Monday, February 15, 2016

Extraneous - Rambling Recollections of my Schools and School Days – Part A

Article II written by Alexander Gunn was printed in the Northern Ensign on 16 September 1880 – Part A

Boys from the Poolewe area early 20th Century
Source: Facebook Am Baile

Intelligent Urchins

"I don’t know that I could give your readers a better description of the school where I was taught my first lesson than by quoting a part of a speech delivered by the Duke of Argyll in the House of Lords during a discussion of the Education Act. He said “I shall never forget about twenty years ago, going to a school in one of the Western Islands of Scotland. It would not have suited any of the rules laid down by my Lord the President of the Council. It was what was called a dry stone bigging, with a thatched roof and mud floor."

Dry stone wall 
"On going into the school, I found in it a number of children poorly clad, reading lessons with extraordinary intelligence of expression. One of the first subjects given to the children to read before me was a description of how metallic ores were treated before the smelting process. The noble Lord opposite will say, how extremely absurd to teach metallurgy to poor children in a school of that kind. Well my Lord there was a little boy, not more than ten years old, who read an extract how lead ore was treated. The description said it was pounded and subjected to a current of running water, in order to free it from extraneous matter. My Lord, I thought it was impossible a poor child, who was poorly clothed, could have understood the meaning of such a word as extraneous."

Mere cram?

"I thought it was mere “cram,” and that he would be unable to answer any other questions about this elaborate metallurgical process. 
‘Now boy, what is the meaning of extraneous? He looked at me with great surprise, and at once answered the question by saying, ‘Not belonging to itself.”
Now, my Lord, I put that question – What is the meaning of the word extraneous?  - to many highly cultivated persons, and nine out of ten, however highly cultivated they may be, will fail to give me as clear and complete and answer as this little child.”

Primitive Buildings

"It is quite true that in no other part of the kingdom has education attained such a high standard, in proportion to the circumstances in which they are placed, as in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland; for as I have shown, the buildings were of a most primitive kind. The school house at Auchencraig was no exception to the general rule in country districts." 

Bee Boy. A swarm of bees is reflected
in a glass, not up his clothing fortunately

"Bees Bike"

"The snow, as I have said had free access to the interior in winter, and in summer, the bees found the moss packed walls a very inviting place to rear their young, and many a “bees’ bike” was in these walls. When the young brood began to move about, the interior of the school was like one monster bee-hive, and many a sore sting was inflicted upon the legs and thighs, by the young bees creeping in below the kilts of the boys when seated on the forms or standing at their lessons. The forms were plain, with no backs to them, and the writing desks were also of the simplest make."

Bees in a field

My Comments:

  • I really like the photo of the boys at the top of this article. I think their home-made hand spun woollen clothing, the kilts, and their bare feet is likely to be typical of the boys in Alexander Gunn's school. It is not hard to see how bees would settle up those kilts. 

  • I think Alexander Gunn was really proud of the achievements of the pupils of Auchencraig school - including his own fine memory of details - which is what he is trying to tell us in his discussion of the Duke of Argyll.

  • There is so much heather and other wild flowering plant life near Badbea it is no wonder the bees were everywhere.

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