HENRY EDWARD ARMSTRONG AND DOMESTIC SCIENCE

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  • Journal of Consumer Studies and Home Economics (1983) 7,299-305

    HENRY EDWARD ARMSTRONG AND DOMESTIC SCIENCE

    ROBERT A. BAY LISS Aberdeen

    Robert Gordons Institute of Technology,

    Henry Edward Armstrong (1848-1937) has an assured place in the history o f education. His concern for improved methods of science teaching and learning included an interest in domestic science. His ideas are still relevant to contemporary home economics.

    bhen the new biological laboratory was opened in Abbey Road School, Reading on 16 May 1934, the speaker was the retired and elderly Henry Armstrong, F.R.S. His talk was characteristically controversial and lively. He commented on a complex world where a new Church of scientific method was emerging, and speculated on how the school could educate women to face the world of thoughtless vulgarity and callous commercialism. He quoted from one of his letters to The Times about silken stockings, and recommended these, with milk and vegetables, as worthy of scientific study in school. His concluding words may have struck a sympathetic note, when he condemned school science as worthless for all practical purposes and the certificate examination as a blight upon our civilisation.

    Armstrong was born on 6 May 1848, educated briefly at The Royal College of Chemistry, and after a period working on water analysis with Edward Frankland, went to the Leipzig laboratory of Hermann Kolbe. There he was one of a happy band . . . all bent on proving we could walk alone. He was awarded a Ph.D., lectured in London and in 1884 began a long association with the City and Guilds of London Institute. In 191 1 he retired from the chair of chemistry at the Central Technical C ~ l l e g e . ~ Armstrongs chemical researches included important work on naphthalene, and his sixty years of published papers included periods when co- workers received daily letters or telegram^'.^

    It was, however, his contribution to the development of new ideas in science education that is most important, and has led to his inclusion in a series of biographies of founding fathers of science education. Armstrong described important influences in his own education, where he disliked didactic methods

    Correspondence: Robert A. Bayliss. Robert Gordons Institute of Technology, 352 King Street, Aberdeen AB9 2TQ.

    0309-3891/83/1200-0299 $02.00 0 1983 Blackwell Scientific Publications 299

  • H. E. Armstrong and domestic science

    and textbooks and welcomed his eventual emancipation . . . into the heuristic atmosphere of a German university.6

    He was also impressed with the techniques used by advocates in court, where he appeared as a witness, and describedlater the methodical logical use of kn~wledge .~

    Armstrong lectured at the 1884 International Conference on Education where John Meiklejohn explained the origins of the word heurism. W. H. Brock in his lucid account of Armstrongs life and work, has traced the words formidable educational pedigree, involving Locke, Rousseau, Erasmus Darwin and others. He explained Armstrongs use of the word.

    First. what a child or student finds out for himself he remembers. Secondly. motivation and interest: if a student is interested and realises that something is worth learning he will do it more efficiently. Thirdly, but less clearly, the learning situation must be graded - children will learn certain things better a t different ages. Fourthly, that if children keep a careful record of their findings, this will help to correlate their mental and verbal understanding . , . the whole emphasis was on doing in order to understand.

    Armstrongs own definition was of methods which involve placing students as far as possible in the attitude of the discoverer - methods which involve finding out instead of merely being told about things.

    His educational crusade, for no other word adequately conveys the forceful advocacy over many decades, was carried out partly in various British Association Committees, where he worked with Arthur Smithells, well known for his enthusiastic support for the emerging subject of domestic science and womens higher education. Heuristic ideas weie adopted in many schools, and the experiments with Armstrongs own children illustrated the learning of concepts such as average, density and percentage.

    Although Armstrong made progress, there were difficulties. The word discovery was used in various ways. As F. W . Westaway put it in Science Teaching, if the word search had been used instead of discovery the philistines would have been disarmed.I2 Examination systems caused problems, and the later psychological theories about transfer of learning were also ~ignificant.~ Armstrong tended to overstress and o~erse l l ~ his ideas, but he is regarded as reshaping science teaching in Britain at the turn of the twentieth ~ e n t u r y . ~

    C. E. Browne, one of Armstrongs most important associates, described his mentor as an original thinker on education . . . as a constructive reformer he is pre- eminent. l6

    When Arthur Smithells reviewed Armstrongs collection of papers. The Teaching of Scientific Method, in 1904, he made the pertinent, suggestion that the author should have distilled his ideas into a more coherent shape:

    Professor Armstrong renounces the claim, often imputed to him, of having discovered a new method of teaching. What he has done has been to formulate a scheme of teaching in accordance with principles as old as c i~ i l i sa t ion . ~

    Smithells added the significant comment that there is surely much that may be

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  • R. A. Bayliss

    told . . . in doing this there is no need to throw the pupil into a state of passive acceptance. It may be noted that Armstrong could be a formidable scientific controversialist, as the exchange of letters with Smithells in 1894 makes clear. C. L. Bryant echoed Smithells remark when he wrote much later that we did not see why every child should walk round Ireland before he could believe it was an island. l9

    The heurisni controversy has continued throughout the century. The 1918 report on Natural Science in Education2 agreed that the spirit of inquiry should be encouraged but did not accept heurism as the main educational method: Brock described this part of the Report as a caricature of Armstrongs intentions.21 Another writer of great interest is John Bradley who met Armstrong in the 1930s and used the phrase heuristic thrust in describing one important method in science teaching in schools.22 Bradleys contributions to the literature of science education included one in the controversial Black Papers. 23 Another contributor, G. H. Bantock, writing on discovery methods, emphasized that there is, in fact, no one way. Subject matter differs enormously in nature and demands quite different sorts of pedagogic devices for its efficient transmission.24

    Armstrong became interested in domestic science as part of the larger concern with science education. In 1896 a paper was published on Domestic Science Teaching in Elementary school^'.^' He referred to the opinions expressed by T. H. Huxley as a candidate for London School Board election in 1870 when he wrote on the elements of household work and of domestic economy and what would now be called social education.26

    Armstrongs view of progress since 1870 was not optimi~tic.~

    Just consider how ignorant we all are of almost everything concerning us in daily life. The cook in the kitchen has no eyes - her fire is scarcely ever proportioned to the work it has to do . . . she uses the same saucepan over a fire and over a gas-burner, never realising how important it is to have such vessels clean outsidc as well as inside . . . The domestic economy ~ or domestic science, as we desire to call it ~ is something wider than the conventional domestic economy recognised by County Councils and School Boards, which usually comprises mere elementary technical instruction on cookery. sewing and washing.

    Armstrong described the subject as essential for boys and girls, which would make home life happy and the labour of all workers efficient. The main object of his advocated education in scientific method was to help to produce careful, exact. observant and thoughtful people. In 1898 he described domestic science as this all-important subject.

    In 1901 Armstrong spoke to a conference of science teachers, and defined the word scientific as the power of using knowledge with nous and understanding.

    Training in domestic knowingness must conic before training in household management if the latter is to be effective. 1 use the expression household management advisedly in place of domestic economy. No one in this country does or can think of economy in connection with the word domestic ~ common experience shows the two conceptions to be altogether incompatible.

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  • H. E. Armstrong and domestic science

    He specified four areas of work to be attempted in school. In an enthusiastic advocacy of one of these, measurement, he hoped for a song, with words written by Kipling and the refrain weigh weigh weigh which could be hummed and danced to by girls during the science lessons and sung on state occasions in colleges and universities.

    Investigations on water would involve evaporation, condensation and concern for energy conservation.

    Armstrong had firm views on textbooks; he would not allow them in his class- rooms.

    Each child should write its own text-book and be taught to regard it as a holy possession. . . the motive for the experiment must come first, then the description of the work done, next the results: finally the moral.

    Armstrong frequently used literary allusions and he used the Duchess in Alices Adventures in Wonderland3 as a useful example