Friday, March 26, 2010

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Me

There are simply so many things accumulating around my inbox, my head, and around my computer that it's sometimes far more difficult to keep up than I'd ever anticipated! One thing leads to another and before I know it, I've accumulated quite a bit of data that I often need some time to organize, study, and reflect on.

Right now, since information about George Mills himself is at such a low ebb, I'm working on his family—especially his grandfather, Arthur Mills, Esg., M.P. [1816-1898], and Revd Barton R. V. Mills [1857-1932], George's father—which is providing me with a wealth of information that's building some context around the life and history of young George.

Both of those men have published works that are still available and widely cited, Arthur Mills having written several books at least
one important book that is still in print [above, left], and another one still in print can be found here.

More on those gentlemen at another time, though!

One stumbling block I've had along the way, be it in understanding the educational path of George or those of his forebears, is the British use of the term "matriculated from". It threw me off, for example, in the following bit of information previously received from the Oxford Archives [my emphasis]:

I have searched our card index of those who matriculated (ie were admitted to the University) between 1891 and 1932 and have found an entry for George Ramsay Acland Mills. This records that he matriculated from Christ Church on 16 October 1919.

Another area in which my density held me back was in understanding the relationship between Christ Church, which is a constituent college of the University of Oxford, and the university itself. Separate institutions or the same, I wondered.

Here's the typical relationship between colleges and universities in the U.S. as described by Universities confer degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels, whereas colleges tend to deal exclusively with four-year bachelor's degrees.

For example, I attended West Chester State College outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, [left] for my BS Ed. Immediately upon graduation, I also started taking courses at the graduate level—they offered a Master's degree, even at that time. A few years after my graduation, the school was renamed West Chester University. It was explained at the time that the school had achieved university status because of "improvements to the library." Maybe that's true, perhaps not.

The upshot here is that part of the confusion for a simple-minded American like me is that when one attends classes in a constituent college of a university here in the States, one is attending both simultaneously and graduates from both at the very same moment. Not so in the United Kingdom, as demonstrated by the two messages below explaining it all to me.

The first, from Christ Church's archives, is in reply to an enquiry I'd made regarding the possibility that the degree George Mills claimed to have earned at Oxford may actually have been a B.A. awarded by Christ Church. The graciousness of her reply in the face of my unabashed ignorance was greatly appreciated!

Dear Mr Williams,

I am afraid that we have very little information on George Mills. He was born on 1 October 1896 in Bude, in Cornwall, and was educated at Harrow School. He was Barton's second son. Mills came up to Christ Church in 1919, after serving during the 1st World War in Royal Army Service Corps, firstly as a private and then as lance corporal. The family appears to have been living in London at the time. He was only at Christ Church for two years, until 1921, and certainly did not take a degree. So, I think he was spinning a bit of a yarn! As far as I know, none of his siblings came to Christ Church.

It is Oxford University which grants degrees, not its constituent colleges! Students live in college and are taught by the tutors who are attached to that college, but all degrees come from the University as an umbrella body.

I am sorry not to be able to help more.

Yours sincerely
Judith Curthoys

I'll admit, I still have a lot to learn in my pursuit of George Mills! A second message, from Richard Martin at Windlesham, also helped me better understand the "system" through which Mills would have been educated:

Dear Sam,

Many thanks for your message, which included further details of George Mills. I am so glad that Tom Houston was able to give you such an amount too – I suspected that would be so, as he is a mine of information on matters to do with the school history.

He may well have responded about your query about the word ‘matriculation.’ In essence it means that, while it remains unclear where he had his ‘primary’ education, Mills was indeed given ‘secondary’ education, presumably between the ages of 13 and 18, at Harrow. He subsequently was accepted for ‘tertiary’ study at Christ Church, one of the Oxford University colleges and the word matriculation indicates that this was the case. Why he then failed to complete his course and gain a degree is less than clear, but it would explain why Mills was at Windlesham as a ‘junior teacher’ and not as a fully fledged member of staff, no specific training for teaching then being required.

May I wish you success in your attempts to take this research further. Do feel free to keep in touch.

All the best,

That seems to set some of the dates Mills received his secondary, tertiary, and university education:

Harrow School: 1910-1912
Christ Church: 1919-1921
University of Oxford: Does one actually attend Oxford, or just have a degree conferred from it?

Mills arrives at Windlesham as a "junior teacher" at Lent, 1925, although their records show him having a "B.A. Oxon." He also spent 1916-1919 in the military as a private and lance corporal during the First World War.

Still, there a gaps in that sequence: 1912-1916, and (?)-1925. In the United States today, one would simply think that a young man was "finding himself" during that time: Perhaps working, but possibly traveling or at least spending some time far away from home. The stereotypical "backpacking through Europe" or "riding a motorcycle across the country" are the more romantic visions of how that time might be spent by an American lad of 16 to 20 years of age.

What could those years have been like for Mills, possibly living in London, between 1912 and 1916? I'm unfamiliar enough with the culture in that time frame that I'm uncertain what the non-educational, non-military prospects were for a young man of that age who comes from a family of some wealth, prestige, history, some high ranking military connections, and at least a dram of 'royal blood' floating around his veins, but who doesn't want to go to school.

And how long might he have spent at Oxford once he reached there in 1921? How long an association with the institution would have been enough to have been convincing in passing himself off as a graduate—especially with only 4 or 5 years of secondary and tertiary education combined? Or would 4 or 5 years have been the usual amount at the time spent after primary school but before university?

Again, I plead ignorance, and any thoughts, ideas, or information you may have that could enlighten me would be most welcome. Once I have a better understanding of where it's likely Mills could have been, I can start poking around to find out if he actually was there!

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