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‘To Perceive Ideas shooting, expanding and maturing’: The Educational Philosophy of Eliza Fenwick (1766-1840)

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My heart sank when I read on the British government’s website, that ‘the Primary National Strategy’ defines its function as providing ‘a set of tools for primary schools, aimed at helping them to raise standards – and to deliver the National Curriculum more effectively’. It’s all about them, I thought, not about what children learn. By way of contrast the late-Enlightenment author and teacher Eliza Fenwick writes that the point of education is ‘to communicate energy’ and ‘to perceive ideas shooting, expanding and maturing.’ Though Eliza’s experiments in maternal pedagogies were ultimately stillborn, the lessons that she and her contemporaries were trying to teach offer alternatives to, as Jack Zipes says, the current culture of ‘endumbment’. My talk addresses those alternatives in the context of Eliza’s three failed attempts to establish schools for girls: in Bridgetown Barbados (1815-1821), New Haven Connecticut (1822-1826), and Niagara-on-the-Lake (1828-33) in what is now Canada.

Lissa Paul, a professor at Brock University in Canada, has recently published her ‘starter book on Eliza Fenwick (1766-1840), The Children’s Book Business: Lessons from the Long Eighteenth Century (Routledge 2011), and is currently working on a biography of Eliza. Also recently published, is Keywords for Children’s Literature (New York University Press, 2011), co-edited with Philip Nel.

This talk is part of the Children's Literature series.

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