|The Robert Owen Museum. Photo by "Indigo Goat" Some rights reserved|
New Lanark Schools 1816 - 1825
134 I was making great progress with my New Lanark experiment, and it was becoming widely known. I had now completed the first institution for the formation of the infant and child character – the infants being received into it as soon as they could walk. 135 I charged the parents three shillings a year for each child, and they paid this most willingly. The expense of the three gradations of schools was about two pounds per year for each child, but the difference was amply made up by the improved character of the whole population.
The children were trained and educated without punishment, and were by far the happiest human beings I have ever seen. The infants and young children, besides being instructed by sensible signs – the things themselves, or models and paintings – and by familiar conversation, were taught dancing and singing, and the parents were encouraged to come and see their children at their lessons.
In addition, there were day schools for all under twelve years of age, after which they might enter the works, as mechanics, manufacturers, or in any branch. We had iron and brass founders, forgers, turners in wood and iron, machine makers, and builders in all branches. The annual repairs of the establishment cost upwards of eight thousand pounds.
I also organised arrangements to supply all the wants of the population. They had previously been necessitated to buy inferior articles, highly adulterated, at enormous prices. By the time the arrangements were completed, some of the larger families were earning two pounds per week, and [they] told me that my new arrangements to supply their wants saved them ten shillings weekly.
All the houses in the village, with one hundred and fifty acres of land around it, formed parts of the establishment, working as one machine with 136 the regularity of clockwork. I have mentioned the measures which I adopted for the detection and prevention of theft. My object was to prevent, not to punish crime. I could detect the loss of a single bobbin in any one of the four sets of hands through which they had daily to pass.
There were four large mills filled with machinery old and ill-arranged. This was replaced, and the whole newly arranged. I was greatly averse to punishment. To prevent punishment by the overlookers, who had been accustomed to whip and strap the children and young people, and who often from ignorance abused their authority, I invented what the people soon called a telegraph.
137 I had to visit London often while I continued my plans for the general amelioration of all classes, and was thus absent from New Lanark 138 for weeks. I had an accurate daily return sent to me of the results in every department. The daily report of each coloured telegraph was entered in the character books every night [for me to] inspect on my return. I had divided the establishment into four general departments and had taken great pains to train the four persons at [their] head. When I expected to be absent for a long period, I called these four together and explained fully what I wished to have done. On my return, I uniformly found my wishes fulfilled.
I adopted the same practice with the teachers in the three gradations of schools, with as much success as I could expect from inexperienced young persons of both sexes, not always capable of making due allowance for the varied natural character of each child.
My most important charge was the new infant school. I daily superintended its progress. It was in vain to look to teachers upon the old system of instruction by books. I 139 had to seek among the population for two persons with a great love for and unlimited patience with infants, and willing unreservedly to follow my instructions.
The best I could find was a poor simple-hearted weaver named James Buchanan, who had been trained by his wife to perfect submission to her will. Thus the simple-minded, kind-hearted Buchanan, who at first could scarcely read and write, became the first master in a rational infant school. Infants so young also required a female nurse. I was fortunate in finding for this task a young woman, about seventeen years of age, known as Molly Young.
The first instruction I gave them was that they were never to beat any of the children, or threaten them, or use abusive terms, but were always to speak to them kindly. They were to tell the infants under their charge (from one to six years old) that they must do all the could to make their playfellows happy, and that the older ones should take special care of the younger.
These instructions were readily received by James Buchanan and Molly Young and they faithfully adhered to them. 140 The children were not to be annoyed with books; but were to be taught the uses and qualities of the things around them, by familiar conversation when the children’s curiosity excited them to ask questions.
The room for their play in bad weather was sixteen feet by twenty. Their school room was of the same dimensions, and was furnished with paintings chiefly of animals, and with maps, and was supplied with natural objects from the gardens, fields and woods, which always excited their curiosity. Maps of the world on a large scale were hung in the room to attract their attention. Buchanan was taught how to instruct the children [in their use] for their amusement – for with these infants everything was to be amusement.
It was most encouraging and delightful to see the children's progress in real knowledge without the use of books. 141 Here, two untaught persons, James Buchanan and Molly Young, accomplished results which astonished the most learned men of their generation, moulding the children into beings unlike all [others].
143 Travellers of distinction, home and foreign, came increasingly to see “the wonders of New Lanark”. [None] could refrain from expressing wonder at the joyous happiness of these children of common cotton spinners. Being always treated with kindness, and altogether without fear, they exhibited a natural grace and politeness.
Standing up, seventy couples at a time, the children would go with the utmost ease and grace through all the dances of Europe. In their singing lessons [they were] trained to harmonise; it was delightful to hear one hundred and fifty [of them] singing the old popular Scotch songs with simplicity and unaffected feeling. 144 In their military exercises, both sexes went through their evolutions with precision, led by young drummers and fifers
Their lessons in geography were no less amusing. All the classes were united in one large classroom. On a [very] large map of the world were delineated the usual divisions and circles for the cities and towns, but there were no names. One of the one hundred and fifty children took a light wand, and another would ask him to point to such a district, island or town. When the holder of the wand could not point to the place asked for, he had to resign the wand to his questioner. The children learned to ask for the least thought-of places, that they might obtain the wand.
This room was also their class reading apartment. It was forty feet by twenty feet, and twenty two feet in height, with a gallery to accommodate strangers. At these lessons, six to eight masters and mistresses were usually present.
145 In the adjoining apartment were two hundred and fifty or three hundred children busily engaged at their respective desks, writing or accounting. This room was ninety feet by forty feet and twenty two feet high, with a gallery on three sides, and a pulpit at the end, from which I addressed an audience of about 1,200 when I opened the institution.
Among the thousands who came to see these previously unheard-of proceedings was the Grand Duke Nicholas (later Emperor of Russia), [who] was much pleased with my two youngest sons. 148 A lady of the highest rank of our own nobility, after witnessing the kindness of the children to each other and their unrestrained happiness, said, with tears in her eyes – “Mr Owen, I would give any money if my children could be made like these.” My good and kind-hearted wife, knowing how much time I spent among this great family, 149 would jokingly say – “Why, you love those children better than your own.”
153 I have dwelt so much on the infant school established. at New Lanark, because it was the first rational step ever carried into practice towards forming a rational character for the human race. 232 That which I introduced as new in forming the character of the children of the working class may be thus stated –
- 1st. No scolding or punishment of the children.
- 2nd. Unceasing kindness to all the children by every teacher.
- 3rd. Instruction by familiar conversations, the taught always allowed to ask questions.
- 4th. These questions to be answered in a rational manner, and any want of knowledge to be fully admitted.
- 5th. No regular in-door hours for school; when minds commenced to be fatigued, to change it for physical exercise or music.
- 6th. Exercise in military discipline, to teach order, obedience and exactness, to improve carriage, and to prepare them to defend their country. They were taught to dance well, to improve their appearance, manner and health.
- 7th. But on the first indications of lassitude, to return to in-door mental lessons. 233
- 8th. To take the children out to become familiar with gardens, orchards, fields and woods, domestic animals and natural history generally.
- 9th. To train the children of the working class to think and act rationally.
- 10th. To place them in surroundings superior to those of the children of any class.