Primary - KS 2
To learn about Charles Kingsley and to reflect on his optimistic attitude towards society. Rather than focus on society as a whole, the emphasis here is on the school community - how can this community be made a better place?
Preparation: You will need
- Labels or pictures of the characters (Onion, Beetroot, Radish, Turnip) which can then be pinned to their clothes for identification.
- A sign saying 'NO TOYS ALLOWED'.
Stand the vegetables in a line with the sign behind them.
NB: Lines can be added or subtracted from the script at will!
Narrator: Once upon a time, a young boy called Tom went on a long journey. We haven't got time to tell you everything that happened to him, but here's one of his adventures.
One day he came to a place where there was a lot of grumbling and grunting and growling and wailing and weeping and whining. All of this commotion was being made by a group of vegetables. When he got close he could hear what they were saying.
Vegetables: I can't learn my lesson: the examiner's coming!
Help! What shall we do?
We'll be punished (etc., etc.)
Tom: Stop! What's the matter? Why are you all so upset?
Onion: I can't learn my lesson! I can't learn my lesson! Can you show me how to turn fractions into percentages?
Beetroot: And I can't learn mine either! What is the longitude and latitude of Snooksville, Oregon, USA??
Radish: And neither can I! Help me please. How long will it take a school inspector of average activity to tumble head over heels from London to York???
Turnip: Can you tell me anything at all about anything you like?
Tom: About what?
Turnip: About anything you like; for as fast as I learn things I forget them again. My mamma says that my intellect is not adapted for methodic science, and that I must go in for general information.
Narrator: What should Tom do? Do you think he should help?
('Yes' from audience. 'I can't hear you' from narrator, etc.)
Well, Tom did help them. Although he didn't know anything about General Information - or any other soldier for that matter - he did tell him about his adventures. But unfortunately, Tom had made a mistake! For the more the turnip listened, the more the turnip forgot - and water started to run out of him - until - POP! - he burst and all that was left of him was rind and water. Tom ran away in fright, but in fact the turnip's parents were highly delighted, and considered their child very, very, very precocious - whatever that means (you can look it up afterwards). And that's the end of the story.
That story was written in I863 - they don't write children's stories like that any more! How many years ago was it written? 2000 minus 1863 = ? Mental arithmetic is part of Numeracy Hour so you should be able to work it out in 5 seconds... Anyway, what was the story all about? Luckily for us - and Tom - he meets an Old Stick who explains: 'You see... the vegetables were once pretty little children... but their foolish fathers and mothers, instead of letting them pick flowers, and make dirt pies, ...and dance round the gooseberry bush, as little children should, kept them always at lessons, working, working, working, learning all week long, with weekly examinations every Saturday, and monthly examinations every month, and yearly examinations every year - till their brains grew big, and their bodies grew small, and they were changed into vegetables.'
What do you think of the story? Is that what really happens to children who get too much education? The person who wrote this story was called Charles Kingsley. He was vicar of a small church in the country 150 years ago. He's still remembered today because of the stories he wrote - this one is from his book The Water Babies - but he also became famous because he was the founder of a movement called Christian Socialism. He believed that people should go to church and worship God, but that the church isn't just about looking after people's souls. Many of the country people who worshipped in Kingsley's church were very poor. Kingsley didn't just preach to them every Sunday, he also tried to get them better houses, medicine and enough food.
This sounds like a good idea - but it caused a lot of controversy at the time. In fact, what Kingsley wanted was balance in people's lives. No one should be too rich - or too poor. People should go to church on a Sunday - but they should also be able to relax on a Sunday. And, as the story shows, children should be given education - but not too much! Kingsley wasn't against schools and, because in his day schools were few or expensive, he founded a school in his village. Today, if you go to Eversley, near Reading, the school is still standing and its name is Charles Kingsley School.
Kingsley wasn't a pessimist. He thought that things could get better if people worked hard and were fair with each other. He thought that the books he wrote would open people's eyes to what was wrong with their community. In this case, he hoped the story of the turnips would help to make schools kinder, friendlier places, that children would actually enjoy going to! Have things got better since then? What do you think? Would you have rather lived in Victorian times? And does his picture of Victorian attitudes towards education sound better or worse - or are they much the same - as those we have today?
The command to love God and humankind: Matthew 22:34-40.
Let's be quiet for a moment. Let's think about our school community. What are the good things that it gives us?
A chance to learn about God's wonderful world?
A chance to make friends - and to play?
What things could be better about our school?
What could each of us do to help make it a better place?
Let's end with some modern music - though perhaps even this sounds old-fashioned today. It was written in the 1960s - a time of great excitement - when lots of things were being changed (even in schools!):
'Getting Better', The Beatles, from Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or 'Here Comes the Sun', The Beatles, from Abbey Road.
- Find a passage from Kingsley's The Water Babies and compare it with a passage from a modern children's classic - a story by Roald Dahl, for example. There are several modern texts of The Water Babies available, most are generally pruned and cleaned (of casual racism, for example). The old Everyman edition gives the original text. What are the similarities and differences between the two texts? Dahl shares Kingsley's linguistic exuberance, but Kingsley uses a much more 'difficult' general vocabulary. Were Victorian children better educated, then, than modern children?
- Find ten difficult words in Kingsley's text - e.g. 'methodic', 'precocious' - the children can make their own dictionary and astound their parents with their linguistic sophistication. Also, look at some of Dahl's neologisms (there are lots in The BFG). Can the children create ten neologisms of their own, including alternatives to some of the words from Kingsley's text that they have learned? For example, create a new word that means 'commotion'. The new words can be added to their dictionary.
- Find out about Victorian schools, perhaps even their own school in the past. What are the similarities and differences? What subjects were taught, and how? What was RE called and what did it consist of? Were boys and girls treated differently? How was discipline administered? After comparing the two systems, reflect on their good - and bad - points. Which system do the children prefer? Why?