Day by Day, History and geography

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom – visit August 2019

I had been looking forward to our visit to Shakespeare’s School room in Stratford on Avon, and as I sat on one of the benches and began listening to the “lesson”, I found myself scrabbling in my handbag for scraps of paper on which to take notes. I was quite caught out by how inspirational it would be!

William Shakespeare studied in this school from 1571-1578, and it must have been a melting pot for his ideas and creativity. What struck me most was the educational philosophy which was held during this period. Schools were free for boys (girls not allowed) but not compulsory, so they had to tempt the lads to come. The approach to education changed during Victorian times when schooling became compulsory, though still free and open to girls too.

The boys were not taught what to think, but how to think; they aimed to raise critical, out of the box thinkers. Teaching was interactive, with the benches being placed at right angles to the teacher’s chair.

The older boys were expected to teach what they had learnt to the younger boys. They learnt through play and engagement, repetition and role play. They had actors come to perform to them, and in turn acted out many of the stories they were taught. This must have been foundational to young William’s creativity. They didn’t do any written work, though this must have been introduced at a later date as there were some fun quills for our children to practice with.

The emphasis was on producing boys of good character with the ability to understand others’ points of view. They didn’t have to agree (critical thinking was encouraged) but rather to respect other’s opinions. The thread of consequences and rewards ran throughout school life. Caning was used as one of these consequences, but only administered on a Friday morning and the student was able to avoid it if his behaviour changed through the week.

The teacher had to be an Oxbridge graduate, be of good character and demeanour, be a minimum age of thirty and of course be educated in all the subjects he was expected to teach. These included religious instruction, classics, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, astronomy and geography (must have been limited as the first atlas was not produced until 1537).

The Guildhall in which Shakespeare’s schoolroom was incorporated has continued to house a school to this present day, and it was fun looking at the large table on which pupils over the centuries have etched their names.

It was a fun and stimulating visit, packed with information handed out by welcoming and enthusiastic staff. It’s well worth a visit for anyone in the vicinity.

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