To put... (Norah into boarding school)... had been a proceeding much like caging a bush bird, for, until she was fourteen, Norah had known only home and its teachings. And home was Billabong Station, where, apart from lessons that had been a little patchy, she had lived her father's life - a life of open-air, of horses and cattle, and all the station interests. Jim had been sent to the Grammar school in Melbourne comparatively early, and Norah's city relatives, particularly a number of assorted aunts, were wont to deplore that the little girl had not had the same opportunities of polish. But the bond between David Linton and his motherless child had been too strong to break, and the silent man had snatched at every pretext for delaying the pang of parting.I've spoken before about Mary Grant Bruce's opinions on education, but as Jemimah and I read through the third of the series, Norah of Billabong, I am reminded again of how she makes her opinions clearly apparent in each of her books.
After all, as he told himself, half in excuse, Norah was no discredit to home teaching. In books she might be below average; but of the unvoiced learning that lies beyond the world of books she had, perhaps, rather more than falls to the ordinary schoolgirl. A big station is a world in itself, and the Bush teaching makes for self-control and self-reliance, and a simple, straight outlook on the world that is not a bad foundation of character. Lessons in deportment and manners are not part of its curriculum; but there are a good many ideas in thought and practice that it cultivates half unconsciously. Norah had an almost superstitious regard for doing what Jim termed "the decent thing."
At eleven Norah may only read 'fairly well' and write 'laboriously', but what does that matter -Norah has all the skills she will ever need. She can ride, swim, shoot, muster cattle and kill snakes. She is skilled at the gentle arts - baking and housekeeping - and keeps her father in knitted socks. She has a natural gift for music, and in Norah of Billabong we are told that she danced almost before she walked. She is taken by her family to Melbourne where they attend a pantomime, eat out at fine restaurants and stay at a nice hotel. She knows how to behave in "Society" and at a bush dance, in polite city company and amongst the farm hands whom she regards as friends. She may ride astride rather than side-saddle, but she dresses in white muslin for dinner and consistently displays modesty, good morals and virtues.
Norah is, in short, the perfect young lady.
Or is she? Is this an ideal education, or an idealistic one? Would you be happy for your daughter to grow up like Norah, or do you have higher academic aspirations for your girls? Despite being non-academic, Jim manages to walk away from his years at Melbourne Grammar with the French Prize; Norah manages to win the Music one. Would we be happy with that outcome?
I certainly want more than that for my daughter.
Reluctantly, David Linton - and, I'm guessing, even Mary Grant Bruce herself - acknowedges that a little bit of acadaemia is good for everyone, even Norah, and at 14 she eventually heads down to Melbourne to school, where she achieves acceptable, although not impressive results. Certainly Mary Grant Bruce again, in this, the third of the Billabong novels, points out that book-learning is okay for thems that want it, but that excessive school education is unnecessary for thems that don't.
What do you think? Was David Linton right or wrong in keeping his daughter home merely because he couldn't bear to be parted from her? Do you think Norah benefited or lacked from her somewhat unusual home education? What makes the difference between the education of your children and Norah's? Which, in your opinion is better?