan Chinese boys. Hogg had learned the language, and he decided to help. He organized and helped to run one of the schools, Shuangshipu in Shaanxi province, in north-central China, far from the coast. He had a flair for teaching, and he taught the young Chinese boys with great success until the Japanese invaded China.

Hogg liked adventures, but the reports of sacked cities and the brutal killing of hundreds of thousands of Chinese began to worry him. As the Japanese Army advanced, it became clear to him that his boys would die if they stayed. As an Englishman he could have escaped easily. Instead Hogg packed the 60 boys and their books into carts and made a run for Gansu province, to the north and west.

To escape the Japanese he and the boys were forced to journey 600 miles across the snow-bound Liu Pan Shan mountains. How Hogg took his orphans to safety across war-ravaged China to safety on the edge of the Mongolian desert is a remarkable story. It is due to become a movie called The Children of Huang Shi by Canadian-born director Roger Spottiswoode.

 

 

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass