Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sexy Teachers?

Maria Montessori, pic off Wikipedia. In Public Domain

You know, a real problem I have with Flo in the City, my story about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era, is to make it 'sexy.'

I'm writing about teachers, after all. Look at the movies: I just blogged about Gigi and Irma la Douce. Shirley MacLaine in her stage show joked a lot about how she always played prostitutes. Well, prostitutes are pretty well the most popular female profession in movies, at least up until recently. Teachers? Ah. Who ever won an Oscar for playing a teacher? Wait, I think Maggie Smith did. Jean Brodie. Well, anyway, do you know of any other sexy teachers in the movies? That Katherine Ross character in Sundance Kid and maybe Gudrun, or whoever wasn't played by Glenda Jackson in Women in Love, or, come to think of it, Colin Firth in Fever Pitch. So writing about Marion taking an extra course to learn the phonics method, isn't very sexy.

OK. Where am I going with this. Let's start again. Back in first grade I remember learning to read with phonics. Mrs. Dobie, my tall, thin, stern, spinsterly teacher (yes!) wrote each sound combination (what are they called, phonemes)on the board using coloured chalk. I was excited by this, really! It was like learning a secret code! It didn't take me long to pick it up.

My husband, on the other hand, has other memories. He is dyslexic. He is 54 and still hasn't learned phonics. I only discovered this 10 years into our marriage (I had been streamed in school so never met a person with learning disabilities.) One day I pointed out a typo in an email he was writing, avlaiable, he wrote and he couldn't see the mistake. AV AIL A BLE I said. He didn't get it. And he works with scripts at work, as an electronic editor for news.

Obviously, in 1912, if Marion (my husband's grandmother) was learning 'the new phonics system' it had just been put into place at school. In 1912, yet another new system of learning was getting a lot of publicity, the Montessori Method. Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor had had some success teaching 'deficient' slum children to learn and now she was touting her method, for 'normal kids' in North America.

One article I found claims she believed that children should be taken away from their parents as early as possible because parents weren't equipped to properly educate their children.

We all have an idea of what the Montessori Method is, as it was widely adopted for kindergartens. No less a man than J W Robertson of the Royal Commission on Industrial Training and Technical Education spoke to a woman's group about the Montessori Method in 1913, the year the Commission's Report was published.

According to a report in a Toronto paper, "The (typical)kindergarten teacher is doing her best a good part of the time, to amuse and interest and vitalize the pupil. The Montessori Method is to move behind the pupils and to let them amuse and interest and vitalize themselves."

As described in another online article, the children learn to read at their own pace by playing around with plastic letters spread on the floor, making the words they want to make, etc.

Robertson wanted public schools to adopt this method, but only for kindergartens, I assume. This 'aut0-education' method would not have done much to create diligent little workers and devoted homemakers and professional housekeepers which was what the Royal Commissioners concluded the country needed.

The problems of industrialization would not be solved by allowing children to learn what they wanted at their own speed. (What happens if a girl, Heaven forbid, decides she likes mathematics? Or a working class boy Homer and Pliny?)

I'm being cynical here, but even the Canadian Council Report in their Recommendations in 1913, thought the employers and schools should work more closely together. And many women on this Council wanted girls to go into the Technical Trades, so that they could support themselves. Robertson didn't want this. Women could be trained as domestics, he thought, for good help was getting hard to find and housekeeping for others was good honest work.

(In a very odd exchange at the meeting of the Canadian Council of Women in 1913, one woman on the WORK committee wants a resolution calling for women to be trained as domestics, as the lack of good domestics, especially for childcare' is a big problem 'indeed a child welfare problem' and Miss Derick agrees by saying that Technical Training will take care of that. (These are two different things. And I doubt Carrie Derick was feeling sorry for rich women with nanny problems. But many women involved in social work were wealthy 'society women'. Well, most of them were, because they had the time and influence. And while these wealthy women were out lobbying on behalf of the wretched, someone had to be watching the kids.)

PS. I may have had a stern spinsterly teacher in grade one, but my second and third grade teachers were Hot, if I recall. At least my father liked to come to Open House. They were also Jewish, which is an important fact, with respect to Flo in the City. In 1910, it was being debated whether Jewish women should be allowed to teach in the Protestant School Board. I'm going to get to that soon.