From the Archive - 21.09.1916
Backward boys: experiment and suggestions
I am anxious to call the attention of my fellow teachers to the backward boys in our schools and to backwardness in general. The boys I have in mind are not those who are mentally defective in the ordinary sense, but those who never seem to make much progress and even at the age of 12 and 13 cannot properly grapple with the work, especially the arithmetic, of standard III. Many of them are backward in development for various reasons and are the despair of those who are called upon to educate them. If they are left in the lower classes, they begin to despair of themselves and are a nuisance to their teachers.
Having heard that some teachers have tried to solve the difficulty by segregating such boys and working them in a class by themselves, I resolved to try the experiment myself. Accordingly, I collected together about 30 of them from various classes. I did not tell them what my plan was. Seeing as they had failed so in their intellectual subjects, we mapped out a very simple course in those subjects, especially arithmetic, and devoted a much greater amount of time than before to handwork - paper, cardboard and clay modelling, in addition to woodwork. My colleague who undertook the work went into it con amore, and he and I are both satisfied that the experiment has been a complete success.
It sounds easy when one has a class of about 30, but it is not as easy as it sounds, because boys who are defective in intellect are very particular in temper and they are apt to get on the nerves of most teachers. For that reason, I am not sure that it would not be better to change the teachers every half-year, and if the number of the classes could be kept to 20, so much the better.
The advantages of the scheme are fourfold. The boys found themselves, especially through handwork, and some who were failures before found self-respect because they were able to excel in handwork. This engendered hope where before despair had reigned. The spirit of emulation awoke in them again because they were more on an equality with one another.
Lastly, it was a great relief to the other classes to be rid of such boys, as every teacher can realise. Some may think it is hardly worthwhile to take so much trouble over such boys, but the older I get the more I feel that every individual, whoever and whatever he may be, is precious in God's sight.