What kinds of things did education focus on then?
May 29, 2010 3:12 PM   Subscribe

In 1920, what would every well-educated British man be expected to know?

Which subjects would he be expected to have studied, and in how much depth? Which books would he be expected to have read? What academic skills/abilities would he be expected to have?
posted by Ashley801 to Education (8 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I only know this by reading Waugh, so basically I'm making this up, but any gentleman would have gone to Oxford or Cambridge, and have a smattering of greek and latin, some very basic Anglican theology, and the rest of the commonalities would be practical skills such as manners, horsemanship, shooting, instructing servants, driving a motor car etc. Most of them would have just come out of the Great War and so have experience in command.
posted by wilful at 3:30 PM on May 29, 2010

I would imagine it depended on your situation. George Orwell was a scholarship boy; read the passage beginning "one started Latin at eight, Greek at ten..."
posted by Leon at 3:34 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

"The Edwardian Gentleman, like his sovereign, dressed in tweed while in the country. A bowler hat for work days in the City. Generous in disposition, though not to the point of familiarity. Mindful of private and public duties, yet far from zealous. Tolerant of others, yet certain of the moral and intellectual world he inhabited and was sworn to defend. Upon the last years of European pre-eminence he gazed with detachment and subtle irony. Conscious of his solemn upbringing and open to the possibilities which the new century, with its new technology and attitudes, promised to provide. His education had been classical. He knew far more of Horace or Cicero than differential equations or the new discoveries in electro-magnetism, yet strove to understand the modern. The smattering of Latin he still recalled was a hallmark of his social status. His distant ancestors had been violent brutes. A little further forward we find their humble piety slipping into religious fanaticism. His great-grandfather was perhaps a Georgian rake, his father obsessed with respectable conduct. He stood at the end of the line. The last gentleman in an age where the term was used, by all, neither ironically or indifferently. "

posted by MonkeyToes at 4:11 PM on May 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

You might also check out the wiki for classical education.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:15 PM on May 29, 2010

Another thing to take from Orwell: a large section of what you might call the British genteel classes would have spent a portion of their lives in one or more imperial outposts, through military service, bureaucratic work or business, and so might have, say, rudimentary Hindi or Swahili. (There's a well-worn pattern of 'born in the colonies, educated at a British boarding school, then perhaps Oxbridge or Sandhurst'.)
posted by holgate at 4:43 PM on May 29, 2010

Waugh was still in school in 1920, so that might be pushing it a bit, depending on your needs.

Check out the early parts of Goodbye To All That. (Actually, Graves delayed Oxford in favor of the war, but it still gives you an idea of what they were expected to know. Public school alone was enough to get him a commission.)

As for academics, start here for Cambridge Tripos, here for Oxford Greats. (Not as time specific as I or you would like, but I'm afraid getting that narrow will require looking for memoirs and such.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:53 PM on May 29, 2010

The Hadow Report (1923): Differentiation of the Curriculum for Boys and Girls Respectively in Secondary Schools suggests that advanced courses for the college-bound include:

"The main subjects of study in any such course must be selected from one of the following groups:

A. Science and Mathematics This course normally includes work in both Science and Mathematics; but this requirement may be waived for pupils who do substantial work in the Biological Sciences, provided that the course is otherwise suitable and includes work reaching an adequate standard in the Physical Sciences.

B. Classics This course must provide for all pupils substantial work in the language, literature, and history of both Greece and Rome.

C. Modern studies This course comprises the language, literature and History of the countries of Western Europe in mediaeval and modern times. Such a course must include
(ii) Either the study of a second such language, or work of a good scope and standard in English Language and Literature; or
(iii) The study of history, always including in the case of each literature taken the history relevant to the period specially studied.

D. The civilisation (i) of Greece or Rome and (ii) that of England or another country of Western Europe in modern times, as embodied in their language, history, and literature. Such courses must include provision for substantial work in
(i) The language and literature of Greece or Rome in classical times;
(ii) The language and literature either of England or of a foreign country of Western Europe in modern times;
(iii) History, which should always include the history relevant to the periods of literature specially studied.

E. Geography This subject must be combined with two other subjects approved by the Board, of which at least one must be History or a Science. "
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:27 PM on May 29, 2010

Further poking around turned up both the Bullingdon Club and Brian Harrison (Ed.), "The History of the University of Oxford: Volume VIII: The 20th Century." Google Books includes a chapter on social life from 1919-1939, here. I think you'll find much of what you're looking for in this chapter. (Argh, if link doesn't work, try chapter 4.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:18 PM on May 29, 2010

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