Sir Fred Schonell

Found in the papers of L.R. Reeve (see A.J. Balfour for background on him) this piece about the Australian writer and educationalist Sir Fred Schonell. He was also the author of several books aimed at teaching children to write and spell. The site Old School Reading Books suggests that some of these have become collectable. Reeve, having met the great man, had presentation copies of some of these...


Professor Hamley once stated that the late Sir Fred Schonell was the best secretary the education section of the British Psychological Society had ever had. How right he was.
  Hamley, like Schonell, was an Australian, but there was no exaggeration in his assertion, for although Schonell’s unruffled manner was rather deceptive I also, whose knowledge of earlier secretaries is possibly greater than Hamley's, can announce that he was nearly perfect, and his professional career is a record of almost unbroken success. Moreover, although he and I were mutual members of three societies in London and frequently used to have a chat, I have to admit that until I read an obituary appreciation in The Times I was unaware of a great deal of his unusual career. I knew he was born in Perth, but it was news to me that he was one of the first graduates of the University of Western Australia to achieve a Hackett overseas scholarship.
  Arrived in London he studied at King's College and the Institute of Education. I am not sure of his tutors, but I believe that during his time Dr Aveling and R. J. Bartlett were lecturing in psychology at the former college, while Sir Percy Nunn, Sir Cyril Burt, possibly Professor Spearman and Dr Flugel were on the staff at the Institute of Education. All five were leading psychologists.
  Somewhere around this time he took his Ph. D. and from 1931 to 1942 he lectured in psychology at Goldsmiths' College. There he took over the duties of J. H. Wimms, whose book for beginners in psychology I still hold to be a good one, and whose lectures were immaculate; but Schonell proved to be as successful a teacher as his predecessor.
  Wherever he rested his caravan Schonell became a pioneer. When he left Goldsmiths' in 1942 he became Professor of Education at Swansea, and during his four years in that area he initiated a Welsh educational centre which attracted students from the surrounding districts. Next he became Professor of Education at Birmingham and was connected with a new institute of education, combined with a remedial centre.
  Then in 1950 he returned to Australia, was quickly promoted step by step until he became Vice-Chancellor of Queensland University in 1960; and as for his numerous books, although he couldn't possibly have written so many without the assistance of his remarkably able wife, I still marvel at his incredible output; for combined with his books on reading, hundreds of his articles must be fluttering all over the great Australian continent; yet perhaps I can suggest one clue to his numerous publications, it may be that in between lectures he found time to interpret the results of research and weld together kindred outstanding contradictory and similar facts into coherency leading to theories and possibly verifiable conclusions. In addition I am sure that most of his long vacations were spent in developing various projects dear to his restless heart.
  As far as I can gather only once did Schonell collaborate with anyone in authorship, and then he chose a man, Dr Cracknell, who was certainly one of the most brilliant headmasters in London. I seem to remember that the joint textbook was on the teaching of mathematics. Dr Cracknell was once described by one of his old lecturers as the most brilliant student ever trained at Goldsmiths' College. I too can bear witness to Cracknell’s brilliant oratory and quick-witted conversations.
  It is not my intention to attempt any detailed account of his numerous books, such as The Psychology and Teaching of Reading, Backwardness in the Basic Subjects, The Slow Learning Child, and The Essential Spelling List, but from a practical point of view I should find it hard to believe in anything of more value to a teacher than the last-named work. Some years ago an investigator listed 100 most common words used in literature; and I have already mentioned a linguist who said that the best way to learn the essentials of a language is to sit in the classroom of an infants' school. Thousands of us for years have been teaching uncommon words when children couldn’t spell common ones.
  By the by, a year or so ago a young Australian was in Newton Abbot for a year's study. I asked him if the name of Schonell meant anything to him. "Oh, yes," he said, "Schonell's school books are known everywhere in my country."
  As a public speaker Dr Schonell was excellent. Having never heard him as a broadcaster I dare not be emphatic, for a voice on the microphone maybe very disappointing, but I can assure anyone that the content of any of his contributions would be rich with experience and wisdom.
  He must have been one of the most prolific psychological writers on record. William McDougall perhaps would make a good second as regards output; but I fancy the latter would be the more widely read throughout the world. Recently, after several years one of McDougall's early books has been reissued. It may be An Introduction to Social Psychology.
  The late Professor Sir Fred Schonell presented me with two of his text books before he left England. His style is clear, straightforward, unemotional and easy to understand. I missed him when he left us; and I missed himwhen he returned for a few months. Now the Australians are feeling somewhat lost until his image gradually recedes from their memories.
  During the First World War I met many Australians in Palestine, and later a number in London, but, with the possible exception of the late Gilbert Murray, no man from Australasia impressed me as much as Schonell. He was a wonder.

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