Gibson History 2 - Mathematics in the schools
In the 17th century a great change begins to take place. Definite mention of arithmetic as part of the school curriculum is found at Aberdeen in 1628, at Irvine in 1665, at Dunbar in 1690 and at Stirling before 1697. The earliest notice of mathematics is at Glasgow in 1660 but there seems to be no further reference to it till the next century. About the middle of the 18th century the demand for an education of a more liberal and practical kind - a demand which had been steadily growing for several years and which had been partly met by broadening the curriculum of the grammar schools - gave rise to a new type of school to which the name of "Academy" was given. The oldest of these academies is Perth Academy, founded in 1760, and it began with a very ambitious programme in mathematics, viz., the higher branches of arithmetic; mathematical, physical and political geography; algebra, including the theory of equations, and the differential calculus; geometry, consisting of the first six books of Euclid; plane and spherical trigonometry; mensuration of surfaces and solids; navigation, fortification; analytical geometry and conic sections, natural philosophy, consisting of statics, dynamics, hydrostatics, pneumatics, optics and astronomy. At a later date chemistry was added.
It is, I should think, improbable that this programme was ever carried out with any degree of thoroughness but it marked a decided change for the better and the example of Perth was followed elsewhere so that good school courses of mathematics were established in many towns. These were not due to the demands of the Universities as no University imposed any serious preliminary knowledge of mathematics on its students though it was from the Universities that the teachers were drawn. In many of the parish schools the schoolmasters were competent to impart advanced instruction in Latin, Greek and Mathematics and were proud of such pupils as took advantage of the opportunities offered. I think, however, that while Scotland has good reason to be grateful to the old time parish schoolmaster, it is too often forgotten that many parishes were very badly off in respect of both teachers and buildings. The old Statistical Account has many sad details of incompetent schoolmasters and inadequate schools.
JOC/EFR April 2007
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