What Authority Means

Barbara Smith Director of Special Education Course, Bristol, U.K.

Mr Lyward came to the experienced teachers’ course in Special Education at Redland College, in Bristol, as external examiner.

The first thought that comes to my mind is a comment in a letter from a former student on hearing of his death. “Dear, dear Mr Lyward; he was the deepest, deepest friend to so many of us.” And, unusual as this may seem, to describe an external examiner, it shows how well he understood the efforts of those whose work he was to assess.

Mr Lyward sought to find, not how many books the students had read, but how well they could read children, and after that, find resources to help them. Deduction, in fact, not induction.

He read the students’ studies of individual children and then their dissertations, and on our annual visit to his Finchden Community, Mr Lyward would greet the group with outstretched hands saying, “I know you already.”

These visits can best be described by a former member of the course.

“As a one-time student on the Course for teachers of handicapped children, it was a somewhat daunting experience to learn that a man as revered and renowned as Mr Lyward was our external examiner. Any fears that we may have felt, however, were dispelled the moment we entered his study at Finchden Manor, and I, for one, fell under his spell at once. It is a rare experience to meet an intellectual giant at all, let alone one who radiated kindness and humour and humility as well as strength. Mr Lyward talked to us that night of his work and his philosophy of ‘stern love’ and of the boys in his care. Over twenty of us were crammed into his panelled study, sitting on chairs, the floor and the bookcases, and all of us were spell bound. Later on we had the opportunity to meet him individually in College, and one of my treasured possessions is a transcript of the talk which he gave to the Course on its termination.

“If ever a man ‘gave’ his life to others, Mr Lyward must be among the few who gave all his life to those who could get help from no one else.”

It was characteristic of Mr Lyward that he always had time to listen and he was so sensitive that he could perceive the note behind the question that anyone asked. More over, he looked for the warm, accepting climate of the group in which students ‘belonged’ and could discover themselves saying what they did not realise they knew, for in those opportunities he knew that depersonalisation of the crowd could be replaced by a membership in a group which the individual helped to create and was, in turn, responsive to – as in an orchestra.

At the end of his last visit to Redland Mr Lyward addressed the Course, and we are indebted to my colleague, Leslie Hardie, for recording and transcribing it. I quote from that talk:

“There are two things, it seems, that education has to aim at. One is freedom; the other is value. Neither of these can be discovered by the intellect only, and that is why I am so keen on something that the intellect cannot break up and analyse in the atmosphere – the spirit of the classroom, of the school. This undeniable thing, the atmosphere, seems to me to be the thing that we have to be most concerned about: that is, I would say, something beyond the physical. The cognitive side of education is very important, but it is not an end in itself.”

Rather than turning students into storehouses of knowledge, Mr Lyward looked for their development as creative human beings who could think, not only with their heads but with their hearts. “Knowing about is no substitute for knowing”, he would say, “since no man can think clearly who does not feel deeply.” He urged the students to be tender and reserve their judgement of children because the ‘inner’ and the ‘outer’ may be different, and he stressed the dangers in a child’s giving the appearance of progress whereas he hadn’t reached it in the whole of himself.

Mr Lyward was concerned about the trends of education. “when education is becoming more and more professional”, he said, “and the child is being stimulated on the surface, he is active at the expense of the inside so that he becomes more and more inert, more and more apathetic and more likely to burst out in violence. If the spirit is right”, he added, “it illuminates the intellect”.

He talked about the necessity of giving the child life. “Life first, then learning. It is a question of making sure that in his school he has life and has it more abundantly. That means he has got to digest his experience, and that means there must be leisure. There must be heaps and heaps of fun: sheer nonsensical fun.”

But never did Mr Lyward advocate the abdication of the teacher’s responsibilities. As he once said to me while we were watching the boys playing cricket with some of the course members:

“Give them a choice and you give them freedom. Give them freedom and you give them power. When they have power, they stop seeking power. When they stop seeking power, love can operate. When love operates, they can become creative.”

And, he added later “Then they have no need for status symbols”. That seemed to me, to be a ‘blue-print’ for education. “There comes a time”, Mr Lyward said, “when words are not enough. This is what authority means. Authority exercised as a creative force when the last word has been spoken and there is no more to be said.” And he continued to the students, “If we can remain alert to the need of atmosphere, the ineffable, the unanalysable, the freedom, the ultimate freedom and value, then that will enable you to exercise authority out of an inner conviction, and the authority which you exercise at the moment will not be resented if it is known to be an aspect of love. When you go into your schools, you will be in a position of authority. You will, in some ways, be the author of a new experience on the part of the child.”

We valued his help and his advice for Mr Lyward was one of those rare people who knew what it was to be a child. He had the gentleness of a great man and the humility of a wise one, and he lived simply as in the presence of a mystery.

Barbara Smith is Head of the Department of Special Education at Redland College, Bristol, where she has been since 1959. She studied in the Department of Child Development at the London Institute of Education, 1948-49. In 1950 she became a lecturer at Balls Park College in Hertfordshire and was later awarded a Fulbright Research Fellowship to USA.