The natural means of study in youth is play

Posted on March 1, 2014 by admin

My lifelong love of spoken English in general, and of theatre in particular, as both spectator and actor, was strongly stimulated by my years at The Perse School, Cambridge, between 1972 and 1979. English teaching at the school is firmly grounded in the ethos of Henry Caldwell Cook (1886-1939), who was English master there from 1911 to 1915 and 1919 to 1933, and spent his war service with the Artists Rifles division in France.

Caldwell Cook’s declaration, quoted above, summarised his conviction that learning arises out of children’s experience of doing, rather than from listening and reading. He set out his vision in his book The Play Way, an Essay in Educational Method, published in 1917. The full scope of his educational ideas included far more radical proposals: he had a long-term vision of ‘natural education in self-governing communities’, although he argued for a transitional process involving ‘partial liberation from the classroom’. His times, however, were not ready for such bold thinking and he was met by criticism from the Board of Education.

At school, Caldwell Cook pioneered the teaching of English through drama, creating a classroom designed on the lines of an Elizabethan theatre or ‘mummery’, in which plays are performed and improvised, involving every student. The experience of his legacy left me convinced that teaching people to speak good English – whether our own or other people’s – and to speak it well and confidently, also informs and influences our writing skills and competencies.

The school is proud to boast among its Old Perseans the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and former National Theatre director Sir Peter Hall, actors Marius Goring and Colin MacFarlane, musicians Pete Atkin, David Gilmour, Spike Hughes and Mistabishi, and BBC sports commentator Mark Saggers.

Robert Beard. Tutor Vocal Integrity.


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