Stow and the Glasgow Educational Society

‘I thocht maisters didna need to be taught. Gin ye had said sic a thing to my auld maister, he would hae crowned you wi’ his auld mooldy wig in a twinkling – that he would – and maybe gi’en ye a loofie (palmie) or twa to the bargain; – schoolmaisters to be taught! Ye’re no blait the day, I think. Maisters surely were no taught, langsyne, were they?’ 1

As public interest in infant schools – and the pupil exhibitions – waned, so enthusiasm for a debate about teaching methods, and particularly the usefulness of teacher-training, grew.

It was the Vice-President of the Glasgow Infant School Society, John Campbell Colquhoun of Killermont, who initiated the change of direction. At this time, teachers, for Stow, were but a necessary concomitant to the moral uplift of society through the education of children and sufficient numbers for his purpose were being produced through the existing model schools. By 1836, that is before the opening of the Normal Seminary, 2

Stow claimed that 260 teachers had been trained at the Model Infant and Juvenile Schools. Rusk notes 3 that the early editions of his works are entitled ‘Moral Training’; the term ‘The Training System’ was only employed later when his focus had changed to the training of teachers. Nevertheless, he was soon caught up in the ‘friendly contests’4in the press and the debates and lectures which followed Colquhoun’s initiative and before long he was devoting his usual energies to the cause.

On 25th October, 1833, Colquhoun circulated a series of enquiries among the clergy and schoolmasters concerning the state of education in Scotland.5 This was probably prompted by a:
‘desire to respond to the call of the present Lord Chancellor of England,6

who at the recent Wilberforce meeting at York, is reported to have said, ‘that the efforts of the people were still wanting to promote education, and that Parliament would do nothing until they themselves took the matter in hand with energy and spirit, and with the determination to do something.’7

Not everyone agreed with the tenor of the enquiry which presupposed that parish schools were in a parlous state.8

Despite this, Colquhoun called a meeting for the 24th, February, 1834 when the Glasgow Education Association (as it was then) was launched.9

The Association’s aims were formulated, and a committee,10 including Stow as a member, constituted. An advertisement to this effect was placed in the Glasgow Herald on April 11th, 1834 and this marks the official beginning of the Association. Colquhoun was appointed as the first President(11)

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and on the 2nd October 1834, he chaired a meeting on the subject of ‘extending the Parochial Schools in Scotland’. It was addressed to the ‘Friends of Education and of our Religious Institutes in Glasgow’. Stow must have felt himself included on both counts. As the Secretary of the Infant School Society and joint founder of five infant schools in the previous six years, he could not but decry the paucity of educational provision in the city and any public meeting or society which aimed to improve the situation must have attracted his support. Similarly, he considered himself a practising member of the Evangelical wing of the Church of Scotland and an enthusiastic Sabbath School teacher. Without the benefits of hindsight, it must have seemed totally advantageous to Stow to attend meetings and join an Association whose avowed aim was to extend the parochial school system through the structure and organisation of the national church: ‘To the Church Evangelicals in particular, the necessary identification of national religion and national education was self-evident and the duties of government, any government, to promote both were just as obvious’.(12)

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