Chailey Heritage School Old Scholars Association
BBC 4 recently broadcast a two-part series “Eugenics: Science's Greatest Scandal” where “Journalist Angela Saini and disability rights activist Adam Pearson explore the shocking origins and legacy of eugenics in Britain and its continued influence today.” * Wikipedia describes eugenics as “a set of beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population by excluding (through a variety of morally criticized means) certain genetic groups judged to be inferior, and promoting other genetic groups judged to be superior.” During episode 1 of the series the name Cyril Burt was mentioned (25:00 onwards). This rang a bell with me. It transpired that he, Professor of Psychology at University College London, wrote the Preface to Dame Grace’s book “Heritage Chailey 1903 -1948”. In it he wrote “Girls as well as boys are accepted. Up to the age of five they are trained together. After that they are educated in their own separate quarters. From time to time we hear much of the trend toward co-education, and no doubt in certain circumstances and for ordinary children such a principle has undoubted merits. But in dealing with crippled boys and girls it is, in my view, a sound psychological principle to keep the two sexes separate during the greater part of the school period; and I may perhaps venture to hope that those who take an interest in the Schools in the near future will preserve the methods which do not merely seem best on theoretical grounds, but also have been confirmed by long first-hand experience.” Again, from Wikipedia, Burt “was an English educational psychologist and geneticist who also made contributions to statistics. He is known for his studies on the heritability of IQ. Shortly after he died, his studies of inheritance and intelligence were discredited after evidence emerged indicating he had falsified research data, inventing correlations in separated twins which did not exist.” Burt is also mentioned in Dame Grace’s book “The Coming of Age of the Heritage Craft Schools” compiled in 1924/25 as being their Honorary Psychologist. Verena Hanbury, Dame Grace’s granddaughter, wrote that Burt was “a great strength to Granny”. Clearly being associated with the Heritage for over 24 years he would have been a great influence on its approach to education. Eugenics was regarded as a reputable science in the first half of twentieth century and was supported by many famous people, not least by Winston Churchill. Their concern was that, if the lesser classes were allowed to outbreed the better off classes, it would diminish the intellectual stock of the nation. This particularly applied to the disabled who were best sectioned off out of harm’s way, and I get the impression it made little difference as to whether they were mentally or physically disabled. It is to Dame Grace’s credit, at least as far as the physically disabled were concerned, they were to be lifted up rather than partitioned off and forgotten. “No, she didn’t like girls very much,” admits Verena Hanbury her granddaughter. “She started the school for boys but was persuaded that this was extremely unfair, so she built the Girls’ Heritage. It was well apart, because she believed strongly that disabled boys and disabled girls should not meet. She thought they would produce disabled babies, and she pursued this idea with dramatic strength.” No doubt Dame Grace was influenced by the “science” of eugenics, particularly under the influence of its powerful proponent, Burt. Someone who thought that co-education was okay for ordinary children but definitely not for cripples. Ian Sowerby * Episode 1 available on iPlayer until 2nd November 2019 and Episode 2 until 9th November 2019.
Sir Cyril Burt and The Heritage
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