Review by Victorian Studies of Teacher Training at Cambridge

Review by Deborah Gorman

Teacher Training at Cambridge: The Initiatives of Oscar Browning and Elizabeth Hughes, by Pam Hirsch and Mark McBeth;
pp. ix + 254, London and Portland, OR:
Woburn Press, 2004, £28.99 paper, $51.95 paper.

With the exception of the jointly written introduction and conclusion, this excellent study of Oscar Browning (1837-1923) and Elizabeth Hughes (1852-1923)- both contributors to teacher training at Cambridge University-is a collaborative rather than a coauthored book. Mark McBeth's study of Browning and Pam Hirsch's of Hughes are quite separate, differing in tone and even intention. While this makes for some fragmentation, the book is nonetheless successful as a joint study. Together and separately, the authors raise important questions about class and gender.

Browning founded the Cambridge University Day Training College (CUDTC), which he headed from its inception in 1891 until he was dismissed from his post sixteen years later. The CUDTC trained working-class men to be primary school teachers, while allowing them to pursue a standard Cambridge degree. McBeth offers a vivid and engaging portrait of this difficult but energetic and creative man. Although Browning was educated at Eton and Kings' College, he was marginalized not only by his homosexuality and his prickly character but also, McBeth asserts, by his radical ideas about pedagogy and about social class. In his account, McBeth emphasizes the daring, innovative nature of Browning's experiment. Critics claimed that the CUDTC would be disruptive: as the Cross Report put it, its "'students would be unsettled and unfitted, rather than prepared for their work as public elementary teachers'" (xxv). In fact many CUDTG graduates did go on to be elementary school teachers, but the conservative critics were nonetheless correct. Browning's college challenged Victorian and Edwardian class structure; moreover, Browning's belief that good teaching required serious training went against the establishment grain, which held that any educated man could teach. (Browning knew that was not the case, McBeth explains, from the time he was a pupil at Eton, where most of the teaching was appalling.)

Hirsch's study of Hughes is less provocative, in part because Hughes is a more straightforward character and the story of the founding of the Cambridge Training College for Women is of a piece with the general history of educational reform and women's education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hughes was the first Principal of an institution whose purpose was to train university women to be secondary school teachers in schools for middle-class girls. She headed the Women's Training College, set up in 1885, until her retirement in 1899. Hughes was not the innovator: instead educational pioneer Frances Mary Buss of the North London Collegiate School selected her. Once appointed, however, she was a model of energy, tact, and good judgment. In her years as Head, Hirsch points out, she "established the college on a firm financial footing with a high reputation for producing professionally trained teachers"

The college was a success largely because women valued teacher training. Upper-middle-class men may have assumed that teacher training had nothing to offer them, but their sisters, out of necessity, were not so arrogant. "University-educated men, did not believe that they needed 'training' to teach; nor did the heads of the elite boys' schools have any interest in vocational training. This was in sharp contrast to women teachers' desire and acuity in professionalizing themselves"

The most significant accomplishment of Teacher Training at Cambridge is its exploration of gender and class prejudice. On gender prejudice, both authors point out that Browning has borne more than his share of the weight of "patriarchy" because "Browning has been famously mythologized by Virginia Woolf. as a misogynist, a kind of scapegoat for patriarchal power within Cambridge University" (xi-xii). In A Room of One's Own (1929), Woolf singles out "Mr Oscar Browning," who was "wont to declare 'that the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man'" ([The Hogarth Press, 1954] 80-81). But McBeth takes too much time refuting Woolf. After all, she never pretended to stick to the facts: "Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact. Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them" (Woolf 7).

Thus while McBeth convincingly argues that Browning was not the best symbol of powerful misogyny at Cambridge University, and both McBeth and Hirsch agree that in fact Browning and Hughes worked together successfully, Woolf was correct Oxbridge, like the rest of elite Britain, was deeply misogynist before, during, and after the publication of A Room of One's Own.

Hughes was more self-assured and gracious than the irascible, vain Browning, but Browning in fact did more to challenge the class system. McBeth argues convincingly that Browning was a champion of working-class men. -Hughes, in contrast, opposed Browning's concurrent degree, and she opposed any continuation of the Pupil-Teacher system. As Hirsch puts it, Hughes believed that "meritocracy would solve all problems of access" (1§6). But as these two authors point out, meritocracy of course does not erase class privilege.

Hirsch and McBeth are both active in teacher training; their book reflects that fact and indeed has much to offer contemporary debate. As they state in their conclusion, "Schools need teachers of the highest caliber and creativity, and such talented people will not be retained within a system which crushes out of them the ideals with which they entered the teaching profession" (227). Hughes and Browning, they say, bad a "utopic vision" for teachers, one that still has not been achieved as "the pay and status of teachers slips year on year by comparison with other professionals" (227-28). As history and as a contribution to twenty-first-century concerns about education, then, Teacher Training at Cambridge makes a valuable contribution.

Carleton University

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