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New book tells the tales of Scotland’s classrooms over the years

The University of Aberdeen’s Elphinstone Institute has joined forces with a group of esteemed Scottish authors to launch a new publication that explores the changes and enduring worth of the North-East schooling system over the past century.

‘North-East Identities and Scottish Schooling’ features real life interviews with five North-East ‘folk’ talking personally about their own school experiences – a group that includes James Michie and Norman Harper. The book examines the statement made just over a century ago by Sir Henry Craik, the founding Secretary of the Scottish Education Department: “The best educated counties in the best educated country in the world”.

How did the historical actualities compare to all those tales of ‘dominies’ and the local ‘skweel’? What was the fate of the Doric, under a regime that insisted on academic uniformity? Writers including Ian Campbell, Derrick McClure, David Northcroft, and Douglas Young explore these questions and look at the culture of the North-east in relation to the Edinburgh-run education system.

These writers also explore key aspects of Scottish schooling such as the classroom treatment of the Doric, the ways in which individual memory and received myth intermingle to tell the story of the local parish school, and the ways in which writers like Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Ian Macpherson, and Jessie Kesson have represented their own school experiences in their books.

For some, ‘opportunity’ and ‘getting on’ were benefits of the system, but for others the local school is remembered as an austere and over-disciplined place, where individual needs, and the culture and the tongue of their own communities, were systematically repressed.

On other subjects in the book’s diverse themes, Gordon Booth provides a Victorian case study of the role of ‘home education’, while Robert Anderson – author of the definitive, Education and the Scottish People – places Scottish education within the wider European context.

Two papers raise the possibility of a more radical agenda: Peter Murphy recounts R. F. MacKenzie’s doomed reforms at Summerhill Academy, while Robbie Robertson makes the case for a computer-age revolution.

Dr Ian Russell, Director of the Elphinstone Institute, said: “With its combination of lively scholarship and first-hand witness, North-East Identities and Scottish Schooling, offers a vivid reassessment of the region’s rich, and contentious, educational inheritance.”

‘North-East Identities and Scottish Schooling’ is edited and compiled by David Northcroft, Research Associate of the Elphinstone Institute, who spent many years at the Northern College of Education. He is currently carrying out research into the experience of ‘growing up and going to school in Scotland’.

He said: “With its deep rooted educational traditions, ‘going to school’ in the North-East of Scotland has shown itself to be one of the few really life-defining experiences that, along with the land, the sea, the weather and the language, have helped to make us what we are and – some would claim – prevented us from becoming what we might have been.

“My own investigations, both in preparing this book and in gathering in some 120 biographical interviews with a whole range of North-East folk, have richly demonstrated that every one of them has a compelling life-story to tell and that their own local school has made an essential contribution to it.”

PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: You are invited to send a photographer and/or reporter to the launch of ‘North-East Identities and Scottish Schooling’ today (Wednesday, February 9), at 5.00pm, in the James Mackay Hall, King’s College, University of Aberdeen.

Dr David Northcroft, Research Associate of the Elphinstone Institute, is available for interview. Please contact him direct on (01569) 730621.

Dr Ian Russell, Director of the Elphinstone Institute, is also available for interview. Please contact him direct on (01224) 272386.

Background on contributors
Robert Anderson is Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh. He has written extensively on Scottish education, most notably in Education and Opportunity in Victorian Scotland, Education and the Scottish People, 1750-191 and The Student Community at Aberdeen, 1860-1939.

Gordon Booth was for many years Educational Psychologist to the Grampian Region. He has recently completed a doctoral thesis on William Robertson Smith and, with Smith‘s great-great grandniece, Astrid Hess, has prepared an edition of the Life of Alice Thiele Smith (a sister) from a recently discovered manuscript: Growing Up in Victorian Aberdeenshire.

Ian Campbell is Professor of Scottish and Victorian Literature at the University of Edinburgh. He has written widely on Scottish literature, especially that of the North-East. His studies include Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Thomas Carlyle, and the Kailyard group.

Derrick McClure is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Aberdeen, specialising in Scots literature and language. He has published numerous articles on these topics as well as book length studies of North-East Doric and of Scots in modern poetry.

Peter Murphy was once Head of English at Summerhill Academy, Aberdeen, and is author of the biography of its famous headteacher, R. F. MacKenzie, A Prophet without Honour. He is currently serving as Carnoustie’s first ever Labour councillor.

David Northcroft was for many years at the Northern College of Education. He is currently carrying out research into the experience of ‘growing up and going to school in Scotland’. He is author of Scots at School.

Robbie Robertson worked for the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum. In the years leading up to his recent death he was concerned with the areas of Information Technology and ‘human rights’.

Douglas Young was for many years at Northern College of Education. He researches the literature of the North-East and is author of a study of Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Beyond the Sunset, and also of Ian Macpherson, Highland Search.

* The Elphinstone Institute is an initiative on the part of the University of Aberdeen to introduce the study of human traditions into its research portfolio, especially the traditions of the North and North-East Scotland.


Notes to Editors

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: Wednesday 9th of February 2005

Ref: 1583book launch

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